What is “Sustainable” Landscaping?

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In a recent Customer Advisory Board meeting, someone mentioned that “sustainability” has become a meaningless term.   If we are to say that we do sustainable landscape design, construction, and maintenance, we have to define our terms.  To that end, here’s an inventory of our sustainable practices.  In developing these standards for ourselves, we have drawn from the Standards of the Northeast Organic Farming Association’s Organic Landcare Committee, the 2009 Sustainable Sites Initiative (SSI) benchmarks– it’s kinda like LEED for landscapes — and Sustainable Landscape Construction (Thompson & Sorvig, 2008).

A Yard & A Half  Landscaping will always:

Maintenance

  • Mow high & return grass clippings
  • Hand-prune shrubs
  • Recycle/compost all greenwaste
  • Use only approved organic amendments for lawn and plant fertilization

Design

  • Use pre-design site assessment to identify and protect existing natural features, minimize waste, and determine sustainable grading, drainage, hardscape, and planting options.
  • Specify efficient irrigation systems – rain sensors, timers, etc. (whenever irrigation is specified)
  • Specify efficient site lighting which minimizes light pollution (low-voltage, with timers and/or photosensitive controllers)

Construction

  • Separate and preserve topsoils
  • Protect water, trees & rootzones during construction
  • Protect soils from contamination by fuel & other chemicals
  • Recycle/compost all greenwaste generated during construction
  • Separate construction debris for recycling/downcycling, if facilities exist (concrete, brick)

Planting

  • Select plants to fit conditions, rather than altering conditions to fit plants
  • Plant diverse plantings and avoid moncultures
  • Mulch planting beds with organic mulch to retain moisture and prevent compaction

Operations

  • Fuel all diesel trucks and equipment with biodiesel fuel
  • Recycle plant pots, toner cartridges, paper, plastic, glass, aluminum, and scrap metal
  • Conduct ongoing health & safety training for field staff
  • Perform regular maintenance of trucks and machinery to maximize fuel-efficiency
  • Practice double-sided copying & printing; scrap paper reuse
  • Minimize use of heat & air conditioning

Whenever possible, we…

Maintenance

  • Recycle/compost greenwaste on-site
  • Remove weeds by hand or using mechanical (non-chemical) means
  • Manage and remove invasive plants
  • Use no synthetic pesticides or fertilizers

Design

  • Reduce lawn areas and impervious paved surfaces
  • Use native vegetative materials to stabilize slopes and banks
  • Plant dense, multi-layer planting to minimize water loss, weeds, and maintenance
  • Group plants with similar cultural needs (soil types, water, etc.)
  • Harvest rainwater using rain barrels, cisterns, rain xchange water features
  • Use bioswales, ephemeral streams/dry creekbeds & rain gardens to keep rainwater on-site
  • Install low maintenance, chemical-free, soothing habitat ponds
  • Specify permeable pavers, vegetated grids, gravel to minimize runoff
  • Specify solar or lower-energy use pumps & lighting fixtures
  • Reuse existing site structures & amenities
  • Provide spaces for physical activity, mental restoration, social interaction, and food production
  • Design sites for use by people of all ages and abilities (ADA-compliant, safe for kids and elders)
  • Provide usable spaces for clients’ recycling and composting

Construction

  • Protect site soil during construction using planned access routes
  • Restore soils damaged by construction (compaction/infiltration, organic matter & biological activity)
  • Coordinate with all site professionals to faithfully implement design while protecting the site and minimizing waste
  • Confine cutting of pavers/bricks to a designated area
  • Do not use wood from endangered or threatened species
  • Recycle or reuse salvaged materials, stones & plants
  • Use regionally-produced materials (SSI: 50 miles for aggregate & soils, 500 mi for other mat’s)

Planting

  • Plant native plants to minimize inputs of fertilizer, water, and energy
  • Select plants with value beyond aesthetics: food or cover for desirable wildlife and pollinators, edible/medicinal, soil improving, etc.
  • Plant to shield buildings from summer heat and maximize winter sun (“passive solar” planting)
  • Remove or remediate contaminated soils (lead, creosote)
  • Use only NOFA-approved organic soil amendments
  • Amend soil based on soil tests to avoid pollution from excess nutrients
  • Use regionally-sourced plants (SSI: growers w/in 250 mi)

Operations

  • Minimize idling of trucks & machinery
  • Email invoices and correspondence to reduce paper & transportation
  • Educate clients about the sustainable practices that are being/could be implemented on their sites, and the environmental, health, and financial benefits of those practices