Achieving Sustainable Land Development

Last month in SLDI in Focus, we identified the SLDI Guiding Principles – nine universal tenets which comprise the foundation for a successful sustainable project according to the triple-bottom-line needs of maximizing social, environmental and economic capital. These principles adapt the concepts of the Hannover Principles originally developed by Bill 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 (

These guiding principles provide the framework for the 27 interrelated sustainable land development goals. Naturally, not all of these goals can be fully maximized on every project. Rather, these goals can be thought of as the ideals of holistic sustainable land development. The specific best management practices in each of these areas (and ultimately, the products and services employed) that provide the greatest leverage and value depends on the specific geographic and political landscape of each individual project. Not every product and/or process (best practice) is practical or effective on every project, but working through the decision model toward achieving each of the goals in a comprehensive fashion right from the beginning of the project can result in a project which delivers maximum sustainability.

SLDI has sought and received feedback from industry professionals which has resulted in the formalization of these goals. Following is a compilation of the results of your input. Please offer additional comments on this draft model. You can comment and/or contribute by emailing Tony Wernke at

PROFIT (Economic Capital)


Maximizing financial value for all stakeholders is vital to the success, and overall sustainability, of every project. 


 a)     Comprehensive and Thorough Due Diligence

A complete investigation right upfront of the development opportunity, including highest and best use site selection, the political and legal environment, optimizing the initial land plan, including mix of uses, densities and flow considerations, a high-level early financial yield analysis, and negotiation approaches ensures that a project does not get off on the wrong track, resulting in costly re-work and/or a poorly performing project.

 b)    Excellent Business Planning

A formal plan helps optimize project performance throughout the process and get and keep stakeholders aligned with the developer’s goals. An optimal plan would include a formal vision statement, including mission and principles, goals and strategic objectives. In addition, a marketing and sales plan and comprehensive financial proformas help get and keep a project performing optimally should also be included in the plan.

 c)     Effective Metrics

The ultimate measure of the value created on each project lies in the results obtained. Sales margins, rates, and returns on investments define a project’s financial success. The larger economic impact and the ability of the developer/project team to ensure that the original value delivered can be preserved are also equally important to sustainable projects.


The budgeting and cost control practices throughout the project are vital to maximize the return on investment of the project.


 a)     Effective Project Communication

Project-wide communication and data flow is vital to a project’s economic success. This is historically a goal that falls well short of optimal performance on most projects. Billions of dollars each year are wasted in ineffective “interoperability,” the smooth flow of project information and data throughout the development process. Projects can become doubly profitable simply through the optimization of data flow, which lowers consultancy fees and eliminates the need for rework due to errors and unnecessary redundancy of effort throughout the planning, surveying, site/building design and review/approval processes.

 b)    Project Control

By gaining greater control over project budgets, schedules, bidding and contracting processes, and real estate and parcel management practices, projects can again double in profitability. A number of practices and technologies exist to enable far greater project control than is commonly used today.

 c)     Legal/Political Efficiency

By optimizing the entitlements process, engaging the public in the goals and planning of the project, and undergoing comprehensive tax and incentive planning for projects, substantial financial gains can be made on projects.


Not only are the three legs of the triple bottom line interdependent, but each of them individually are interdependent by scale. Without global social, environmental and financial sustainability, individual projects will ultimately fail.


 a)     Financial Interdependence

By understanding that a holistic perspective upfront will optimize ultimate financial results, development teams can work to build the partnerships and fulfill their goals and objectives with the confidence that the project will perform at the highest level of sustainability.

 b)    People and Process Interdependence

Through the process of land development, the work and interests of each individual impact the others, both on the project, with the community, and for the world.

 c)     Natural System Interdependence

The quality of the practices of the professionals that are engaged, and the financial viability of any sustainable development activity have a direct impact on the project’s impact to the natural system upon which all of humanity depends.

 PLANET (Environmental Capital)


The purest and most valuable form of environmental stewardship is to model and integrate our natural systems in our developments.


 a)     Imitate Nature

All the sustainable technology and intelligence necessary can be found by understanding and modeling our natural forms, systems and strategies in our developments. A number of innovative land development products and strategies have been derived from imitating the workings of nature itself, and many more are on the way.

 b)    Connect with Nature

Human beings have an innate and evolutionarily based affinity for nature. The connections we subconsciously seek with the rest of life drives the numerous opportunities to connect our developments with nature. Such strategies equal success from an environmental, social and financial context.

 c)     Preserve/Conserve Nature

In order to learn from our natural systems, we must seek to preserve and conserve them. This includes preserving water quantity, quality and minimizing flow through water management systems, optimizing our soil quality and native flora by enhancing micro-organism and organic growth, and preserving mineral deposits in the soil.


Capturing and leveraging our natural energy systems through renewable energy sources and biological materials is the nature of this principle. Additionally, minimizing the amount of non-renewable energy and pollutants used throughout the product manufacturing, use, maintenance and reuse (cradle to cradle) is vital to achieving best practices with the Energy Flows guiding principle.


 a)     Utilize Renewable Sources

Distributed renewable and alternative “clean” energy storage and conversion technologies are rapidly becoming economically and technologically feasible for developments. By reducing and/or eliminating our dependency on non-renewable and “dirty” resources, we can sustain our quality of life for our children and grandchildren.

 b)    Emulate Natural Systems

Nature achieves equilibrium between delivering the food we need for life and the waste we leave behind. By better emulating the natural air, water and solids life cycles, we achieve a more sustainable state for all time.

 c)     Maximize Energy Efficiency

By optimizing energy conversion, sharing and waste systems and minimizing our consumption of energy stores, we can enhance the quality of life for generations to come.


