Businesses, government, and individuals both in the United States and abroad have increasingly embraced sustainability. Yet while there are many available examples of sustainable development yielding improved environmental conditions and economic benefits, the overall evidence base for many conventions of sustainability needs to be strengthened. In part, this may be because strong advocacy for sustainability — often responding to entrenched skepticism — can crowd out discussion of the type of research that is needed to back up these claims. But if we want sustainable policies and behaviors to be more widely adopted, advocacy is not enough; the justification for sustainability must be self-evident to everyone, even skeptics. Accomplishing this requires a greater emphasis on measurement.
The Obama administration believes in the promise of sustainability and wants to help build the knowledge base necessary to foster unfettered private investment in technologies that make our homes and communities more sustainable. HUD has made sustainability one of its key strategic goals, and, through various partnerships and investments, is playing an important role in developing the evidence base for sustainability. HUD, along with the Department of Transportation and the Environmental Protection Agency, is part of the federal Partnership for Sustainable Communities, which seeks to facilitate interagency cooperation and collaboration around sustainability. The partnership agencies are undertaking a strategic set of actions — targeted grants and programs, breaking federal barriers, and integrating the partnership’s six Livability Principles in each agency’s goals and operations — which will help connect existing data and standardize efforts to measure results.
HUD has made several important investments that will help build the evidence base for sustainability, some of which are featured in this magazine. For example, through American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funds and collaboration with the Department of Energy, HUD has increased its investment in weatherization improvements, and HUD’s Energy Innovation Fund will help bring multifamily energy-efficiency efforts to scale. The Sustainable Communities Initiative has awarded nearly $140 million to 87 grantees at the local, regional, and state levels to develop local and regional plans that integrate housing, transportation, economic development, and environmental preservation in new and innovative ways. HUD’s Office of Policy Development and Research (PD&R) is playing an important role in this effort, partnering with the Office of Sustainable Housing and Communities to run a grant competition to fund research in sustainability. The $2.5 million PD&R has made available for research relating to affordable housing, transportation, healthy community design, and other aspects of sustainability is by far the most sought-after funding source in our history.
PD&R’s participation in this grant competition is only the latest in a long history of initiatives that have sought to better understand and advance sustainability. Nearly 20 years ago PD&R played a lead role in the Partnership for Advancing Technology in Housing, which facilitated the introduction of new technologies to promote affordable housing and “green” building practices. More recently, we helped sponsor Growing Smart, a handbook for regulatory reform that supports environmentally friendly approaches to development, and Regional Approaches to Affordable Housing, a report that identifies and evaluates promising approaches to affordable housing development at the metropolitan level. Efforts such as these will continue.
As the federal government and its partners become more deeply engaged in sustainability, HUD recognizes the ongoing need for a strong and reliable empirical basis for developing sustainability-related policies and understanding their implications. We are leveraging small investments in our partners and grantees to grow our evidence base. For instance, the Sustainable Communities grant winners are serving as laboratories for community- and regional-level sustainability planning, and their funding comes with evidence-gathering requirements that will show how effectively their projects advance sustainability goals. Pilot programs such as PowerSaver and Green Refinance Plus will do the same for building-scale questions.
This issue of Evidence Matters highlights some important programs in the field, focusing on the role of data in guiding sustainability policy and practice. The articles demonstrate the ways that good data can spur investment and create consensus around sustainability issues. By highlighting the uses of and demand for evidence, we hope to focus attention on an integral part of the effort to make sustainability a first-order concern for everyone.
— Raphael Bostic, Assistant Secretary for Policy Development and Research
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