Greg Searle is the executive director of BioRegional North America, a sustainable development nonprofit based in Canada, and world headquartered in London. BioRegional has developed the first comprehensive framework for creating communities with a 'One Planet' footprint — that means the community as a whole does not use more than its "fair share" of planetary resources (i.e. one planet's worth).

The first such community in the U.S. is now underway in Somoma County, Calif., where Greg and I had a chance to chat last week.

Here's how it works: If you divide up the total carrying capacity of the earth's land to produce all of our resources (energy, food, materials, forests to sequester carbon, etc.) you arrive at about 4.5 acres per person. This means that if a community (or country) has a higher per capita footprint, it is using more than its fair share of global resources.

In the U.S. we use about 5 times that amount of land, or five planet's worth of resources (Europe uses about three). I describe this in greater detail here. The methodology is based on the Ecological Footprint developed by Dr. Mathis Wackernagel, the WWF and leading scientists who have carefully analyzed thousands of data sources to better understand the land resources required to make our modern civilization run.

The One Planet framework enhances this by incorporating water and toxics impacts as well as the social dimensions of a community. The result is a set of 10 principles which guide the development of a new sustainable community. Sonoma Mountain Village will be the first such community in the U.S., containing 1,800 homes that are zero waste and zero net energy. 

It will also be designed around the "village" concept — with a town center that includes shopping and green industry jobs (like a sustainable panelized housing factory) so that residents do not have to drive to get their groceries or commute to their jobs.

The One Planet framework was developed out of the BedZED pilot project just outside of London. This small community was designed from the ground up to be zero net energy and zero waste by incorporating strategies such as waste water treatment, rainwater harvesting, parks passive solar design, green roofs and on-site renewable energy generation to arrive at a "one planet" footprint.

The lessons learned at BedZED are now being applied around the world by BioRegional, to develop larger communities.

The goal of the Sonoma project is to give the U.S. it's first truly sustainable One Planet community by the year 2020. If you want to see where you stand in terms of your ecological footprint, the BioRegional website has a nice version of the footprint calculator.

One Planet develops framework for ecological villages
Greg Searle, executive director of BioRegional North America, talks to MNN about the first One Planet Community in the U.S.