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Sustainable Landscaping

Explaining Sustainable Landscaping

The buzz word of the moment is sustainability, but what does this really mean and how does it relate to the business of landscaping?

On a basic level, sustainability can be defined as the ability to exist constantly.

What this becomes on a practical level is the management of resource exploitation, business practices and human development in a way that can be maintained long term, without undue damage to the natural environment.

There is no reason to be worried or concerned about sustainable practices. Yes, you may need to change the way you do things to become more sustainable.

However, once you understand the reasons for sustainability in landscaping and the real benefits it can provide, you will be sold on the concept.

To help you better understand sustainable landscaping let’s take a look at why sustainability is so important, before seeing exactly how and why you should plan your projects to be more sustainable.

The Importance of Sustainability

Sustainability is important from both a moral and practical standpoint.

The moral justification is one that is most often spoken about. There is the idea that we should protect the natural environment as stewards for future generations.

For many hundreds of years, human development has come at the expense of the natural environment. There is now evidence to suggest that the planets capacity to deal with this exploitation is reaching its limit [1].

At its core, sustainability is about changing the way we consume resources, so that we do not do any further lasting damage.

While the moral justification for sustainability has a feel good factor, when it comes to business decisions, the future impact is often ignored for the sake of profit here and now.

That is where the practical side of sustainability comes in. Sustainable projects are increasingly being justified on the grounds of cost savings.

New environmental standards, tax breaks and good value construction products are now making sustainable projects the best moral and financial decision for businesses [2].

The question is, how does this apply to landscaping projects and how can you plan cost effective sustainable projects?

The Role of Sustainability in Landscaping

Landscaping is the modification of the natural landscape, usually to make it more appealing or useful for human use.

For the longest time, these modifications were made with little regard to the wider environmental impact.

More recently, there is a big push to make our landscaped areas more in tune with the natural environment and sustainability plays a big part in this.

The following are just a few of the ways in which landscaping is becoming more sustainable.

Water Management

Managing the flow of water is one of the biggest concerns for landscapers trying to be more sustainable.

Introducing hard, man made surfaces to natural environment has a big impact on infiltration into the water table, erosion and surface runoff into water sources [3].

Traditional materials such as asphalt and concrete are impervious to water and block the natural movement of water [4].

This has a massive impact on the natural environment and often requires the use of expensive and complex stormwater drainage systems [5].

The problem of managing water flow has been recognized by many government authorities and the use of permeable paving materials that allow for natural water movement are being encouraged [6].

These are often loose aggregates, stabilized with products such as Organic-Lock™. These natural stone pathways are not only durable, they also allow for natural water infiltration and limit runoff [7].

Using pathways made of stabilized aggregate are encouraged by various environmental standards agencies such as LEED [8].

The low cost of installation, savings on complex drainage systems and tax breaks and savings make the use of permeable paving materials that maintain natural water flows the obvious choice for sustainable landscaping.

Material Choice

Another big change in landscaping has been the push for more sustainable materials.

For a material to be sustainable, it should be renewable, or at least not likely to be depleted by human use.

Materials used in landscaping projects should also be local to the area, for two main reasons.

Firstly, local materials fit in better with the local environment and do not disrupt natural patterns. In addition to this, there is also the concern of emissions caused by the transport of materials over long distances [9].

Sustainable practices ensure that as few emissions are created in the mining and transportation of materials as possible, to lessen the overall impact of the project on the global environment [10].

According to sustainability standards, soils, gravel, plants and other paving materials should whenever possible be sourced locally, from sustainable sources.

Preserving Natural Environments

The main effort of all sustainability practices in landscaping is the preservation of natural environments.

Where before landscaping often destroyed the natural look and feel of a location to make it more suitable for humans, modern methods work within the bounds of the local environment to make attractive and useful outdoor spaces [11].

This often includes maintaining natural contours rather than trying to shape the land extensively and using native plant species that provide shelter and food for local wildlife.

Landscaping that takes into account the natural environment and has as little impact as possible is at the heart of modern sustainable practices.

Green spaces in the middle of sky scrapers in Hong Kong

New Standards for Landscapers

Luckily, it is not up to individual landscapers to decide what is and isn’t sustainable. There are easy to follow standards available.

LEED is the most used standard for sustainable projects and it details a range of categories that must be considered and has ratings for different levels of compliance [12].

Many local and state governments use these standards as the basis for deciding of a project is sustainable or not. The standards include criteria such as:

  • Reduction of water pollution.
  • Use of local and sustainable materials.
  • Use of local/native plant species.
  • Sequestration of carbon.
  • Minimisation of carbon emissions.
  • Minimal requirement for external inputs upon completion.

Having your project deemed sustainable is becoming important. Sustainable projects qualify you for very generous tax breaks which lowers the lifetime cost of a sustainable landscaping project significantly.

You may be wondering, what does sustainable landscaping actually look like in a real world implementation? Let’s take a look at some amazing sustainable projects from around the world.

