Environmental design is often associated with the inside of buildings and how they work. However, a true holistic approach will consider the whole site and that extends to landscaping.
Construction in general has many impacts on the environment, economy and human health, and that's equally true of the site generally as well as the buildings on it. Landscaping materials use resources in their extraction or manufacture, when transported to site and during installation and use, causing pollution, waste and possible health problems. So great care should be taken with the design of the site to ensure it's as environmentally friendly as possible, both during construction and when in use, to reduce negative impacts.
Design practice should to a great degree be driven by the principles of 'reduce, reuse, recycle'. That doesn't in any way mean you should compromise on the quality of the project but should simply:
- Aim to reduce the amount of materials used in it by down-sizing the scale of landscaping where possible
- Incorporating reused materials into the design, such as reclaimed stone and timber, which can add character to the finished project
- Recycling any construction waste, whether within the site or elsewhere, such as using rubble as the base for paths.
- Reducing Water Use and Wastage. Water is an increasingly scarce resource in some areas while at times it can cause problems of flooding, soil erosion and compaction. Meet the relevant challenges by using permeable paving and other materials that let water soak through, collect rainwater for irrigation and select plants that reduce the need for watering.
- Using Sustainable Materials. By using the principles of reduce, reuse, recycle, you can limit the amount of materials going to landfill. Rather than treating the lifecycle of materials as a linear process that starts with extraction and ends with disposal, it becomes a circular process that avoids the use and processing of new materials each time, with resulting savings in energy use and pollution.
Also try to source materials locally if possible since this saves unnecessary transport miles as well as supporting the local economy. For new wood products, ensure they carry FSC or PEFC accreditation so you know they originate from sustainable forests.
- Preserve Existing Features. It isn't necessary to totally clear a site before redeveloping it. Where possible, retain existing features that fit in with and enhance the overall design, particularly native plants that support local ecosystems.
Sustainable landscape design is increasingly demanded by clients who are keen to contribute positively to the local environment. However, it can also save construction costs due to the reduced use of new materials and can save operational costs through reduced water use. Some cities even offer landscaping rebates to homeowners who upgrade their land in a sustainable manner, so there are financial incentives for being green.