Sustainable Land Development, what is it?

There is great conversation and debate being had at every level of government and private firm that deals with all things Land Development.  The conversation has essentially started with the LEED certification program by the US Green Building Council.  So what is the conversation and why does it matter to anyone?

The conversation is about Best Management Practices, LEED certifciation, blah, blah, blah.  Just more hoops to jump through.  Government complexities.  Unfortunately, that is the arrogance of a country that is only 231 years old.  Place that in stark contrast to China which has been around since 221 BC!  So what that they’ve got us by about a cool 2000 years? What have we learned? 

Apparently not much according to William McDonough.  For those of you who attended the AEC Main Presentation at AU this year, you heard him speak on many issues and questions that boiled down to sustainability.  You may have also heard him elsewhere speak about this topic, it seems to be his life story.  If not, you can catch a glimpse here, a video recording on TED.

The point of his contribution seems to be this;

“I see environmentally intelligent design as being driven by three principles, which I’ve borrowed from nature: Remember that waste equals food. Use current solar income. Respect diversity.”Fast

So how do we “design” a living space that is as efficient as a tree?  Rule #1 – waste is food.  The house you live in generates waste.  Is your waste food for something else in the environment?  What about streets? Sewage plants?  Why do we rely on energy that has byproducts detrimenal to our life? How do our cities reflect nature?

OK, that’s fine. but what does green building, LEED and sustainability have to do with land development? Actually, there is a LEED-ND specification in its early stages which is trying to address the neighborhood design aspect of green building.  Additionally, others have taken it upon themselves to generate a different specification of sorts that is “more holistic” than LEED. That organization is called Sustainable Land Development International. Their purpose is this:

“Sustainable Land Development International is a member-owned organization dedicated to promoting land development around the world that balances the needs of people, planet and profit – for today and future generations. “

So the converation is strong right now for a complete mind shift and hopefully will bring us around from our consumer arrogance.  What do you have to say? Will we consume the land like a hoard of locusts? Or replenish the land like the Chinese farmer has done since forever?


About Kevin
Hi… I am a husband, father, brother and neighbor. I am employed as a Civil Engineer and have enjoyed playing the drums for the last 30+ years.

2 Responses to Sustainable Land Development, what is it?

  1. matt anderson says:

    I enjoyed the William’s presentation both at AU and on TED. I’ve thought about blogging about Green design…do we use PVC pipe? or Clay? Do we grade this area? or not…


  2. treeoflife1 says:

    Beyond Buildings: Industry-wide association dedicated to sustainable land development launched.

    With a nod to a famous passage penned by Abraham Lincoln, Sustainable Land Development International (SLDI) is an association of the industry, by the industry and for the industry.

    SLDI (pronounced “sill’-dee”), the first land development industry organization focused on triple-bottom-line sustainability, announced their formation on Wednesday, Nov. 14, 2007, at the Land Development Breakthroughs Leadership Conference at the Yavapai Nation’s Radisson Fort McDowell Resort, near Phoenix, Ariz.

    In contrast with the growing number of groups that have surfaced in response to the surging green movement, SLDI is a developer-centric, cooperatively-owned organization of stakeholders who will join together for a common purpose—to fulfill the needs of society and achieve a favorable return on the investment without harming the environment.

    “Sustainable land development encompasses what we call the three-Ps: people, planet and profit. Ultimately, you can’t have any of those without the other two,” said Tony Wernke, president of the new association, when he announced its formation to conference attendees.

    “There are a number of great specialized organizations and efforts today that advocate for various disciplinary perspectives and industry segments of sustainable land development,” he said. “What makes SLDI unique is that it possesses the comprehensive perspective to bring together all the various perspectives and segments to address the full breadth of problems we face today.

    “The predominant industry focus to date has been on making buildings more efficient and healthier to inhabit. That’s a great start, but it’s not near enough to achieve true sustainability. What’s happened thus far is that the developers and financial stakeholders have been pulled along with the green movement, but their perspectives haven’t been given their proper seat at the table so to speak, and other important stakeholder perspectives haven’t even been invited to the party as they deserve to be,” he said.

    Wernke maintains that as demands on the industry continue to change, SLDI empowers industry stakeholders from all disciplines and organizations – both public and private – to employ more holistic strategies and systems to achieve the triple-bottom line of sustainability.

    Bradley Novacek, chief development services engineer for Stanley Consultants of Phoenix, Ariz. was in the audience and liked what he heard.

    “I think the SLDI concept is a good one and is needed in the industry,” he said. “Looking at it from the developer’s standpoint, it is something that hasn’t really happened. There are a lot of industry organizations out there, but most of them are from the builder’s standpoint.”

    Experienced Direction

    Terry Mock, a successful Florida-based land developer was introduced as the SLDI executive director. Since his earliest years in the industry, Mock has carried the banner of sustainability, straddling the goals of environmentalism and project profitability.

