Posted by sustainable_hort on January 30, 2010
This article appeared in the Oregon Landscape Contractor’s magazine. It is related to my last post that discussed how growers, retailers and landscapers might take advantage of new “green” trends and technologies. This focuses on how “Sustainable Development Offers New Opportunities for Landscape Contractors.”
And…thanks for your many positive comments on my content. Much more to come.
Many major developers are ‘going green,’ not just for good public relations, but also as an economically beneficial strategy. Innovative landscape firms have a tremendous opportunity to join this effort, position themselves as “green,” and dramatically increase their business.
“These are not little changes, but this is a sea change,” explained landscape architect Paul Morris, speaking at the annual meeting of Oregon Landscape Contractor Association in December. By 2010, industry studies predict a $19 to 38 billion in the residential green building market, he said.
Morris works on planning and sustainable issues for Cherokee Investment Services, Inc., an international development firm. He said that his company has long recognized the many benefits of incorporating sustainable technologies into their projects.
“These are no longer just warm-fuzzy things we’d like to do,” said Morris. “There are calculable benefit costs that can now be identified.”
In fact, his company, with $2 billion in assets, is the leading private investment firm in “brown field” development, working on abandoned and idle industrial and commercial urban sites often with environmental degradation and contamination, distinguished from “green fields,” undeveloped land outside urban areas. It plans to spend $250,000,000 on remediation projects, he said.
These regenerative projects efforts can include the following work:
• Crafting “reuse strategies” and developing master plans.
• Acquire the property, then secure development rights and permits.
• Handle all remediation efforts run through the company.
• Cherokee also assume environmental remediation liabilities.
“These activities are costly, so investment capital either drives or plays a major role in many landscape developments,” he explained. “Yet, more and more we see developers recognizing the sustainable actions create economic value.
These “values” include providing capital and public partnerships, reducing risk including avoiding future regulations, mitigating public relations risks with a pro-active community engagement, helping with planning and entitlements, and creating and maintaining brand value.
“Sustainable innovations can actually reduce costs,” said Morris. For example, storm water run-off (largest environmental problem in US) control using bioswales, rain gardens, green roofs, and capturing the water on site can be less expensive to construct than traditional solutions.
Morris noted that Cherokee is responding to many communities wanting to move toward sustainable development in reaction to the global environmental or “green” trends. The company is also involved with “green” certification programs, such as Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED), The LEED Green Building Rating System, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, provides a suite of standards for environmentally sustainable construction. Since its inception in 1998, LEED has grown to encompass over 14,000 projects in 50 US States and 30 countries.
“LEED is one way environmentally positive efforts are publicly recognized,” he said. A newer program, LEED-ND, applies the standards to a neighborhood with certification done by an independent, third-party.
At the neighborhood level, where many landscape projects are planned, there are also several key community benefits, according to Morris. The sustainable strategy removes issues associated with historic contamination, helps manage growth, provides amenities and community investment, and catalyzes additional redevelopment.
“ Another less obvious advantage is that we can use these project to educates public and partners through demonstration projects, “ added Morris.
Another new program to that is moving these strategies ahead is the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SSI), according to Morris. It is an interdisciplinary partnership to develop national, voluntary standards and guidelines for sustainable land development and management practices as well as metrics to assess site performance and a raring system to recognize achievement. The initiative covers many aspects of site development including soils, hydrology, vegetation, materials, and human wellbeing.
SSI is a partnership of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, the United States Botanic Garden, and diverse group of national stakeholder organizations.
He explained that landscapes provide valuable services such as climate regulation, clean air and water, and improved quality of life. However, conventional land practices often limit, rather than enhance, the ability of landscapes to provide these important services. SSI was founded to address this concern and investigate and define sustainability in land development and management practices.
Morris said SSI is just one more example of how every facet of the development community is now recognizing these advantages.
“83% of real estate executives rank ‘sustainable’ as ‘important’ to ‘most important’ relative to other factors,” he pointed out.
In addition, Morris noted that 17 federal agencies, 18 states and 59 cities are now offering, or passed mandates, that provides incentives for LEED high performance.
This is a reaction to several key problems, including the fact that US urban areas growing at twice the rate of population growth. Meanwhile, site development and construction are responsible for one-third of all environmental impacts.
“We need to realize that one-half of what will be built “environmentally” in 2030 does not exist yet,” Morris predicted.
In fact, he said total customer demand would grow by 300-400% over the next 20 years. As more development companies expand their sustainable efforts, more investments will move in that direction. Morris said companies representing 6 trillion in assets signed UNEP Principles for Responsible Investments.
“Obviously, there is a rapidly changing customer or client focus,” said Morris. “Now it is what you do, how you do it, and who you are.”
“They are asking for help to move their projects in a sustainable direction, especially (or including) at the landscape level,” he continued.
Morris said it starts with “macro” land use decisions such as urban densities and urban growth management, like Oregon urban growth boundaries.
At the site selection level, a key decision is whether to infill, often in brown field situation, versus a green field option. This, again, requires careful study of both short-term costs and long-term benefits.
“Development costs on one acre of infill land are the same as developing 4.5 acres of farm or forest land,” said Morris.
Site opportunities include solar orientation, internal trip capture, solar panels integrated within the structure and even sharing alternative vehicles.
For example, in a recent Raleigh, North Carolina project the following benefits were achieved.
• Recycled 75% of all construction and demolition waste.
• The building now generates enough energy to reverse the meter.
• Recycles 90% of organic waste on site.
• Consumes 50% less water.
• Reclaims 95% of storm water run-off through re-use and infiltration.
• Restores wildlife habitats and edible landscapes.
Transit-oriented development is another driver in site selection, he said, because proximity to transit centers or other transportation dramatically changes driving habits. Statistics show driving rates drop 20-40% near transit stations. This can lower average household greenhouse gases by 40%, he added.
Other site design considerations include street networks, water management, solar orientation, and adding nature and edible landscaping. Construction practices such as soil and erosion control are also important to sustainable efforts, he continued.
“We are even involved in planning and programming community future activities, since consumer priorities are crucial to the design,” said Morris.
“Sustainable advantages must be considered at the start,” cautioned Morris. “You can not go back later to add them.”
For instance, Morris said how a building is placed on a site can easily affect heat load and energy requirements.
Residential Market Turns Sustainable
But, Morris pointed out this trend is not just in the massive commercial projects. In fact, by 2010, industry studies predict a $19 to 38 billion in the residential green building market, he said. And, research indicates that 96% of homebuyers are willing to spend up to 12% more for premium green features.
This gives the landscape industry an opportunity to piggyback on the trends and increase their business.
Morris listed several ways to leverage sustainable action in getting work.
• Determine practice-specific goods and concept strategy.
• Listen to clients but make sure to ask the right questions.
• Encourage and support the client…enduring vision, set clear metrics and benchmarks, and communicate early and frequently.
• Get the right team to the table at the right time.
• Practice integrated versus linear thinking.
• Do not assume that “sustainable” has to cost more.
He said landscape firms could either be innovators, or arrive with the majority, or lag behind. The longer one waits to adopt progressive practices the more they will lose in terms of strategic advantage.
“Market it, sell it, and get credit for it,” encouraged Morris. “But, do it now, while you still can, before other companies grab the sustainable edge.”
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