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Sustainable Landscape Architect

By Buck Abbey, ASLA, Robert Reich School of Landscape Architecture, Louisiana State University




What fun planting seeds in a vacant spot on my neighbor's property and watching something like a native red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) emerge from the ground and grow happy in their garden.

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"I propose a life of less . . . A life that's more sustainable."
--Leo Babauta, The Power of Less, Hyperion Books, 2009

It was with much pleasure that I recently lectured at the Texas Chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects annual meeting in San Antonio. The purpose of the address was to discuss sustainable landscape ordinances.

They wanted to know what sustainability metrics must be included in this type of public policy. I explained there were very few communities who have upgraded their landscape codes, tree ordinances and land development regulations to encourage landscape architects to design plans and produce specifications that would result in a more sustainable landscape. Communities discussed in the program included Irvine, Santa Monica, Homestead, Austin and San Antonio.

Living Sustainable

But in the spirit of full disclosure, I pointed out that I am not the most sustainable guy.

Living a sustainable life involves living with less while adding to the productivity of sustainable elements to ensure the resources one enjoys today are available for generation not yet born. It is relatively easy to do a personal sustainability audit to see how one impacts the world in regard to waste, resource use or personal care. The audit below only considers the way I live, and not that of my best friend and three lovely daughters. I suspect their impact may be higher than mine!

These three categories of personal behavior are essential in the way a person leaves tracks in the world. Let's begin with personal care. Each day water, food, waste and personal hygiene can take a toll on the planet.

Personal Care

Water is essential for drinking, cooking, bathing and the care of garden plants and pets. My estimate from billing records is 10 gallons a day, which is below average. I use one bar of Ivory hand soap per week and an estimated four ounces of nonantibacterial liquid soap. I use no other chemical products of personal care other than toothpaste.

Food is not a big thing with me. Fruit, nuts, juice, rice and bread are my favorites. I eat very little meat but some poultry and fresh Gulf seafood. I know I do not eat enough green vegetables, but favor root crops and grains. I will forage for natural food when available. It is very unusual for me to eat three meals a day. I stay away from fast foods most of the time and have an estimated daily caloric count below 2,500. My daily waste is a little too personal to track, but could be measured in ounces per day as a load to the local sanitary sewer system. Ugh, but must be considered.

I prefer cotton clothing to synthetic and will buy American made products when possible and wear them for years. Consumer goods other than books do not interest me.




All yard waste gets recycled into my personal forest on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain, or into my compost pile in Baton Rouge. My greatest environmental sin is gasoline use. On the other hand, I'm responsible for the planting of hundreds of trees per year, reducing the use of lawn grass, controlling storm water waste and influencing the behavior of the next generation of landscape architects. I hope they will live a more sustainable life than me.--Buck Abbey, ASLA

Waste

I do not add materially to the waste stream. My estimate is one cubic foot per day or 13 cubic yards per year. I recycle 80 percent of paper products and computer equipment and need to avoid aluminum cans.

All yard waste gets recycled into my personal forest on the shore of Lake Pontchartrain or into my compost pile in Baton Rouge. I do not clip hedges or large shrubs planted in the wrong place, a place too small to allow them to grow naturally. I despise regularly mowed, irrigated and fertilized lawn grass. I limit mowing to the minimum percentage needed at both my home and my office building. Finally, I am a recreational seed collector, so when possible I collect native seeds in the forest or meadow and distribute them to areas needing more plant cover. What fun planting seeds in a vacant spot on my neighbor's property and watching something like a native red buckeye (Aesculus pavia) emerge from the ground and grow happy in their garden.

Resource Use

Like most Americans, I use too many resources in regard to electricity, natural gas, water and gasoline. I estimate I use 500 cubic feet of natural gas a month on average for cooking, heating and office use. My electricity use is about 78 kWh a month on average, but I try really hard to keep lighting to a minimum and keep the air conditioner at 69 degrees. I prefer natural day lighting and use compact fluorescent bulbs when possible. I limit the use of my cell phone to a call or two per day. Television is rarely watched unless it is LSU football or the fantastic world champion New Orleans Saints! My computer and office equipment are the electronic devises I use most.

My greatest environmental sin is gasoline use. I estimate about 30 gallons per week, way above average, since I commute from the coast each week. I do not use charcoal in spite of the South's great tradition of outdoor living. I do produce carbon dioxide and use oxygen but have not been able to measure these adequately. I avoid airplane travel whenever possible, preferring to drive a rented compact car for all trips less than 300 miles. The ground footprint is less than that in the air. I walk often and really should get a bike.

On the other hand, I am responsible for the planting of hundreds of trees per year, reducing the use of lawn grass, controlling storm water waste and influencing the behavior of the next generation of landscape architects. I hope they will live a more sustainable life than me.

So you see I am not a fully sustainable landscape architect. The personal sustainability audit is helpful in letting me know my deficiencies and I encourage others to do an audit as a first step in changing behavior toward the earth. Live a Spartan life, consume less, waste less and find ways to reduce your impact on the earth.

Sustainable Landscape Architects

Sustainable living and sustainable landscape design share several things in common. The most important thing is we must change the way we think, change our behavior, reduce the impact of our lifestyle and to some extent change the culture of landscape design in this country. Sustainability based landscape codes that incorporate the Sustainable Sites Initiative, LEED standards or the sustainability cannons of local landscape programs such as Florida-Friendly, Louisiana Yards & Neighborhoods or the Bay-Friendly Landscaping & Gardening Coalition in Berkeley, Calif. must be incorporated into our community landscape codes. Now is the time to do it. Now is the time to become sustainable landscape architects.






D.G. "Buck" Abbey, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture at Louisiana State University, is LASN's Associate Editor for Ordinances.



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November 19, 2019, 10:34 pm PDT

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