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The Universal Principles of Sustainable Development

By Terry Mock and Tony Wernke, SLDI Co-founders
Follow Terry and Tony on Twitter: Terry @SustainLandDev; Tony @Sustainable4U

This article is Part 3 in the Fractal Sustainable Development Trilogy.

Part 1: Designing a ‘Big Wheel’ for Civilization

Part 2: Like Life Itself, Sustainable Development is Fractal

As a comprehensive sustainable development decision model, The SLDI Code functions as a completely integrated, fractal matrix which leads decision-makers from the foundation of triple-bottom-line sustainability to sustainable results. This unique model (depicted graphically by the logo to the right) is a result of the input and vetting of numerous sustainable project leaders.

NOTE: The principles embedded in the SLDI Code Sustainable Development Matrix are universal in their application and need not be confined to land development projects. In Pass-It-Forward spirit, the SLDI Code has been gifted on behalf of the land development industry to be used by anyone on any effort in which triple-bottom-line sustainable results are desired.

The SLDI Code represents the next generation of sustainable development by embodying its fractal nature. In other words, it offers structure and instructional guidance as the project development process builds on itself. In contrast, other programs adhere to the pervasive top-down approach which prescribes or requires specific practices and/or products be utilized during design and implementation, many of which don’t apply effectively to specific circumstances on different projects.

The SLDI Code is not designed to replace or compete with other more narrowly defined programs or regulatory constraints. It provides an umbrella for them and embraces the components of the sustainability equation to which they apply. The SLDI Code completes them as a comprehensive sustainable development model and helps to fully incorporate them as necessary – streamlining the project development process rather than delaying it.

The SLDI Code™ Sustainable Development Matrix

The SLDI Code Sustainable Development Matrix begins with the three bottom lines necessary for sustainable project development. From this foundation, nine interdependent guiding principles (depicted in the graphic below) provide a universal gateway to all of the vital components of any sustainable result. The term ‘matrix’ refers to a diagram that constitutes the place or point from which something originates, takes form, or develops. The purpose of this article is to introduce the development of how the three bottom lines (people, planet and profit) fractallhy become nine guiding principles – the basic instructions from which all sustainable results come.

Not surprisingly, for sustainable development, the underlying code is comprised of three elements. For anything to sustain itself over time, it must optimize or balance each of the following.

  1. Utility – the “satisfaction,” “incentive,” “desire,” or “pure state” that is to be attained.
  2. Effectiveness – doing the “right” things with accuracy and completeness.
  3. Efficiency – achieving the lowest possible input/output ratio.

At its most basic level, sustainable development incorporates these instructions through the broad concepts of People, Planet and Profit. Profit represents the utility to be attained, Planet represents efficiency and the understanding of limited resources. People represents the opportunity for effectiveness.

As the matrix goes deeper, the basic instruction of optimizing/balancing utility, efficiency and effectiveness continues to replicate itself. Within the Profit triad for example, utility is manifested through the Create Value principle, efficiency through the Eliminate Waste principle, and effectiveness through the Recognize Interdependence principle. Similarly, the Planet triad is comprised of a Model Nature principle to represent utility, an Energy Flows principle for efficiency, and a Humans and Nature Co-Exist principle for the effectiveness requirement. The People triad includes a Quality of Life principle for utility, a Share Knowledge for efficiency, and an Accept Responsibility principle for effectiveness.

The Sustainable Development Matrix diagram adapts the concepts of the Hannover Principles originally developed by William McDonough and Michael Braungart and modifies them (as put forth in their original form and in the words of their authors, the Hannover Principles “may adapt as our knowledge of the world evolves.") to conform to the triple-bottom-line approach of truly sustainable land development (http://www.mcdonough.com/principles).

The guiding principles then guide increasingly specific decisions, while maintaining the holistic triple-bottom-line balance that is needed throughout the planning, design, implementation and management phases of any project.

Profit (Economic Capital)

  1. Create Value – Maximizing economic value for all stakeholders is vital to the success, and overall sustainability, of every project. Efficient and effective means of production, distribution, and consumption have a direct economic impact on success – both to the direct financial beneficiaries and society at large.
  2. Eliminate Waste – The budgeting and cost control practices throughout the project are vital to optimizing sustainability. By developing and following proven best practices in budgeting, scheduling, bid/contract management, and asset management, returns can be substantively improved.
  3. Recognize Interdependence – By including all of the stakeholders with a variety of interests throughout the project planning and design process, and by expanding the scope of interest beyond the confines of a specific project to include neighboring communities, government, the local watershed, and beyond, project teams are well on the way toward achieving the optimal economic and environmental returns on investments. Over the longer-term, there can be no economic capital without preserving and maximizing environmental and social capital.

