When our Sandpiper home won the award for Best Energy Efficient House on the Skagit/Island Counties Builders Association home tour in September, it made us think more deeply about sustainability. And what the word really means.

It’s not only about using long-lasting materials and a lot of insulation. That’s only part of the story.

Sustainability, we think, rests on a foundation of caring. When we care about our home, community, and the natural environment surrounding it, we’ll give our best efforts to preserving all these things.

So many of the recent new housing developments in the country seem like they were expressly created for people not to care. They’re designed so that a corporate transfer family from, say, suburban Denver will be able to slip right into a house in suburban Seattle without noticing any great change (except that they’re suddenly a lot wetter). And then they can slip out again in a few years without suffering the loss of any deep relationships or affection for the neighborhood.

The Highlands at Langley is a very different kind of place.

It’s small, only 54 lots. The homes are designed with generous front porches that face each other, not anonymous garage doors that blankly greet the street. Every aspect of the plan is intended to nourish relationships among neighbors and a deep sense of community.

It doesn’t have the feel of a housing development in suburban Seattle or suburban anywhere. The homes are not sprawling McMansions and there are no surrounding malls or big-box stores. What The Highlands is surrounded by are forests and the scenic waters of Saratoga Passage and Possession Sound. This is not an environment that can be manufactured or interchanged with any other.

The residents of Whidbey Island care deeply about these places. And work to sustain them.

We believe sustainability isn’t about doing the least harm to the natural environment, or draining the oil well a little less rapidly. It’s not something to express as “least harm” or other mousy negatives. Rather, it’s a positive, proactive, all-encompassing ethic: Creating a place that people will take care of because it’s beautiful and unique and precious.

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