Over the past decade, landscapers have started paying closer attention to the positive environmental impact their construction projects can have on local communities. Rather than focusing solely on aesthetics, many landscaper contractors and gardeners are embracing principles of sustainability to cultivate healthier plant ecosystems and maximize energy efficiency. According to the American Society of Landscape Architects, sustainable landscapes can help sequester carbon, clean the air and water, restore habitats and much more. But what exactly is design sustainability, and how can lawn care businesses incorporate it into their vegetation management and hardscaping practices?
What Is Design Sustainability in Landscaping?
Sustainable landscape design refers to the development, installation and management of landscapes (and landscape features) that “encourage, create and maintain a healthy and thriving environment,” per the Association of Professional Landscape Designers. This includes any landscaping and lawn-care services that benefit local habitats and ecosystems, minimize pollution or help conserve energy and material resources. Some examples of sustainable design projects, taken from the ASLA’s website, include:
- Bioremediation: By using natural plants, fungi and soil microbes, landscape architects are able to restore polluted industrial sites and barren garden beds to flourishing green spaces. Controlling invasive plant species is crucial to bioremediation, as the use of industrial pesticides is highly discouraged.
- Green roofs: Another recent trend in sustainable landscaping is the installation of roof-top gardens. According to the ASLA, green roofs can help homeowners save on winter heating costs, reduce indoor air temperature during the summer and provide a stable habitat for pollinating insects and birds. Of course, working at high elevations comes with a range of added safety concerns for landscaping contractors.
- Energy-saving plant communities: Landscape architects often utilize trees, shrubs and other plant species to help lower a home’s heating and air-conditioning expenses. The ASLA estimates that proper installation of plants can save residential properties as much as 50% on energy costs in the summer, and 8% in the winter. That said, landscapers and gardeners must pay close attention to the compatibility of chosen plant species to ensure they are sustainable in the long term.
Beyond these specific design projects, landscape architects can actively contribute to local conservation efforts by considering how their landscapes affect the surrounding environment. For example, using groundcovers and organic mulches can help prevent water-borne pollution by minimizing soil erosion and promoting water infiltration, according to the APLD. Utilizing permeable hardscaping materials, such as porous concrete or interlocking pavers, can also have a notable impact on this type of pollution.
On the operational side, landscaping contractors can use certified timber or recycled materials to help conserve natural resources while maintaining a high level of aesthetic appeal. When selecting vegetation for a residential or commercial property, landscape architects should try to prioritize native plants that will promote biological diversity and provide a preferred habitat for pollinators.
Best Landscaping Practices for Design Sustainability
As pointed out by the APLD, sustainable landscape design is typically undertaken on a case-by-case basis, as no two properties are ever identical. Before mapping out garden beds or building a new retaining wall, landscaping contractors should carefully consider how they can achieve sustainability through their designs, selecting elements and materials that match their desired outcome. If your lawn care business is planning to incorporate conservation into its core practices, be sure to keep the following points in mind:
- Achieving sustainability is a process: While many landscapers and gardeners may see sustainability as a fixed endpoint, the only way to make a real impact is to continuously innovate. Every landscaping project poses a unique set of challenges and opportunities, which often evolve over time. As such, landscape architects should keep track of how plant communities change and make adjustments when necessary
- There’s no such thing as a universally sustainable garden: While some landscaping practices are certainly more sustainable than others, there’s no single design or plant community that is universally “better”. Instead, landscapers and gardeners should focus on selecting sustainable elements that are appropriate to the geographical area they’re working in. For example, perennial plants that flourish in warmer climates often struggle to stay alive in northern U.S. states.
No matter where your lawn care business operates, incorporating sustainability into your landscape designs can have a positive impact on the local ecosystem and help attract conservation-minded customers.