Sustainable Land Development

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Sustainable Land Development Today & Sustainable Urban Redevelopment



Balacing the needs of people, planet, and profit 


Defining Sustainable Land Development
Written by Terry Mock   

When the term “sustainable” is mentioned, people are often unsure of its context and/or skeptical of the motivation behind its use. Having been primarily used in an environmental context, Wikipedia defines sustainability as, “a characteristic of a process or state that can be maintained at a certain level indefinitely. The term, in its environmental usage, refers to the potential longevity of vital human ecological support systems, such as the planet's climatic system, systems of agriculture, industry, forestry, and fisheries, and human communities in general and the various systems on which they depend.”

SLDI’s perspective encompasses more than just environmental sustainability. Here’s how SLDI defines sustainable land development:

Sustainable Land Development – the art and science of planning, financing, regulating, designing, managing, constructing and marketing the conversion of land to other uses through team-oriented, multi-disciplinary approaches which balance the needs of people, planet and profit – for today, and future generations.


A holistic strategic perspective enables the greatest results within each of the specialized areas of land development. As such, the following foundational objectives buoy all three legs of sustainable land development.
Create a sustainable development industry-dominant brand;
Implement sustainable development certification programs for individuals and projects;
Integrate aesthetic values with scientific facts to maximize the achievement of sustainable land development.


Develop and promote interdisciplinary knowledge and technologies that unite technical expertise and understanding to improve the quality of solutions, resulting in increased net revenue and new business opportunities for members.

  • Reduce business costs and increase income, resulting in increased financial yield;
  • Obtain unique market access for creating enhanced value;
  • Broaden market opportunities.



Promote ecologically sound land development that protects and restores essential ecosystems.

  • Create holistic industry best practices that embrace sustainable development practices;
  • Leverage existing and emerging technologies that deliver ecological results;
  • Improve the ecological quality of land development products and services;


Promote social, environmental and financial best practices by facilitating stakeholder alliances.

  • Educate and inform all stakeholders about the importance of sustainability and the role of Sustainable Land Development International;
  • Promote the importance of social equity to overall community sustainability;
  • Expand stakeholder participation in sustainable land development. SUR


Nature Bats Last    
Written by Terry Mock
Friday, 09 May 2008
We are Part of Nature, Too…

In previous articles published in this magazine, I have supported a more environmentally-friendly approach to land development.

“Understanding the Sacred Bond we have with Trees” pointed out the historical importance of wood to the rise of major civilizations and the link between deforestation and environmental collapse, and the fall of many of those same civilizations. The article “Biodiversity is the Living Foundation for Sustainable Development” was published to highlight the fact that underlying all efforts to achieve a triple-bottom-lined sustainable future is the fundamental requirement that certain environmental building blocks must exist, or little hope for civilization can remain. Finally,“Building a Sustainable Community Forest” addressed the need for a comprehensive approach to build sustainable “designer ecosystems” for the future.

Having taken an early environmentally defensive position on land development issues in the past, I now find myself in the position of defending our industry in the face of recent publicly reported criticism and dire predictions which have outlined a very bleak future for humanity as a consequence of the collective eco-sins of present and preceding generations. While the consequences of bad environmental practices are now evident and obvious to any rational observer, I now offer an opinion contrary to the current hysteria-media-driven fear of a coming “Dark Age” for civilization.

The key to my optimism is the belief that inevitably the movement of human emotion between the extremes of confidence in human dominance over nature, and the fear of nature punishing us for our exploitive tendencies, will result in a more balanced view that as part of nature, humans have the capability to be a positive evolutionary force and to learn from and influence the natural world around us, for the benefit of society today, as well as future generations of all species.

