Creating Sustainable Landscapes on a Smaller Scale

From on January 02, 2008 in Landscaping

It seems new sets of remodeling standards and guidelines are always turning up. There are now recommendations on the brink for sustainable landscape design. The San Francisco Chronicle compares sustainable landscape standards to LEED’s green rating system for buildings. In fact, the U.S. Green Building Council has committed to incorporating these guidelines and standards into the future evolution of the LEED. Sustainable Sites Initiative Put together by the Sustainable Sites Initiative, a partnership between the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, the United States Botanic Garden, and other organizations, the standards are geared toward sites such as city, office, and industrial parks, medical and academic campuses, and residential as well as commercial landscapes. We’ve taken a snapshot of just a few guidelines from the report that homeowners with landscaping plans and environmental outlooks can potentially benefit from. The Initiative’s motivation to produce standards for sustainable sites is to improve and protect the ability of landscapes to provide climate regulation, clean water and air, and improved quality of life. Many of the recommendations can be translated within residential environments and fall under goals for soils, hydrology, vegetation, materials, and human well-being. Here are examples from each goal category. Soils

  • Confine construction staging, utility lines, and disturbance zones to areas where soil was previously disturbed.
  • Do not work on wet soils with heavy equipment.
  • Select plants to fit existing soil and drainage conditions instead of changing soil and drainage conditions to fit a desired plant list.
  • Use compost to reduce the need for fertilizer and increase water retention and soil moisture.


  • Raise stormwater inlets in planting areas to allow water to soak into the soil.
  • Protect soils and vegetation to enhance absorption, retention, and infiltration of precipitation, thereby minimizing runoff.
  • Mulch planting beds to minimize evaporation and maximize water retention.


  • Salvage plant material from areas where it will be removed during construction, and replant it after construction.
  • Increase and protect plant diversity.
  • Select plants adapted to local environmental conditions. Plants produced locally may be best acclimated to climate conditions.


  • Reuse on-site rocks and other existing landscape materials and balance cut and fill.
  • Specify durable materials, which require less frequent maintenance and replacement.
  • All adhesives, sealants, paints, and coatings meet specified VOC limits (g/L less water).
  • Composite wood and agrifiber products contain no added urea-formaldehyde resins.

Human Well Being

  • Provide spaces for outdoor exercise and sports or play spaces if appropriate.
  • Maintain all possible large trees on-site, especially those viewable from windows, as studies show consistently high values of preference and benefits from large trees.
  • Optimize natural light and views of nature.

You can view the entire preliminary report online and add your comments for committee review through January 11, 2008.

More Helpful Links: