he Sustainable Brownfields Consortium is a group of researchers and technical advisors who are analyzing best practices for redeveloping a brownfields (contaminated or potentially contaminated) site sustainably, rather than conventionally. We are also measuring the economic, environmental, and public health benefits that can result from sustainable redevelopment of a brownfield. This five-year research and technical assistance project is funded by a Brownfields Training, Research and Technical Assistance Grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. It is based at the Institute for Environmental Science and Policy at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and includes the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Resources for the Future, Hellmuth + Bicknese Architects, and consultant Michael Krause.
Sustainable redevelopment reflects a fundamental, yet logical, shift in thinking about how to make the environment cleaner. The environmental laws of the 1970s were innovative in setting emission limits for different types of pollutants. Sustainable development takes a proactive, holistic approach, emphasizing planning from the beginning of the development process and considering an array of options that can reduce pollution. This can start with the cleanup process itself, like using less-polluting cleanup techniques. It can combine cleanup and design – like reusing soil under a cap rather than trucking it to a landfill. And it can be a part of almost every aspect of redevelopment, from constructing a building that is energy- and water-efficient and includes recycled or low-toxicity materials, to designing landscaping that reduces the need for water and chemicals – and even to incorporating a park, a playground, or public art.
While evidence indicates that sustainable development can be cost-effective and result in a variety of benefits, this information is perhaps not as widely known as possible, and concerns remain about costs and complexity. This project aims to provide additional data and information, including quantifiable benchmarks about the benefits of sustainable development. This information will also be applicable to non-brownfields situations.