Sustainable development is about, but not limited to, environmental sustainability. There is far more to sustainable development than green buildings, such as:
Repairing and rebuilding historic wood windows would mean that the dollars are spent locally instead of at a distant window manufacturing plant. That’s economic sustainability, also part of sustainable development.
Maintaining as much of the original fabric as possible is maintaining the character of the historic neighborhood. That’s cultural sustainability, also part of sustainable development.
But if we don’t yet get it in the United States, others do. There’s an international real estate consulting firm based in Great Britain – King Sturge – that has been at the forefront in broadening and communicating the concept of sustainable development. Their framework of sustainable development certainly includes environmental responsibility, but also economic responsibility and social responsibility. I’m going to take the liberty of expanding the third category into social and cultural responsibility. They further identify these important nexus: for a community to be viable there needs to be a link between environmental responsibility and economic responsibility; for a community to be livable there needs to be a link between environmental responsibility and social responsibility; and for a community to be equitable there needs to be a link between economic responsibility and social responsibility.
When we begin to think about sustainable development in this broader context, the entire equation begins to change — and includes more than simply, “Does this building get a LEED gold certification,” or “Is that development making sure that the habitat of the snail darter isn’t being compromised?” When we begin to think about sustainable development in this broader context, the role of historic preservation in sustainable development becomes all the more clear.