Sustainable Development Moves From Principle to Practice

The newest mantra for economic development is sustainable development. But what exactly do we mean when we talk about sustainability? How do architects incorporate sustainable design principles into new projects? And what are the innovative ways that tenants and end-users are practicing sustainability through socially responsible policies? The Washington, DC Economic Partnership invited three experts to participate in a forum on planning and design for sustainable development and implementation of socially responsible corporate policies.

Putting Sustainable Development Into Practice offered a thought-provoking conversation that touched on new concepts and opportunities for effecting change in the way that we approach development and its environmental impacts. The three panelists were leading practitioners recognized for leadership and excellence in their respective fields: Harriet Tregoning, Director, DC Office of Planning; Harry Gordon, AIA, Chairman, Burt Hill Washington; and Hervé Houdré, General Manager, Willard InterContinental. The program was this year’s third Business Initiatives Breakfast, an ongoing series of conversations with key figures in government, business and the not-for-profit sector on the leading business issues facing the District of Columbia.

After discussing their philosophical perspectives and practical accomplishments around sustainable development, the panelists responded to a number of intriguing questions posed by members of the audience. Architects, developers, and community leaders and activists all challenged the experts to suggest ways that would encourage the pubic and private sectors to work together in more collaborative and progressive ways to achieve sustainable development goals.
Recommendations from the panel included creating incentives for the design and construction of more buildings certified under Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards; encouragement of greater use of public transportation, bicycles and walking as alternatives to driving; and striving to create a green brand for the District of Columbia.

According to the experts, the District of Columbia is leading the market in sustainable development initiatives, but only by a small margin. Responding to a developer’s question about whether there are substantive arguments against implementing LEED and green building standards, Ms. Tregoning noted that the initial concern had been the cost. However, a period of phasing was legislated by the Green Building Act of 2006 as a means of offsetting expenses. Moreover, if developers know that the new regulations are coming, then why would they choose to wait to put the regulations into practice? As to the demand in the District of Columbia for this type of building, Mr. Gordon recalled that in the past, only savvy companies demanded excellence in building. Now, everyone is requesting sustainable development as the standard. Still, though, there is a need for on-going educational efforts. Mr. Houdré concurred and pointed out that business should not wait for government to make the decisions. Among early sustainable initiatives at The Willard Hotel was switching over incandescent light bulbs in public areas and guestrooms to compact fluorescents. This program saves the hotel approximately 10% in annual electricity consumption. Another measure was the development of an educational pamphlet full of conservation tips for hotel guests.

It became clear from the discussion that all three of the experts discovered their interests in green thinking during their early years. Based on the responses to audience questions, it now will fall upon the youth of today to push forward the agenda of sustainable development and environmentalism. Mr. Gordon summed up the mandate in simple terms. “We have to get it into the minds of children and educate them about sustainable development.”

The next Business Initiatives Breakfast will take place in September. Stay tuned for further details on this upcoming program. For more information on the Washington, DC Economic Partnership’s programs and publications, visit us online at

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