Sustainable Brownfields Consortium

Our Project

The Sustainable Brownfields Consortium is focused on an overarching project that includes several sub-projects. Overall, the team will identify Best Management Practices for sustainable redevelopment of brownfields, including policies and incentives that can contribute to completion of these projects; measure environmental, public health and economic benefits of sustainable development of brownfields, as opposed to conventional development of brownfields; and carry out technical assistance activities in order to disseminate our findings to policymakers, practitioners, and the public. We envision that our work together will lead to additional research and outreach projects, including expanding the Consortium to include additional researchers.

The components of the project include the following:


Primary researcher: Dr. Christopher DeSousa

In 2008, U.S. EPA announced 16 Brownfields Sustainability Pilots, an EPA effort to promote environmental sustainability at local brownfields projects. According to EPA, the agency is providing the 16 communities with technical assistance to help them achieve greener assessment, cleanup, and redevelopment at their brownfields. The agency identified the pilots as having the potential to demonstrate best practices that can be used by other communities.

Prof. De Sousa is preparing case studies for each of the pilots that examine challenges and opportunities related to project planning and implementation. He is also preparing a data matrix of relevant sustainability benchmarks for each of the pilots, particularly information on pre-development conditions and project goals; and a list of post-completion data that each pilot will be asked to collect in order to track future sustainability outcomes. The pilot projects and their sustainability focuses are as follows:

Project Name Location Recipient Project Focus SK EPA Region
The Waterfront Lehigh River in Allentown, PA Dun Twiggar Company, LLC. Reuse and recycling of construction and demolition materials as well as low impact development methods for stormwater management in Allentown, Pennsylvania 25 3
Jackson Square Roxbury and Jamacia Plain neighborhoods of Boston Urban Edge Technical Analysis of Green roof systems 25 1
Houston Solar Project Houston, TX City of Houston Support for analyses of environmental, engineering, and energy issues for a proposed solar power plant on a former landfill in Houston, Texas 50 6
Gas Station to Community Center Portland, Oregon Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Technical support for design plans associated with infrastructure reuse and recycling, green building features, stormwater management, and greenspace enhancements at a former gas station 25 10
Community Center Rooftop Garden Oklahoma City, OK Latino Community Development Agency (LCDA) Design plans for a community rooftop garden with a sustainable stormwater management system 25 6
Greenville Workforce Housing Project Greenville, South Carolina City of Greenville Guidance to incorporate sustainable building features into a workforce housing redevelopment project 25 4
Commercial Street Historic District Springfield, Missouri City of Springfield, Missouri Development of a sustainability plan to coordinate sustainable approaches for brownfield properties located in the Commercial Street Historic District in downtown 50 7
Langdale and Riverdale Mills Langdale and Riverdale Mills in Valley, Alabama City of Valley Sustainability planning and an inventory for materials that can be reused or recycled from the Langdale and Riverdale Mills 25 4
Tabor Commons Portland, Oregon Oregon Tradeswomen Analysis for applying green building principles and community sustainability training at a former gas station 25 10
Rose Walsh Smelter San Juan County, Colorado San Juan County, Colorado Strategies on how to implement green building design, effective stormwater management, green infrastructure design, and native landscaping on mine-scarred lands 50 8
Samoa Peninsula Humboldt County, California Humboldt County, California Technical assistance to for green design and green building standards for the Samoa Peninsula redevelopment in Humboldt County 50 9
Focus: Hope Detroit, Michigan Focus: Hope Green building design, stormwater management, green infrastructure design and native landscaping 50 5
Moran Center Burlington, Vermont Burlington Community and Economic Development Office Design plans for effective stormwater management, green infrastructure and enhancement of wetlands 25 1
Laredo Recreation Center Loredo, TX City of Laredo Environmental Services De Technical assistance for sustainable building design, stormwater management, and the use of native vegetation to conserve water resources 25 6
Cleveland Resource Recovery Cleveland, OH City of Cleveland The reuse and recycle of building material to reduce construction and demolition waste 20 5
Allen Morrison Lynchburg, Virginia City of Lynchburg Green approaches to cleanup and building design, materials deconstruction and reuse plans and community involvement support 25 3


