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Seeing Through the Cycles

Sustainable Land Development Initiative | Wednesday September 8th, 2010 | 0 Comments

By Tony Wernke
Follow Tony on Twitter: @Sustainable4U

People, planet and profit are all suffering these days, but there’s light at the end of the tunnel. 

Like never before, the land development industry is rife with uncertainty. Professionals are being hit hard from all sides. The economic downturn is creating challenges to just about everyone’s business model, the environmentally-driven issues impacting our work are at levels never experienced before, and the public’s perception of the value the industry is delivering is at an all-time low.

As these cycles continue, one thing is clear. The time has come for professionals throughout the industry to embrace a new direction. It turns out that the direction for which the industry is overwhelmingly advocating (derived from extensive industry research and feedback over the last three years) is incredibly consistent with the visionary perspectives of perhaps our country’s greatest hero and the father of modern land development, George Washington. Recognizing Washington’s actions (as explored in a December 2005 article that appeared in Land Development Today titled Breaking New Ground) help to light our way down a path of true sustainability – one where people, planet, and profit all are considered equally in decision models.

Inspired by Washington’s leadership, and driven by the industry’s call for real solutions to carry it forward, I am honored to be a part of an industry-driven organization dedicated to meeting the industry’s true needs. Later this year, that organization, Sustainable Land Development International (SLDI), will begin accepting professional memberships. I want to take this opportunity to extend an invitation to you, as a valued reader of this magazine, to join and become a charter member.

Following are just a few of the characteristics that will make SLDI a uniquely powerful organization:

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 SLDP 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.

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

1 “Local Government Efforts to Promote the ‘Three Es’ of Sustainable Development: Survey of Large Cities in  the U.S.,” Dr. Robert Paterson, Co-Director, Center for Sustainable Development, University of Texas at Austin, 2006.


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