By incorporating natural “no-impact” development techniques and engineering natural settings in which humans and nature can co-exist, land development can deliver a sustainable imprint that not only has no impact, but can restore the natural systems to greater health.


 a)     Air and Water System Management and Restoration

Through the management and restoration of the quantity, quality and flow of our air and water systems, land development can achieve greater sustainability.

 b)    Soil and Native-Core Flora Management and Restoration

By actively managing and restoring our soil quality and wood/grasslands, including micro-organisms, organic matter and mineral content, land development can restore the sustainability of our planet.

 c)     Biodiversity Management and Restoration

Plants and animals contribute equally in the balance necessary to sustain life on earth. We can work to manage and restore the biodiversity of life on earth, which is the very foundation for sustainable development.

 PEOPLE (Social Capital)


By focusing on the innovative ways to meet and exceed the community’s quality-of-life needs, land development can deliver greater value than ever before.


 a)     Meet/Exceed Basic Human Needs

The lowest levels of human needs include health, safety and privacy. From a land development perspective, this includes opportunities to access and produce local food, healthcare, recreation, safe and smooth flowing neighborhoods, and more.  

 b)    Promote and Enable Healthy Community

More advanced human needs include the need for connectedness, historic and cultural preservation, and respect for diversity. Through land use and market planning, land development projects can positively impact our quality of life.

 c)     Enable Self-Actualization

The highest levels of value humans derive include the access to education, cultural opportunity and democratic governance. Through planning and the implementation of effective infrastructure, land development can help enable the highest levels of human achievement.


It is the development professional’s ethical responsibility to assume active and effective leadership over the vision and values for his/her project, the industry and society.


 a)     Continuous Education and Improvement

Educating oneself in holistic sustainable practices, then including all stakeholders throughout the development process, effectively communicating the vision and values, gaining buy-in, and ensuring optimal implementation and the achievement of the vision – then seeking continuous improvement in this dynamic environment is without a doubt vital to achieving sustainable land development.

 b)    Apply the Highest Standards of Professional Practice

Through SLDI membership, acceptance of the Ethical Standards for Professional Practice, and active participation in the organization, professionals can deliver substantial social capital. All SLDI members agree to abide by the ethical standards of professional practice, which includes each of the Guiding Principles outlined herein.

 c)     Serve Society as a Whole

The status and impact of the land development industry requires that we assume a leadership role for society as a whole.


Sharing knowledge is in our nature. By leveraging our experiences and letting others learn from our ideas, we help carry our world forward, and gain the personal fulfillment that comes with it.


 a)     Lead and Teach the Project Team

Without sharing the knowledge gained through the project development process to other stakeholders in the project, projects can become unsustainable. It is vital to sustain the original intent for all projects through a knowledge transfer mechanism, so future owners and stakeholders can maintain the sustainability of a project indefinitely.

 b)    Contribute to Industry Information and Perspective

Sharing knowledge gained on a specific project to stakeholders throughout the industry will help improve the professional status of the industry, and help carry an industry lacking in productivity and innovative implementation forward.

 c)     Help Educate the Public at Large

By assuming a leadership position for the land development industry, professionals can help the public become increasingly aware of the valuable contributions of and progress by land development, improve the professional status of the industry in the public’s eyes, and thus play an important role in ensuring our sustainable future for all time.


Republished from November/December, 2008 issue of Sustainable Land Development Today magazine.

Sustainable Land Development Initiative

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The 21st century will overturn many of our previously-held assumptions about civilization. The challenges and opportunities land development stakeholders now face – to fulfill the needs of society and achieve a favorable return on investment without harming the environment – have vast implications on the sustainability of our communities around the world.

SLDI - Sustainable Land Development Initiative is a stakeholder social media association now positioned to help transform the industry that creates the very infrastructure of our civilization. SLDI is dedicated to delivering sustainable land development technology and knowledge resources to promote and enable fully integrated sustainable land development worldwide.

How do we develop a sustainable civilization?
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The World’s First Sustainable Development Decision Model is symbolized as a geometrical algorithm that balances and integrates the triple-bottom line needs of people, planet and profit into a holistic, fractal model that becomes increasingly detailed, guiding effective decisions throughout the community planning, financing, design, regulating, construction and maintenance processes while always enabling project context to drive specific decisions.

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Read The Fractal Frontier - Sustainable Development Trilogy.
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3 responses

  1. May 30, 2013
    ILFI to Study the Cost of Green Building
    A multidisciplinary team will look at the true value of sustainable construction.
    By Jennifer Goodman –

    …. According to ILFI executive director Richard Graves, the project will focus on helping to shift hundreds of billions of dollars of real estate investment towards restorative buildings. Efforts to address structural change in the financial industry have been piecemeal to date, he says.

    “Without an overarching plan for rapid and holistic transformation,” he adds, “the ‘green premium’ will continue to slow the uptake of emerging best practices.”

  2. NewScientist
    Virtual Earth plays out fate of life on the planet
    22 April 2014 by Catherine Brahic

    We can simulate the climate and we can even simulate babies. Now, we can simulate life on Earth, too – the vast and complex interactions of the living organisms on our planet. Named Madingley, after the village in Cambridgeshire, UK, where the idea was dreamed up, it’s a mathematical model that could help us predict the future… The work also suggests that the basic structures of all ecosystems can be predicted using a small number of universal ecological principles. The Madingley model is the first computer model to simulate the way in which all types of organisms interact on a global scale… Drew Purves of Microsoft’s Computational Science Lab in Cambridge and his colleagues built a mathematical world that obeys the same basic principles as life on Earth…

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