“With the exception of some high-flying migrant species, nature doesn't commute to work.” - Janine Benyus, Biomimicry

Aquinas College

Site Selection


A trailer park built on former farmland near Belleville, Michigan
Photo by Erwin C. Cole, courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

Selecting a new building or redevelopment site plays a major role in the environmental footprint of a structure and is integral to making a building truly green. For example, developing green space such as a forest or a farm field would destroy the habitat and its economic significance. Whenever possible, a building should never compromise the natural systems of an area. In addition, the spatial location of a site in respect to urban infrastructure like utility lines and public transportation is crucial, as it will affect its long term ecological impact.

Not only is it beneficial for the selected site to be near urban infrastructure, it is valuable to locate within walking distance of grocery stores, banks and restaurants, and/or near public transit. A building can be more than a solitary structure, as it can become part of a sustainable community that supports human relationships and local economies.

It's also important to be mindful of regional water needs and the effect of storm water runoff on the site and surrounding areas. Storm water runoff transports all the pollutants on roadways and farm fields in its path. It is a huge cost to cities, especially those with combined sewers, as surrounding waterways become overwhelmed by storm water running off pavement rather than infiltrating the soil. Leaving or creating green space on a development or redevelopment site will help combat these effects. Utilizing native plants for landscaping and minimizing impervious surfaces by installing green roofs and permeable pavement are a few ways to achieve this objective.

Another aspect to consider in site selection is building orientation. Positioning windows to the south in order to take advantage of natural lighting, and planting deciduous trees around the building (where locally appropriate) will help shade a building in the summer and allow more natural light to enter in the winter. Installing photovoltaic panels on south facing surfaces is another way to increase efficiency.

It is obvious that site selection and building orientation play a major role in the creation of a green building and these are just a few of the many important considerations. The sites listed below provide additional information on land use, redevelopment, new urbanism and much more!


Michigan Land Use Institute

The Institute is an independent, nonprofit research, education, and service organization operating in the public interest to establish an approach to economic development that strengthens communities, enhances opportunity, and protects the state's unmatched natural resources. The site contains an extensive news section, resources related to growth management, transportation, water and land use, an event calendar, and a discussion forum.

National Brownfield Association (NBA)

NBA, based in Chicago, Illinois, was established in 1999 as a nonprofit, educational organization dedicated to stimulating the responsible redevelopment of brownfields. Within these pages, there is an inexhaustible supply of news and information that will provide the necessary tools to utilize brownfields for remediation.

Urban Land Use Institute (ULI)

ULI is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit research and education organization supported by its members. Founded in 1936, the Institute has more than 25,000 members worldwide with representation from land use and real estate development disciplines, private enterprise and public service. In addition to green building location information, the site also contains a section devoted to best practices, urban design, and public housing.

Funded by the Steelcase Foundation of Grand Rapids, Michigan
Header photo by Carol Y. Swinehart, courtesy of Michigan Sea Grant Extension
Site by CMC/GrandNet