As evidence that the above described human emotional cycle does exist, I offer the following simple example - In 1992, in conjunction with the assembly of the first World Summit on Sustainable Development, a majority of the world’s leading scientists signed and delivered an unprecedented and explicit document entitled, “A Warning to Humanity” with the following introduction:

“Human beings and the natural world are on a collision course. Human activities inflict harsh and often irreversible damage on the environment and on critical resources. If not checked, many of our current practices put at serious risk the future that we wish for human society and the plant and animal kingdoms, and may so alter the living world that it will be unable to sustain life in the manner that we know. Fundamental changes are urgent if we are to avoid the collision our present course will bring about.”

“We must bring environmentally damaging activities under control to restore and protect the integrity of the Earth’s systems we depend on.”

Even though it is easy to see in hindsight that the scientists were correct in their warnings, at the time neither the New York Times nor the Washington Post even carried the story. Now, in contrast, doomsayers are given top billing in the news of the day, and end-of-the-world stories are common.

What is a responsible land developer to make of this?

Well, in 1987, five years before “A Warning to Humanity”, this developer was elected president of a major environmental organization, called for “The Year of Restoration”, and predicted that earth restoration would become a major world-wide industry. Since that time, as evidenced by the emergence of this magazine and its parent organization – Sustainable Land Development International (SLDI)- there has been an amazing burst of new technology on the scene, with much more on the way, that will enable our species to not only survive, but to thrive as the stewards of a restored planet.

The cornerstone of our new-found knowledge of sustainability is the philosophy of “doing more with less,” and the best sustainable models to study are the earth’s natural systems. By emulating the efficiency of nature, we can sustain our species at a desirable standard of living and at long last, the often repeated cycle of natural resource exploitation, and the rise and fall of civilizations from the dawn of human time, will be broken.



Holistic Perspective
There are a number of great specialized organizations and efforts today that advocate for various disciplinary perspectives and industry segments of sustainable land development. In fact, we continue to partner with many of them. What makes SLDI unique is that it possesses the comprehensive scope to bring together the various perspectives and industry segments to address the full breadth of problems we face. The industry lacks innovation and is plagued by poor productivity that is reflected in unfulfilled value potential and poor responsiveness to changing economic, social, and ecological environments.

As indicated in our May 2007 SLDT article “People, Planet and Profit,” the triple-bottom-line approach has been widely accepted in theory, but is not being employed in practice – public or private. Evidence of this shows up in many places, including a recent survey by the University of Texas,1 which found that, “despite the familiarity with the concept of sustainability, sustainable development has not emerged as a planning paradigm for most cities.”


Developer-Centric Approach
Ultimately, the land development industry – and civilization itself – is doomed without a comprehensive perspective that places the needs of the risk-taking, decision-making, check-writing land developer at the center of its universe. As the various design and engineering professions have become increasingly specialized over recent decades, conventional land development has moved further from a developer-centric, whole-system orientation.


Member-Owned Industry Organization
Unlike traditional non-profit industry organizations, SLDI is a member-owned for-profit organization of stakeholders joined together for a common purpose – to promote land development around the world that balances the needs of people, planet and profit, for today and future generations. To my knowledge, never before in history has an industry organization offered the opportunity for leading professionals to earn ownership status through industry achievement.


Differentiation Opportunity
With the land development industry coming under increasing attack for unsustainable practices, SLDI will provide professionals the opportunity to differentiate the quality of their work and professional status through professional and project certification programs. Members who achieve certification and abide by SLDI’s Ethical Standards of Professional Practice will be provided the opportunity to present themselves with a certified SLDI designation. Such designation benefits professionals by positively impacting the real problems decision-makers face throughout the land development process in finance/economic development, entitlements, public relations, and marketing/sales.


Affiliate with Leading Like-Minded Industry Professionals
SLDI will be comprised of individuals and organizations who are motivated to take land development beyond the current methods and perspectives that currently dominate the industry. Individually, we are at the mercy of the rest of the world. Together, we can achieve the necessary vision of a truly sustainable future that embodies a triple-bottom-line perspective. SLDT

Strange Bedfellows

Written by Tony Wernke   
Friday, 29 February 2008
Today, balancing people, planet and profit is a challenging but achievable requirement for success.