Primary researcher: Dr. Christopher De Sousa

While brownfields redevelopment is inherently more sustainable than conventional development given the cleanup and reuse of land resources and the creation of new economic opportunities, there is an increasing level of interest in designing brownfield projects that have sustainable characteristics and promote sustainability impacts. This project will critically examine completed sustainably redeveloped brownfield projects in order to highlight best management practices (BMPs) and to draw lessons from the field regarding the underlying policies and practices that enabled these projects to be built.

Ten sustainably redeveloped brownfield projects (constructed or virtually completed) located around the country will be examined via a comprehensive case study approach. In identifying the projects, we will look for diversity in terms of project end use, location, size, and sustainability focus. The in-depth case studies will:

  • Investigate site histories;
  • Examine sustainability features;
  • Understand how projects overcame the barriers to brownfield reuses and the implementation of sustainability features; and
  • Derive a series of common themes and lessons learned, including innovative policies, programs, and/or funding mechanisms that helped make these projects work, factors (e.g., stakeholder capacity, community involvement, regulatory influences) that moved them forward, as well as the projects' impacts.

The research will be based on structured interviews with a variety of stakeholders involved in each case, including developers, planners, consultants and community representatives.


Primary researcher: Dr. Thomas Theis

Upon compilation of Best Management Practices for sustainable redevelopment practices at the surveyed sites, we will compare the relative environmental sustainability impacts of these practices. The approach in this part of the research is to compute a suite of metrics, with a goal of discerning comparative directionality (i.e. more or less sustainable) for alternative practices and outcomes. This portion of the research will focus in particular on the use of material and energy flow analysis, and life cycle impact analysis, to assess the sustainability of best practices for brownfields redevelopment.

This is known as Life Cycle Analysis, a method for systematically gathering data on material and energy flows involved with one or more processes and assessing the environmental impacts associated with those flows. Life Cycle Analysis can develop information for comparative purposes when choices among designs, alternatives, or best practices must be made, and can enable us to examine a single system (such as sustainable redevelopment of brownfields) in order to ascertain those components that are the most material- or energy-intensive and for which investments of resources or research might be expected to yield the greatest improvements. Thus, it can provide a basis both for improving the performance of a given process and comparing the environmental footprints of two or more manufacturing alternatives.

Life cycle analysis can help to answer questions such as: Is sustainable redevelopment of brownfields associated with reduced energy use or reduced vehicle miles traveled, compared with conventionally redeveloped brownfields sites - and, therefore, with reduced greenhouse gas emissions or other types of energy or emissions impacts?


Primary researchers: Drs. John Braden, Marilyn Ruiz, Serap Erdal, Joshua Linn,
and Daniel McMillen

The Midwest's industrial past left a legacy of brownfields. Although the effect of brownfields and other types of hazardous waste sites on property values has been estimated in a few areas, there is relatively little evidence drawn from the brownfield-rich Midwest – and the relationship of brownfields to health outcomes has been even less studied. At the same time, protection of public health was cited as the top of seven possible concerns by Long Island residents living near the Brookhaven National Laboratory site. According to data published by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, about 20 percent of hazardous waste sites characterized in 1995-2004 had a potential for long-term human exposures above acceptable risk levels.

This research is exploring the question of whether the presence of brownfields affects the value of nearby properties and/or health outcomes - and, furthermore, whether the remediation of brownfields and the nature of the remediation affect those value indicators. We hypothesize that nearness to a brownfield site is an important parameter for environmental human exposure and health risk assessment. We hypothesize that that exposure, in turn, increases adverse health indicators and decreases the market value of nearby properties. These relationships are complicated by the tendency to revitalize the more "marketable" urban sites in the neighborhoods that were healthier even before redevelopment.

