In the past decade, environmental issues have gained prominence around the world due to the damaging effects of industrial growth on the environment. Having become an important topic in national and international affairs, environmental concerns are more commonly known as 'environmentalism'. Environmentalism refers to a scientific, social and political movement that advocates sustainable resource management, conservation and, the protection of the natural environment through policy modifications and more informed individual choices (i.e. recycling). The movement is supported by a wide range of actors including governments, policy makers, non-governmental organizations, grassroots societies and individuals. While environmentalism is not a coherent movement (many people value different aspects of the environment while others do not see it as a pressing issue at all), awareness of environmental degradation has impacted the way in which land is developed today.
Post-wartime land development changed considerably due to the creation of 'earth-moving' machines. This type of equipment enabled post-war builders to consider any and all types of land for development. Such industrial development facilitated, among other things, an eruption in urban sprawl and a decrease in open spaces. The environment, as a result, took most of the brunt. In the US and Canada, hundreds of thousands of acres of bogs, woods, streams, wetlands and farmlands were destroyed in the name of urban and, particularly suburban growth. Developers simply failed to consider green spaces in laying out their sprawl designs. As a result, the environment became much more fragile and vulnerable due to human intrusion which fragmented ecological habitats and removed natural barriers against flooding and drought.
In Alberta, oil and gas wells have dotted the countryside replacing farm land and ecological habitats; Alberta's oil-sands cover 141,000 square kilometres of the northern and eastern regions of the province. Large oil companies are attracted to the Edmonton area by the availability of land, labour and infrastructure. Recently, quality agricultural land and natural areas have been rezoned to create a 530-square-kilometre region called Alberta's Industrial Heartland. The Industrial Heartland is three-quarters the size of the city of Edmonton. Meanwhile, cities like Calgary and Edmonton have developed into some of the largest urban centres in North America based solely on geographical area.
The continued horizontal expansion of cities and towns shaped later efforts by civilians and governments to force builders to meet more environment-friendly standards. So powerful was the commitment to preserve open spaces that "[the] issue nurtured the sort of grassroots activism that became the heart of the environmental movement" in the latter half of the 20th century. Thus, the effort to preserve open spaces proved to be a critical stage in the evolution of the current environmental movement concerning land preservation and construction. In the late 20th century for example, policy modifications that reflected new environmentally conscious trends included a push to New Urbanism, land-use regulation laws and evolved to alter residential and commercial building standards.
While land preservation in suburban areas has not been fully realized, environmentally friendly building trends have began to emerge in Alberta's development plans. For example, Drake Landing in Okotoks has become Canada's first solar-powered sub-division, facilitating 90% of the communities energy needs. The 'green' trend in homebuilding is thus sweeping Alberta in both urban and suburban areas. Currently, the Alberta residential housing industry is the national leader in promoting energy-efficient upgrades and in building 'green' homes in response to consumer economic interests. Green roofs, for example, reduce cooling and heating costs while effectively collecting storm water runoff. Real estate professionals too are recognizing the importance of bridging pressing environmental issues with real estate. They are interested in 'green' residential and commercial properties because the cost advantages that are associated with environmentally friendly buildings make such edifices more marketable and therefore, more sellable.
The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) provides a set of standards for environmentally sustainable construction. LEED buildings address six major issues: sustainability, water efficiency, energy efficiency, materials, indoor environmental quality, and innovative design process. By following these six criteria, green building construction increases the efficiency with which buildings use resources (i.e. energy, water, materials). The LEED© certification standard for green commercial and public buildings is growing in Alberta (LEED© standards for residential housing will be implemented in the near future). As construction and energy prices continue to climb, so too will the desire for LEED© standards in the construction of commercial and residential properties.
Real Estate organizations are also coming to value the environmental movement; for example, the Alberta Real Estate Association's Quality of Life program includes a mandate to preserve the environment. Recently, members of the Alberta Real Estate Association joined a provincial committee dedicated to redveloping contaminated sites in Alberta. The Alberta Real Estate Foundation (AREF) has also joined the environmntal movement. They recently gave funding to an award winning publication, "Sustainbility at Home: A Toolkit," which provides homeowners with practical advice on how to reduce their ecological footprint at home.