Planet (Environmental Capital)

  1. Model Nature – The purest and most valuable form of environmental stewardship is to model our natural systems throughout our projects. All the sustainable technology and intelligence necessary can be found by understanding and modeling our natural biological systems. This can be accomplished through the study of nature’s best ideas and then imitating these designs and processes to solve human problems. Further, human beings have an innate and evolutionarily based affinity for nature. Connecting projects to nature equals success from an environmental, social and economic context.
  2. Energy Flows – Capturing and leveraging our natural energy systems through renewable energy sources and biological materials is the nature of this principle. Minimizing the amount of non-renewable energy and pollutants used throughout the product manufacturing, use, maintenance and reuse is vital to achieving best practices with the Energy Flows guiding principle.
  3. Humans and Nature Co-exist – By incorporating natural principles and practices, projects can deliver a sustainable imprint that not only has lower impact, but no impact and restorative impact. Humans have the capacity  to restore the natural systems to greater health through effective planning, implementation and management. For a sustainable future, humans must effectively integrate with nature, not separate from it.

People (Social Capital)

  1. Accept Responsibility – It is our ethical responsibility to assume leadership over the vision and values for our projects. Adhering to a decision model that maximizes economic results, minimizes environmental impact and restores degraded ecosystems, and maximizes the quality of life for the community within and beyond the scope of the project in question gives us the opportunity to deliver uniquely valuable solutions for the future of our civilization.
  2. Quality of Life – By focusing on the innovative ways to meet and exceed all project stakeholders’ quality-of-life needs, we can provide unique value to people within and beyond the immediate scope of the project in question.
  3. Share Knowledge – Without sharing the knowledge gained through the project development process to others, projects can lose financial and social value, and can ultimately become unsustainable over the life of the project. It is vital to sustain the original intent for all projects through the transfer of knowledge about the project, so current project team members can more effectively integrate their efforts and products. Further, future owners and stakeholders must understand the original project vision and intent in order to maintain the sustainability of a project indefinitely. Lastly, sharing knowledge gained on specific projects to stakeholders throughout the world will play an important role in ensuring our sustainable future for all time.

The Matrix Continues – Guiding Principles Help Define Goals…

Following the fractal nature of sustainable development, self-similar patterns follow to achieve increasingly specific directives driven from the model to achieve sustainable results. From each of these nine guiding principles, goals evolve as directed by the requirements, restrictions and context of the project. Then from the set of goals, objectives and ultimately best practices can be defined, all of which maintain the balanced perspective of the decision model. It is from following the best practices that sustainable results occur, consistent with the objectives, goals, guiding principles and triple bottom line.


Utilizing The SLDI Code strategic planning process prior to design and implementation will maximize value, save resources, and optimize sustainable results on your next project.


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  • http://frankurbanism.blogspot.com Frank Starkey

    This framework is very useful as each triangle represents the interface between those adjacent to it, with the “purest” of each of the 3 points going in opposite directions. This makes it able to express both “pure” ideas (model nature) and those which connect to others (Energy flows.)
    I recently wrote a document describing the various benefits of a sustainable development plan for a new town. It was impossible to assign every benefit to only one of the three “bottom lines.” Having read this, I can go back and assign each to a triangle within this matrix.
    Great work!

  • http://twitter.com/SustainLandDev SLDI

    UPDATE:

    Doing Good — Badly
    01/22/2013 – http://www.huffingtonpost.com/john-friedman/doing-good-badly_b_2521199.html?utm_source=Alert-blogger&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=Email%2BNotifications

    By John Friedman

    “….It will take a systemic approach to evolve and change the way that companies, communities, governments, societies and individuals appraise, engage, and enhance human, ecological, and financial resources. And it will also take agreement on the role of business in a global society. Unless or until someone (or a consensus group) finds a way to cut through this tangled mess, the world will undoubtedly continue to struggle to define and move toward sustainable economies.”