Our analysis will yield an estimate of the average effects of the presence of a brownfield. And it is also possible to ask several related questions with the data: (1) How far do the effects reach, i.e., are property values in nearby Census tracts affected as well? (2) Does the effect depend on the type of brownfield (e.g., commercial versus industrial) or the type of neighborhood (mixed commercial/residential versus mostly residential)? (3) Does remediation and redevelopment of a brownfield affect nearby property values? (4) Does redevelopment that employs "low impact" or other "green" technologies influence general property values? (5) How do the demographic and health characteristics of tracts change when a site is improved?

For health indicators at the regional level, we will draw on evidence from epidemiological and toxicological studies to develop a range of indicators that would indicate poor health for different ages and types of exposure. The researchers will use several statistical methods to compare health outcomes in those areas where brownfield redevelopment has realized gains with those where this was not seen. We will also identify and compare health outcomes for those areas with similar socio-economic conditions that include identifiable brownfields and those that do not. These analyses will help to explore the questions of how and where economic gains around brownfields are accompanied by an improvement in health and to identify the characteristics of those places where persistent health problems remain. We also plan to interview residents in one or two neighborhoods to address their perception of the health risks of living in their neighborhoods, and to conduct a case study addressing the effect of brownfields on property values and health for a neighborhood in Chicago. This local scale analysis will help to suggest areas of focus and priority in the future for more focused exposure, health and intervention assessments.


Primary researcher: Dr. Christopher De Sousa

The Menomonee Valley Benchmarking Initiative (MVBI – see is a unique effort to link and track brownfields redevelopment and sustainability via indicator reporting. Since 2001, Dr. De Sousa has coordinated the MVBI with the Sixteenth Street Community Health Center, a local public health nonprofit in Milwaukee. Dr. De Sousa will be conducting the third installment of the MVBI in 2011 (following reports in 2003 and 2005). This project will allow for the in-depth tracking of redevelopment activity and sustainability outcomes in the Menomonee Valley and in the surrounding community on the basis of 57 environmental, social, and economic indicators.

Milwaukee's Menomonee River Valley is Wisconsin's largest brownfields district, covering about 400 acres in the heart of the city just southwest of the downtown core. A broad collection of partners from Milwaukee's public, private and nonprofit sectors have worked together to develop a vision for the Valley that sees new businesses relocating to lands cleansed of past environmental contamination and providing family-supporting jobs to residents of nearby neighborhoods. There is also an emphasis on the health of the Menomonee River and on creating new opportunities for recreation and community amenities to support Milwaukee's diverse residents. Over the last several years, the Menomonee Valley Partners have implemented an array of sustainability-oriented programs and projects, including sustainability design guidelines, a stormwater park, living wage and local hiring guidelines, and a cultural resources plan.

The MVBI was established to provide a systematic approach to gauge the impacts of redevelopment activities from a sustainability perspective, and to identify course corrections that may be necessary along the way. The indicators analyzed range from child lead poisoning rates and ozone action days, to public art installations and community recreation opportunities, to the breeding bird population and native and non-native tree species, to average salary of employees and provision of health insurance.


Primary researcher: Susan Kaplan

As we complete various phases of our work, we will:

  • WEBSITE. Develop and launch a website that describes Best Management Practices of sustainable brownfields redevelopment. It will include case studies of several models of sustainable redevelopment of brownfields from around the country, lessons learned, research results, and links to related information sources.
  • GUIDEBOOK. Produce a concise, easy-to-read guidebook for use by municipalities, developers, planners, community groups, and the general public that summarizes the elements of sustainable redevelopment of brownfields, and the benefits of this approach.
  • WORKSHOP. Plan and conduct a workshop focused on best management practices and environmental, economic and public health benefits of sustainable redevelopment of brownfields.