Posted by sustainable_hort on February 4, 2010
In my recent post , New Opportunities in Sustainable Landscapes, the discussion centered on new landscape directions for the industry. This post looks at how one landscape firm looks at creating a different landscape, one focused on sounder environmental principles.
“Sustainability does mean change and that’s the reason we are hearing about it all the time,” said David Sandrock, owner of Sustainable Landscapes for the Pacific Northwest, Corvallis, Oregon.
“But, it is an opportunity,” he said during his presentation at last November’s OLCA Expo. “People are looking to us for solutions.”
Sandrock said that “sustainability” is based on several key concepts.
The former Oregon State University professor said the first concept is often used as a definition of sustainability.
“Sustainable action is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs,” he offered.
This, in turn, takes intelligent resource planning, he said, and added that this movement emerged in response to human misbehavior.
“These actions move toward landscapes that we can depend on, not landscapes that depend on us,” he concluded. “It will require a return to the art and science of horticulture.”
“Nature is the expert and is the inventor of sustainability, which is a fluid and dynamic state,” he said.
He noted that nature is made up of “nested cycles” existing within “scale.” The largest “nest” is obviously the earth, he said. Nested within the planet, for example is the earth’s skin…the soil. Then, within the soil nest, one finds the vast community of soil organisms.
“It is the sustainability of the system, not the components,” he explained. “Sustainability is not an option, it is going to happen whether we are here or not.”
He pointed out that, in nature working toward sustainability, that humans are actually just one more experiment. This follows the Gaia idea of earth as an organism that might just reject this human experiment at some point.
“Sustainability is not a point, but a collective continuous journey to pass a moving threshold,” he said.
Asking “are you sustainable?” is not a nonsense question according to Sandrock. The correct question is…”are you doing sustainable things?” or “are you on the road to being sustainable.”
“Sustainable is easy (most of the time) except when it conflicts with what humans want to happen,” he warned.
Sandrock suggested first identifying a role that you are comfortable with that fits with the goal of being part of a sustainable future. Then, he felt a landscape operations staff could later provide leadership and education to move others toward sustainability.
He then listed many common sustainable actions that a landscape company can do to move toward a sustainable business. These included the following.
• Conserve water. Careful design and modern irrigation technology can significantly decrease landscape water use.
• Careful planting choices. For example, there are many good native and Mediterranean plants that make wonderful landscape plants in our climate.
• Access to green spaces and creation of those spaces. This can be increasingly important as society, as a whole, moves toward sustainability.
• Proper use of pesticides and other potentially harmful chemicals.
• Carbon dioxide sequestration.
“Design is the key,” he said. Landscape contractors also need to be a biologist and environmentalist, all while maintaining design aesthetics.
“But, the aesthetics paradigm is jumping into the backseat,” he explained.
“We are now designing for ecosystems services, focusing on environmental or ecological design.”
We often take for granted what green spaces do for us, including water remediation and erosion control.
“So, we need to redesign for low input building and maintenance, integrating sustainable practices into our landscapes,” he said.
For example, during building process, he listed several actions than landscape companies can take, including:
• Taking care not to damage the site during construction, including preserving existing parts of the landscape.
• The use of smaller, more efficient equipment.
• Using local companies and sources of materials that will reduce energy requirements.
• Recycling onsite elements. For example, when removing an existing concrete drive provides material for creating paths, he said.
This creates challenges for management teams. Sandrock admitted that changing “management” would be more difficult to change than “design” or “build” parts of the company. This is primarily because landscapes have been designed and built to be managed with cheap, abundant water and cheap, abundant fossil fuel energy, he explained.
“It will be very difficult to suddenly change management practices without first redesigning and rebuilding the landscape to be managed with less water, less fuel, and fewer pesticides,” said Sandrock. In addition, to reducing energy inputs, he suggested that local sourcing of materials, less turf, no shearing, and onsite composting, are other actions that move toward sustainability.
Changing our practices right now is difficult because we are not currently forced to,” he said.
“Water still comes out of the faucet when we turn it on, gas is still available at the pumps,” he said. “When water and fuel become too scarce or too expensive to use in landscapes we’ll see lots of folks becoming very innovative, but not until they’re forced to.”
He said the industry needs to anticipate these changes and make fundamental changes in our landscapes that contribute to water or fuel conservation. It has to recognize what it is that it alone can contribute to a sustainable future.
“We must see what is it that we can do that no other industry can, because it is our future,” he said.
“This will require that we must unlearn our old practices and relearn the new ones,” he said. “First ask what environmental services can this landscape provide and start there.”
Sandrock noted several differences between a sustainable landscape business and a sustainable landscape.
“First, running a sustainable business is a process,” he explained. “The sustainable landscape is a product.”
Then, he said anyone can run a sustainable business, but the sustainable landscape is specific to the industry. For instance, any landscape business can put solar panels on their building and drive a more fuel-efficient car. But that does not address what the landscape industry can do to move it “products” towards a more sustainable future, he said.
“And, while running the business can happen through simple and obvious changes, the sustainable landscape tends to be more complex than other landscapes,” he cautioned. “So, while the business changes can be small, the changes in the actual landscape are usually larger.”
Thus, a truly active industry working toward global sustainability will change its product, our landscapes, not just the way daily business is run, he said.
Sandrock cautioned that the marketing advantages of moving to sustainable practices has lead to “greenwashing,” He defined it as the act of misleading consumers regarding the environmental practices of a company or the environmental benefits of a product or service. He said commonly these companies spend more money in advertising “green” than in actually investing in research and implementing sustainable practices.
Sandrock cited research from Terrachoice Environmental Marketing that showed many companies were recognizing the benefits of green marketing. In fact, the study showed that green advertising has increased almost tenfold in the last 20 years and has nearly tripled just since 2006.
Yet, despite the increasing awareness of “greenwashing,” is it still rampant, with more than 98% of ‘green’ products committing at least one of their “Seven Sins of Greenwashing,” according to Terra Choice. Of 2,219 products making green claims in the United States and Canada, their study showed only 25 products were found to be “sin-free.”
He said some people ask what is the harm with “greenwashing.”
“It certainly cheapens dilutes legitimate efforts,” he warned. “This lowering of the bar ends up projecting a negative image.”
We need to rethink our advertising and tell the whole story, he said, and be honest, specific, realistic and humble,
“But if it is legitimate, then let people know,” he said. “Green marketing is not about making normal things seem green, but making green things normal.”
He then listed many specific products a landscape company can promote and provide to consumers that are sustainable.
• Bio-remediation and water retention.
• Rainwater harvesting.
• Greywater cleaning and use.
• Green roofs.
• Green walls.
• Food production and landscaping with edibles.
• Habitat restoration and revitalization
• Native plants
“Being neutral is not good enough,” he said. The landscape industry will have to compensate for others. We are a very important member of the sustainability team.”
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