I recently read an article in The Seattle Times that is both hopeful and discouraging. It provided hope by illustrating how two groups that most would consider strange bedfellows found common ground by pursuing the sustainable land development principles of balancing people, planet and profit. The discouraging thing is that these groups, land conservancies and loggers, are joining together to oppose all development, which according to their own definition of the term, they perceive to be environmentally unsustainable.

The article, “Save Northwest Forests for Conifers, Not Condos” detailed how the Nature Conservancy is jumping with both feet into a business that historically has been commonly understood to be completely antithetical to their mission – logging. The environmental group is planning to cut trees on 161,000 acres in the Adirondacks in New York. Similarly, the Cascade Land Conservancy has acquired 140,000 acres of forested land in the state of Washington to log it, again, to “stop development.”
The ironic fact is that according to the classic definition of land development, the changing of a land’s current usage to another, these two groups are embedded in what they are opposing.

Not long ago, environmental activists chained themselves to trees to save them from cutting, and the forest industry was typically branded, for good reason, as a threat to the environment. In many forests around the world, clear-cut logging has contributed to habitat destruction, water pollution, the inequitable distribution of wealth, and even violence, in addition to many other ills against society and the environment. Sound familiar?

But times are changing. Today, forestry management best practices, principles, criteria, and standards exist that span economic, social, and environmental concerns and are being successfully implemented by many throughout the industry. Loggers are recognizing that the path to economic success goes through the tenets of sustainable land development, not around them. Sustainable logging practices now enable the achievement of maximum profit, the conservation of nature, and positive spin-off for society now, and future generations.

Through a triple-bottom-lined approach to sustainability, groups who previously were thought to possess opposing goals are now finding themselves in alignment. Rather than fight against them, conservationists now use logging practices to achieve their goals, and loggers use conservation practices to achieve theirs.
However, while the article reflects a positive trend toward more sophisticated approaches, it also reflects a tunnel-vision perspective that lacks a holistic, sustainable-developer viewpoint. This is evidenced in the anti-development rhetoric that starts with the title of the article.

What’s also concerning is that their joint rallying cry is opposition to land development. In the words of one conservationist, “It’s a choice between conifers and condos.” The Cascade Land Conservancy says that the logging will help protect “a unique jewel of nature from fragmentation and development.”

This “either/or” mentality is a recipe for failure. Development can – and must – integrate man and nature, not separate them. Not only do population and market realities make separation unrealistic, but as the environmentalists and loggers are discovering, a sustainable future requires greater human interaction with the forests, not less.

The forest will not manage itself. When we let it try, the result is catastrophic fire and rampant invasive species. Conversely, land must become more of a community forest. This underscores the reality that forestry management, conservation, and even agriculture are all inextricably connected with – not distinct from – the development community. Sustainable land development is our common umbrella.

Today, land development stakeholders from all interest segments, whether primarily social, economic or environmental, simply must be highly effective collaborators. The key to doing so lies in finding common ground. Common ground can be found through the tenets of SLDI.

The article underscores the fact that there probably isn’t a land development professional in existence that hasn’t incurred the browbeating of interest groups attempting to stop what they do. That fact is one of the primary driving forces behind Sustainable Land Development International.

When developers join with environmental interests, the regulators, media and public become curious. At first they’re skeptical and want to probe further to determine what’s REALLY going on. They become even more curious when the groups genuinely work well together. That curiosity is a valuable asset.

This is where SLDI comes in. By embracing a triple-bottom-line approach from the outset, everyone has the opportunity to achieve common ground from a holistic perspective. People can move forward with a better understanding of, and alignment toward, each others’ interests. When interests are aligned, environmental stakeholders begin to make economic arguments, economic stakeholders make social arguments, etc. Everyone wins.

As sustainable land development continues to take hold, more and more groups will begin to discover that they are part of our industry, and we’ll discover more about our common ground. As The Seattle Times article illustrates, making strange bedfellows is a way in which discouraging situations can begin to become hopeful – regardless of your primary interests.