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Sustainable Land Development Beyond Buildings

Industry Developments – By Rob Kundert

Industry-wide association dedicated to sustainable land development launched at Phoenix conference.

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 environmental, social and economic capital creation and preservation.

“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, with tongue planted firmly in cheek. Mock is a true believer in the triple-bottom-line, long-term 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.

“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 will deliver an industry-developed set of holistic best practices with the opportunity for projects to achieve SLDI Certified 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.”

Observations

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.”

Republished from January, 2008 issue of Sustainable Land Development Today magazine.


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