Sustainable Development Case Study : Civano, Tucson, Arizona

Location Maps of Tucson, Arizona


Calling itself an ‘environmentally sensitive Traditional Neighbourhood Development’, Civano is a new development, opened fully in autumn 1998, which promotes the idea of sustainable living in balance with the Sonoran desert environment of Tucson, Arizona.  The 820 acre development will become home to more than 5,000 people within about 5 more years.  Civano is made up of homes built in four individual styles, by four separate specialist contractors, which all use special technologies to achieve the goals of Civano.


The concept of Civano began as a response to the first energy crisis, when oil prices soared in the 1970’s.  A group of innovative advocates and government officials created the concept of a ‘solar village’ which would take advantage of Tucson’s abundant solar resources.  Over years the concept evolved to encompass a broader agenda, which would address a number of environmental issues, and resource and planning concepts; all aiming to create a planned community in balance with its natural surroundings.

After Bruce Babbitt, then governor of Arizona saw what was the Tucson Solar Village, a small development of 10 solar homes, he asked its developer, John Wesley Miller, to replicate the community on a larger scale. Miller worked with the city's Metropolitan Energy Commission, local builders and environmental activists on the design of Civano and the Arizona Energy Office provided funding for planning. In 1996 the community came together when the land for the development was purchased from the State Land Trust for $2.7 million.

Civano has key goals, as highlighted by their self-created IMPACT (Integrated Method of Performance and Tracking) Standards, which attempt to ‘reach a balance between growth, affordability, and achieving a greater integration with our environment’. The builders, developers, and residents of Civano are committed to achieving goals that include:

Significantly reducing energy consumption

Reducing internal vehicle miles by creating a pedestrian-friendly neighbourhood

Significantly reducing potable (drinking water) consumption

Reducing landfill destined solid waste

Technologies Used

The Civano project has been designed to save energy and water, and reduce solid waste and air pollution, these goals are achieved by implementing technologies of sustainable development, as highlighted below, in terms of building technologies, and also adaptation to, and utilisation of the Sonoran Desert environment.

Straw bales – the residual product of wheat harvesting is used in some homes for high quality insulation.  Thermal mass building material are utilised to increase energy savings by moderating heat extremes through slowing down heat penetration or loss.  Adobe, and insulated masonry block are used at Civano.

All windows in Civano homes are double pane with special coated glass to reduce heat transfer and glare, saving energy. Rastra, a new building material made from a mixture of re-cycled plastics and concrete is used as an alternative by several of the specialist contractors.  Energy is saved since this material performs similarly to thermal mass building materials.

Wood framing is also used to a heavy extent in Civano, and thicker than normal framing is used to improve insulation, again acting to save energy.  All of the builders in Civano are enrolled in a construction material recycling program, so that wasted wood is recycled into other usable products – Civano supports sustainable use of resources, and carefully chooses sources of construction materials.

Development in Civano aims to take the greatest possible advantage of the environment it is in, this is managed, firstly, by the use of active and passive solar heating.  Careful landscaping is used to provide passive solar heating in winter, but also areas of shade in summer, which reduces energy consumed for air conditioning or other cooling measures.  Photovolactics (PVs) are devices used to actively generate solar energy, modules located on some properties, and around Civano allows energy from the sun to be stored, and converted into AC electricity, providing a reliable and sustainable source of power, since solar energy is renewable.

The wise use of water is also an issue in Civano, especially given the Sonoran Desert environment, so very simple but highly effective measures of reclaiming water are used to reduce residential piped consumption.  During winter rains or summer monsoons, water harvesting is accomplished by channelling runoff to designated areas for irrigation, or to containers (cisterns) for storage, and later use.  Every home in Civano also has access to the City of Tucson's reclaimed water system. This secondary water system of non-drinkable water is used for all outdoor irrigation, at a lower per unit cost.

Civano also uses native and/or desert adapted plants for landscaping so that water can be saved, also practised are special landscaping schemes which make irrigation more efficient.


Energy needs 75% less than if using traditional technologies

Water consumption 65% less than average

Landfill destined solid waste reduced 90% by recycling efforts

Air pollution down 40% through a carefully planned circulation pattern


Elliot, Jennifer (1994), ‘An Introduction to Sustainable Development’, Routledge

Newson, Malcolm (1995), ‘Managing the Human Impact on the Natural Environment – Patterns and Processes’, John Wiley & Sons

Waugh, David (2000), ‘Geography – An Integrated Approach’, Nelson

Law, Norman and Smith, David (1993), ‘Problem-Solving Geography’, Stanley Thornes

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