Sustainable Landscaping Projects

Landscape designers around the world are pushing the boundaries of what is possible in sustainable landscaping and creating truly stunning outdoor areas in the process.

Here are three great examples of sustainable landscaping in action.

Bryant Park, New York

Bryant Park is a longstanding example of sustainable design that was conceived long before modern trends in this field, but still stands up to the test of time [13].

The park itself is the ‘green roof’ of an extended storage facility for the New York Public Library and it helps lower costs for heating and cooling in the facility.

Durable, recycled materials were used in the design of the park, helping to meet key sustainability criteria of low emissions and local, sustainable materials.

Local tree and plant species were used in the park and the majority of the historical statues and paving materials were salvaged for reuse during the renovation.

Completed in 1979, this park is one of the earliest examples of environmentally conscious design and is a true success story of sustainable landscaping.

Zaryadye Park, Moscow

This park in the center of Europe’s biggest city utilizes former commercial land adjacent to some of the cities most important historical landmarks [14].

Rather than following the pattern of many other parks in the city which feature immaculately paved walkways with manicured grass, the city government opted for a more natural and sustainable approach for this project.

Zaryadye Park is landscaped to fit the natural contours of the site and is planted with entirely native species, in a way that mimics normal Russian forests.

Throughout the park, natural paving materials – predominantly stabilized aggregates – are used and drainage systems prevent excessive runoff into the adjacent river and allow for the reuse of collected water for irrigation.

The sustainability approach was also extended to the various cultural buildings in the park, with a focus on natural ventilation and renewable energy.

Zaryadye Park breaks the traditional mold in park developement in Moscow with it’s natural shapes and sustainable approach

Cheonggyecheon River Park, Seoul

The Cheonggyecheon River is a stunning example of sustainable design and landscaping, with its restoration of a completely desolate landscape into a beautiful green space. [15]

Previously, the river had been completely concreted over, with an overhead expressway intended to reduce traffic congestion in the city.

Realizing their mistake many years later, Seoul’s urban planners have worked hard to restore the river to a more natural state, while also improving the lives of city residents.

Within the park precinct, the natural flow of the river has been restored, along with a dense planting of native plant species, increasing local biodiversity.

The park has had a measurable effect on local temperature, alleviating the city ‘heat island’ effect and has turned a once stark, industrial space into a hub of activity for the local community with its many walking paths.

Cheonggyecheon River in Seoul is now bordered by greenery and communal car free areas

Now is the Time to go Sustainable

Sustainable design in landscaping is the future and the time to get involved is now.

New standards are developed constantly. They are designed to guide landscapers like you into making more sustainable and environmentally friendly choices.

This may sound expensive, however governments across the nation are on board and are offering generous subsidies and tax incentives for projects that maintain sustainability standards.

Get started designing dynamic, sustainable projects and see the benefits for yourself!


[1] Sikdar, S. K. (2003), Sustainable development and sustainability metrics. AIChE J., 49: 1928-1932. https://aiche.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/action/showCitFormats?doi=10.1002%2Faic.690490802

[2] Ali, F., Boks, C., Bey, N. (2016) Design for Sustainability and Project Management Literature – A Review,

Procedia CIRP, Vol. 48, pp. 28-33. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.procir.2016.04.185.

[3] [4] Frazer L. (2005). Paving paradise: the peril of impervious surfaces. Environmental health perspectives, 113(7), pp. 456-62. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1257665/

[5] Scholz, M., Grabowiecki, P. (2007). Review of permeable pavement systems.

Building and Environment, 42(11), 3830-3836. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2006.11.016.

[6] [7] [8] [12] Abel, K. (2016). Trends in LEED Buildings and their Effects on Urban Permeability. GIS For Water Resources. Accessed: 24 Feb 2019. Available from: https://www.caee.utexas.edu/prof/maidment/giswr2016/Papers/Abel.pdf

[9] [10] Akadiri, P., Chinyio, E., Olomolaiye, P. (2012). Design of A Sustainable Building: A Conceptual Framework for Implementing Sustainability in the Building Sector. Buildings, 2, pp. 126-152. https://www.mdpi.com/2075-5309/2/2/126/pdf

[11] Haiman, T. (2017). What is sustainable landscape design? Todd Haiman Landscape Design. https://www.toddhaimanlandscapedesign.com/gardening-resources/what-is-sustainable-landscape-design

[13] American Society of Landscape Architects (2019). Designing Our Future Landscape: Bryant Park. https://www.asla.org/sustainablelandscapes/bryantpark.html

[14] Gómez, G., Fernando, E. (2017). Controlled Landscapes or Building Sustainability in Public Spaces. Case of Studies of Padova and Moscow. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/317771651_Controlled_Landscapes_or_Building_Sustainability_in_Public_Spaces_Case_of_Studies_of_Padova_and_Moscow

[15] Feldhaus, K. (2012). Green Scene: Denver’s Sustainability Park. 303 Magazine. https://303magazine.com/2012/07/green-scene-denvers-sustainability-park/