We Have Only One Planet

Tab 1

April 29, 2016

In 2009, the investors in a piece of property on Bainbridge Island, Washington, had a problem. They had invested in a high-cost piece of land — but then the economy tanked, and they were left wondering how to deal with the situation.


The investors approached PHC Asani (an integrated real estate development, investment firm and general contractor) — a group that helped bring Grow Community to life. Marja Preston, president of Asani at the time, was tasked with finding answers to important questions to help the property’s owners: How do we do something spectacular to sell homes in a down economy? How do we create the type of neighborhood we’d want for our families? 


And in the process of addressing these questions, Preston discovered the principles of One Planet Living®.


One Planet Living


First developed by environmental nonprofit Bioregional, One Planet Living is a program that encourages people to live happy and healthy lives while using fewer natural resources.

The program’s 10 guiding principles include:


  • Zero carbon
  • Zero waste
  • Sustainable transport
  • Sustainable materials
  • Local and sustainable food
  • Sustainable water
  • Land use and wildlife
  • Culture and community
  • Equity and local economy
  • Health and happiness
Tab 2

April 29, 2016

The investors and Preston realized that a community guided by these principles would be the perfect solution to both their problems: They could develop a friendly, environmentally conscious community on a piece of land that was in need of a new purpose.


As an added bonus, Bainbridge Island was in the midst of launching a pilot program that allowed developers to build more homes on the land if they pursued affordable housing or energy efficiency building tracks. In the case at Grow, the energy efficiency track was the primary focus.


This opportunity and the One Planet Living principles came together seamlessly and planted the seed for what ultimately became Grow Community.


No ‘Eco-Guilt’


Grow Community, as a neighborhood that wholly embraces sustainable living, is the first endorsed One Planet Living community to build residential homes in the United States. There are eight other One Planet Living communities in the world, including one solely commercial project in California’s Bay Area.

Greg Lotakis, CEO of PHC Asani Inc. and development team member, recalls the early work prior to construction of the model homes at Grow. When it came to putting principles into action, Lotakis says, it was important to the development and construction teams to streamline the adoption of the sustainable living lifestyle for residents.


“We wanted to hit the easy button for people, so they could get in and just focus on the things we can’t control, which are creating community, enjoying community and enjoying each other,” he says. 


Lotakis explains that 40 percent of an individual’s carbon impact originates from his or her home. To solve this problem, Grow Community residences were designed to produce as much energy as they use, so residents can move in without “eco-guilt.”


Elements of these high-performing homes include solar roof panels, airtight insulation, renewable/recyclable (yet nontoxic) building materials and use of renewable energy sources. Plus, Grow residences use 30 to 40 percent less water than a typical Pacific Northwest home.



Tab 3

April 29, 2016

Lifestyle Factors


The remaining 60 percent of an individual’s environmental impact comes from lifestyle — particularly factors like transportation and food. Grow Community addressed the transportation issue by offering bike parking space, and several residents have worked on developing a car-sharing system among neighbors. And when it comes to food, Grow Community prioritizes garden space where residents all pitch in to grow organic produce as well as edible landscaping, such as herbs, fruit trees and fruiting bushes.


Grow Community’s location is also critical to minimizing impact through movement. The community is only a five-minute walk to the downtown village of Winslow, the main town on Bainbridge Island, which offers a movie theater, performing arts theater, grocery store, restaurants, waterfront area, shops and the dock for the 35-minute ferry to downtown Seattle. All of Grow’s public paths connect to the public sidewalk and main routes into town.


“Between walking and biking, people are able to shed themselves of their vehicles considerably,” Lotakis says.

However, becoming less car-dependent has come easier to some more than others, Lotakis says. If not accustomed to sustainable living tactics — such as making intentional transportation decisions, growing your own food, composting and living in smaller homes — adapting to the lifestyle may be a challenge at first. But for Grow residents, the benefits outweigh the difficulties. 


For instance, there are the financial advantages. Lotakis notes that electric bills for Grow residents are usually less than $10 per month for electric homes that chose solar. “That’s the kind of stuff that makes a huge difference in their lives,” he says.


Community: The Biggest Benefit


Ultimately, though, Grow is about building a unique community — one that comes together to do its part for the planet.


Asani worked to facilitate this with landscaping and development. Lotakis points to the decision to build homes with front doors facing each other, orient apartments and town homes toward large, central courtyards, create beautiful, open outdoor spaces across the property and separate cars from homes with underground parking lots — all choices that have provided community interaction opportunities.

Tab 4

April 29, 2016

“What’s great about the folks who have moved in is they’ve embraced [sustainability and community]. They talk to each other. They support each other,” Lotakis says. “They’ve taken the ball and run with it.” 


Unique Goals: Intentional, Sustainable, Intergenerational


As for the future, Grow Community has three main goals: to create an intentional urban community that enhances quality of life by making sustainable living accessible and affordable, to demonstrate that net-zero energy homes can be replicated and sold at competitive prices and to build a truly intergenerational community.

Understanding and appreciation of these concepts have been increasing since 2009, Lotakis says. Without the patience and understanding of the investors, as well as commitment from the whole team, Grow wouldn’t be here today.


“This idea that we can start to create places where generations share space, where elders pass along wisdom, where you have children who are being looked after by friends or grandparents and where young couples or single folks get a chance to live in a community where there’s a mix of support — to us, it’s a recipe for success in the future,” Lotakis says.


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