    “It’s wonderful to come out of the cold after 35 years or so of being a voice in the wilderness, to finally be on the verge of overnight success,” said Mock, who is a true believer in the triple-bottom-line approach to achieve project sustainability.

    “The triple-bottom-line sustainability model has been put forth, peer reviewed and approved by just about every segment of society for decades now.

    The problem is it’s not being implemented,” he said.

    He pointed out that most current certification programs, while environmentally driven, are not comprehensive enough to adequately address the multitude of environmental issues they must. And beyond that, the environment is only a third of the sustainability triangle.

    “You have to look at the economics and you have to factor in the social equity component,” he said. “Unless you achieve a balance of all three, it is not sustainable. That is basically the message that we are coming forward with.”

    He said it’s a concept whose time has come, both for the industry and the world.

    “We want to respond to what you want and give you the tools to make land development sustainable and the world-leading industry that it deserves to be,” he said.

    What’s in it for You

    For those who join the new organization, there will be four primary points of focus:

    • Knowledge disseminated through print and digital publications, original book titles, as well as conferences, workshops, web-enabled courses, and other media;
    • Relationships fostered at SLDI conferences, workshops, meetings and other collaboration mechanisms;

    • Technology to enable project teams to achieve greater profitability, environmental stewardship and social equity;

    • Best Practices with an eye to new trends, processes and procedures.

    “SLDI is in development and will soon be unveiling a number of innovative technology initiatives aimed at furthering holistic land development processes and bringing qualified professionals together to facilitate sustainable projects,” Wernke explained.

    The soon-to-be-released SLDI DealMaker™ web-enabled technology is just such an initiative. Wernke indicated that additional details will be forthcoming in the near future.

    “Further, land-development project teams need a set of best practices that address the variety of issues and can be used to effectively drive project planning, finance, design, entitlement, construction, and marketing as well,” he said. “The SLDI Certified Project™ technology delivers an industry-developed set of holistic best practices with the opportunity for projects to achieve SLDI Certified Sanctuary™ status.”

    Also in the works is the potential for financial incentives to the implementation of SLDI best practices.

    “We are in communication with some of the major financial institutions with multi-billion dollar funds allocated for sustainable development that will provide preferred access to a certified project,” Wernke said.

    Discussions are also taking place with insurance companies. Sustainable projects will inherently bring less risk, so there is the potential for the association to lobby for preferred treatment of SLDI certified projects.

    As SLDI certification evolves, there are plans to go beyond projects and certify sustainable communities and beyond.

    “Ultimately, it will be really important to look at individual watersheds and begin to define what the best practices are to achieve the restoration of those watersheds,” Wernke said. “Developers and the development community, who not only benefit substantially from the overall health of those watersheds, but directly impact them through their work, are ideally positioned to help spearhead watershed restoration on local levels. Not only is this vitally important work for the industry, it presents a unique opportunity to begin to position land development professionals as the absolute heroes of our time in the eyes of the public.”


    Heather Burkert, of H. Burket & Co. of Bolivia, N.C., welcomed the SLDI concept, especially the element that promotes more interaction between the professions involved in the development process, from civil engineers to landscape architects and planners, etc.

    By encouraging greater communication between these stakeholders, where each profession becomes more knowledgeable of the challenges, work and purposes of the others, the entire process will improve. But she is predicting it will take time to take hold.

    “Not everybody is going to come to the table. It has been my experience that some of the disciplines do not respect the others. They don’t want to change the way they’ve done things,” she said. “I think that is the greatest hurdle, to get people past themselves to see a bigger vision.”

    Chuck Hoskins, director of real estate for American Development Industries in Charlotte, N.C., said SLDI could revolutionize the land development industry, especially through its focus on the developer.

    By profitably satisfying the needs of people without damaging the environment, those key stakeholders will be in the driver’s seat to change the concept of the development industry.

    “They’re the ones that will ultimately get it out to the public and help with the buy-in,” Hoskins said. “They will sell it as a value added feature and start changing public opinion.”

    History in the Making

    “I predict that in the future, this will prove to be a truly historic time for our industry and it’s absolutely the perfect time to launch a new organization when practically everything in the real estate industry is in a downward mode,” Mock said.

    He believes the time is right for the industry to do some self-analysis to determine what it has done right, what it has done wrong and take responsibility for those things. It must then step up to take its rightful position as the industry responsible for the survival and sustainability of civilization.

    “There have been plenty of examples of previous civilizations that have come and gone, who have been at the same crossroads and taken the wrong turn and they did not achieve sustainability,” Mock said. “We have the opportunity now to make the right decision at the right time. I’m confident that we will.”

    Rob Kundert, Senior Editor
    Sustainable Land Development Today


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