Measuring the Success of a Landscape

From The Dirt a discussion  of the role performance measurement is taking in the built environment and the efforts to broaden this beyond simplistic meaurements of building efficiency and CO2 footprints; while these ar necessary they are not sufficient and a new more balanced model is needed, on its own I doubt that the ASLA Sustainable Sites Initiative  is enough, although it is a good step in the right direction.

At the national Brownfields conference, James Royce, ASLA, a landscape architect with Stephen Stimson Associates, explained how the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), a new rating system now in the pilot testing phase, can be used to answer the question: How can we measure the success of a landscape? He added SITES may also help answer the question clients are now most concerned with: What do I get out of it?

The economy has changed, which means that the climate for sustainable solutions has also changed, argued Royce. Many commercial and residential clients still need to be sold on sustainability. However, he believes institutional clients mostly get it and now demand the most sustainable options they can afford.

SITES is a useful tool for understanding and quantifying the range of ecosystem services landscape provide. However, Royce added, areas like human health and wellbeing are still very difficult to quantify at the landscape scale.

Working with the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) to create a “durable, low-maintenance ecological landscape,” Royce was thrilled to discover the innate sense of responsibility in his client. Instead of doing extensive work on a new greenfield site they purchased in Yarmouth Port, Massachusetts, they decided to build their new headquarters on a nearby five-acre brownfield, leaving the natural landscape alone. While this project isn’t part of the SITES pilot testing phase, Royce added that SITES would give him credit for this approach in an effort to incentivize the redevelopment of brownfields or greyfields over greenfields.

In addition, SITES encourages the use of smart site planning to contribute to building performance. In this case, Royce convinced IFAW and its architects to position the buildings appropriately for passive solar heating and cooling, saving on energy usage. Royce added meadows, not lawns, wherever possible on the remediated brownfield, which would earn SITES credits for using native plants. Green infrastructure techniques were incorporated to manage stormwater on site. Furthermore, some 6,000 cubic yards of contaminated soils were excavated and reused to create slopes within new landscape. Both of these sustainable practices would earn additional SITES credits.

Royce was able to quantify a range of benefits and provided some impressive data. One big number that leapt out concerned onsite stormwater management. Using sustainable green infrastructure design techniques he was able to save his client $50,000. Royce added, “being exempted from the local water permitting process alone was priceless.” In addition, Royce also cited a large number in terms of the savings from reusing soils onsite: $250,000, which would have been the cost of trucking new soils in and old ones out. There also would have been additional costs in terms of carbon dioxide emissions added to the atmosphere.

Beyond water and soils, however, actually quantifying worker health benefits gets tricky. Royce believes the new landscape creates microclimates that enable employees to be outdoors comfortably longer, increases worker productivity, and improves employee retention but he couldn’t point to hard data on these. He called for the use of pre and post-occupancy user surveys to find out this information.

Image credit: IFAW headquarters / Boston Society of Landscape Architects

One thought on “Measuring the Success of a Landscape

  1. Moss Turner says:

    “However, he believes institutional clients mostly get it and now demand the most sustainable options they can afford”

    He’s lucky – we still find it’s like asking the developer to hand over his first-born child. We have to drag them kicking and screaming into a discussion on sustainability. Hopefully we are just 5 years behind on this side of the pond and we can look to this positive reception before too long. – J

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