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Sustainability Impact Assessment

A team of Alliance interns recently completed a preliminary sustainability impact assessment on a proposal to construct Da Vinci Science City (DVSC) in Easton.

Prepared by:  Olivia Barz (Lehigh ’19), Ryan Dougherty (Lafayette ’19), Harris Eisenhardt (SUNY–ESF ’19), Ashley Kushner (Lafayette ’19), and Brandy Moser (Boston University ‘21).

Why a Sustainability Impact Assessment?

Some municipalities require impact assessments for proposed projects, but they are generally inadequate — and often disregarded in favor of short-term economic gains. An integrated and comprehensive sustainability impact assessment process is essential to understand the impacts a project will have on climate change, community, health, environment, and the local economy.

The Constitution of the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania declares in Article I, §27 that

“The people have a right to clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and aesthetic values of the environment. Pennsylvania’s public natural resources are the common property of all the people, including generations yet to come. As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.”

However, the constitution does not present a means of action to protect these rights. A more comprehensive assessment process, in the early stages of planning, could address both current and future conditions and assess impacts to climate change, community, health, environment, and local economy.

Easton’s current planning ordinances provide for limited impact assessments, but do not require a comprehensive assessment of all these areas. This assessment analyzes these impact areas and offers recommendations to mitigate negative impacts and provide opportunities to improve community well-being. If the DVSC project goes forward, the City should require an up-to-date Sustainability Impact Assessment impact assessment.

What does Sustainability Mean?

Almost 30 years ago, the Brundtland Commission defined sustainability as “meeting the needs of the current generation without compromising the ability of future generations.” The global Earth Charter Initiative developed a more-holistic definition of sustainability, but it can be difficult to operationalize. Sustainability can and should be interpreted in many ways, considering both local and global communities, to conserve and manage resource consumption as regenerative rather than destructive, and to consider human welfare and economic success for future generations. In considering sustainability, we need to remember Leonardo Da Vinci’s reminder to ‘Realize that everything connects to everything else.’

Development projects often concentrate on one or two major dimensions, such as profitability, environmental consciousness, or protection of human health. Truly-sustainable projects weave these components into a single cohesive whole. In this assessment, we examine the facets of climate, community, health, environment, and local economy because of the clear overlaps within these topics and their direct relevance in the area of the proposed Da Vinci Science City site. (Also see the Alliance’s Vision, Mission, & Goals)

Types of Impacts Considered

Building design and systems, transportation, food, educational programming, operations, and construction all impact climate, community, environment, health, and the local economy. The full assessment report expands upon the impacts & recommendations for each area.

Municipalities need to require this type of assessment as part of their consideration of every proposed development project. (The full report includes ideas that should be incorporated into ordinances.)

The Alliance thanks the team of students whose hard work made this assessment possible, and the project team thanks the many people who contributed their knowledge and insight.

(Please note that this is a preliminary sustainability impact assessment based on plans as they stood in June 2018.)

*  This link always has the most up-to-date version of the report.

© 2018 Alliance for Sustainable Communities–Lehigh Valley.

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This entry was posted in Climate & Energy.

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