February 2008 // Volume 46 // Number 1 // Tools of the Trade // 1TOT1

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With One Stroke of the Pen: How Can Extension Professionals Involve Developers and Policymakers in Creating Sustainable Communities?

Residential developments have a huge impact on natural resources, and sustainable or "green" communities are beginning to be built throughout the United States. Ultimately, with one stroke of a pen, developers, planners, and policymakers determine how a community will look and feel for many years to come. To interface with this non-traditional audience, we have created a new program called the Program for Resource Efficient Communities (PREC <http://energy.ufl.edu>) at the University of Florida. Through our experiences, we discuss the importance of partnering with developers, planners, and policymakers, and techniques to create resource-efficient communities.

Mark Hostetler
Associate Professor
Department of Wildlife Ecology & Conservation

Pierce Jones
Program for Resource Efficient Communities

Michael Dukes
Associate Professor
Agricultural and Biological Engineering

Hal Knowles
Program Coordinator
Program for Resource Efficient Communities

Glenn Acomb
Associate Professor
Department of Landscape Architecture

Mark Clark
Assistant Professor
Department of Soil & Water Science

University of Florida
Gainesville, Florida


Over the last decade ~100,000 new single-family, detached homes have been built annually in Florida. A direct consequence of this growth is a steadily increasing demand for energy and water, as is the rapid transformation of Florida's natural environment. Realizing that much of the sustainability recommendations coming out of the University of Florida were not being implemented, a multi-disciplinary team of scientists within UF saw the need to form the Program for Resource Efficient Communities (PREC <http://www.energy.ufl.edu/>) as a way to interface with the public, particularly design/build professionals and practicing planners and policymakers who make critical decisions.

This article discusses significant factors associated with the creation of resource efficient communities. We focus on the role of design/build professionals, planners, and policymakers.

Factors Associated with Creating Sustainable Communities:

Partner with a Developer to Implement Sustainable Practices

It is difficult to implement sustainable practices within a community that is already designed. The design/build community has not been a traditional audience for Extension, but the payoff is huge if things go right. However, caution should be exercised, because some developers will use experts to help them through permitting difficulties, with little follow-through.

First, make sure repercussions are in place if a developer does not implement (agreed upon) design and management practices (e.g., a building permit is revoked). Second, look at the history of this developer and relations with local planning staff; you can learn a lot by how much other people trust him/her. Third, see if the developer is willing to upfront some money on sustainable designs and management practices (before a building permit is issued).

Make Sure Individuals Associated with the Development Have Understanding and Buy-In

With the three phases of a development, design, construction, and post construction, each phase has individuals who determine the success for any sustainability goals. During the design phase, design/build professionals must have a good conservation plan; during the construction phase, contractors must subscribed to practices that will minimize impact on natural resources (e.g., proper placement of barriers around trees helps preserve native flora); and during post-construction, homeowners should be aware of sustainable designs in their homes, yards, and neighborhoods so that they can manage them appropriately, while realtors should be able to convey the intent of the neighborhood to potential homebuyers.

In particular, contractors and other built environment professionals should take continuing education classes about sustainable development (e.g., <http://buildgreen.ufl.edu/>). Have continuing education courses approved by trade organizations, as this will help with enrollment. For homeowners, the developer should implement a robust education program, consisting of educational signs, a Web site, and a brochure that addresses environmental issues pertinent to that community (e.g., <http://www.wec.ufl.edu/extension/gc/harmony/>). Without an on-site education program, residents could resort to traditional, non-environmental behaviors (DeLorme, Hagen, & Stout, 2003; Youngentob & Hostetler, 2005).

Make Sure Recommendations Are Not Prohibited by Local Policy

Local regulations may prohibit certain sustainable practices. For example, traditional curb, gutter, and retention ponds are enforceable measures to manage stormwater in Florida. In one case, we promoted swales, underground filtration tanks, and natural retention areas, encountering opposition from the local regulatory agency. To avoid problems, get to know the local regulatory agency, and see how certain sustainable practices fit in with local regulations.

Have a Multi-Disciplinary Team

We have found that every development is different. Sometimes there are major wildlife issues, sometimes water, and sometimes energy/transportation issues. A developer or municipality may have one major concern, but this concern can lead to other conversations with a more holistic approach being adopted.

Partner with an Environmental Consulting Firm

Forming a partnership with an environmental consulting firm is one way to "cherry pick" projects. Consulting firms know local developers and which projects have the best chance to become a sustainable community. This partnership works both ways: Extension personnel have access to premier projects, and consultants have access to science-based information from a university.

Organize a Summit on Sustainability

Organizing a summit on sustainability and inviting design/build professionals, politicians, planners, and landowners really got the ball rolling for PREC. We partnered with Audubon International to hold a Florida summit, and we are still networking with a variety of people across the state.

Help Create Incentive-Based Policies

The development community responds to "carrots." Partner with local planning boards and other stakeholders to craft voluntary ordinances that include some significant economic incentives, such as fast tracking permits, permit fee reductions, and density bonuses. Having it out there as a voluntary ordinance will give the opportunity for developers and local planning staff to try out the ordinance, work out the kinks, and help set up a culture of acceptance. We emphasize, though, that incentive-based policies must have meaningful incentives and a good marketing/education plan to help ensure public acceptance, or few will take advantage of a policy.

Have Developers Talk with Developers

Having positive recommendations about sustainable practices coming from a builder goes much further than an Extension person saying the same thing. Thus, having model communities available for tours is essential. A developer who has tried a certain practice and can show it to another developer is powerful. We have used the Town of Harmony <http://www.harmonyfl.com> to showcase particular sustainable practices.

Become Familiar with Certification Programs

Developers are looking for certification programs in order to market their communities as "green." Each certification program has its strength and weaknesses. Examples include Audubon International <http://www.auduboninternational.org> and United States Green Building Coalition and its LEED standards <http://www.usgbc.org/>.

In some cases, collaborating with these certification groups can lead to modification of standards for certification. Further, a good collaboration can foster referrals to Extension to help out with a particular development project.


DeLorme, D., Hagen, S., & I. Stout. (2003). Consumers' perspectives on water issues: directions for educational campaigns. Journal of Environmental Education, 34(2), 28-35.

Youngentob, K., & Hostetler, M. (2005). Is a new urban development model building greener communities? Environment and Behavior, 37(6), 731-759.