Climate Positive Design – Becoming CO2+

I am on admission to understand and act on becoming “carbon positive” – I believe it is the way landscape architects can become truly relevant and effective.

A series of recent posts by Landscape+Urbanism on understanding climate change for landscape architects has been catalytic for m intoning about the role of landscape architecture, cities and our lives here on this planet. December post from the Dirt by Andrew Wright reporting on  ASLA 2018 Annual Meeting in Philadelphia and the climate positive design talk by  Pamela Conrad, ASLA, a senior associate at CMG Landscape Architecture   

“The next few years are probably the most important in our history,” said Conrad “We believe our profession can be part of the solution, and that it’s time to work together.”

Pamela Conrad has developed a calculator that predicts the emissions and carbon sequestration potential

“A few years back, I assumed I could go online and download a tool that would tell me exactly what I wanted to know. But frankly, those tools really only exist for architects right now. Because we have the ability to sequester carbon, perhaps we need our own tools to measure these impacts.”

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Landscape Carbon Calculator / Pamela Conrad, CMG Landscape Architecture

Conrad’s tool, which is still in beta testing and has not yet been publicly released, measures sources of embodied emissions in landscape materials against the sequestration potential of vegetation on a site to calculate both the carbon footprint of a project and the amount of time it will take for sequestration to completely offset emissions. Past that point, the project will  sequester additional atmospheric carbon dioxide, a condition Conrad calls being “climate positive.”

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Climate Positive Design / Pamela Conrad, CMG Landscape Architecture

Using the calculator, Conrad has been able to estimate the carbon footprints of her recently completed projects and, by tweaking the input parameters, model strategies that could have reduced their climate impacts.

“We can plant more trees and woody shrubs; we can minimize paving, especially concrete; we can minimize lawn areas; we can use local or natural recycled materials.” With these strategies, Conrad estimates that she could have cut the time it will take for her projects to become carbon neutral in half.

“The design of those projects didn’t change at all, or the quality for that matter. But what a difference it could have made if we just had the resources to inform our design decisions.”

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Carbon Positive Design / CMG Landscape Architecture

Conrad argued that, through climate sensitive design, landscape architects could be responsible for the sequestration of as much as 0.24 gigatons of carbon over the next thirty years, enough to place landscape architecture in the list of 80 solutions to climate change studied in Paul Hawken’s Drawdown project.

And “if we were to include other work we do, like incorporating green roofs into projects or making cities more walkable and bikeable, that would put landscape architecture within the top 40 solutions.”

Conrad plans to release the calculator to the public next year and hopes that it will be used to set measurable goals for designing climate-friendly projects and create opportunities for accountability.

“How are we going to keep tabs on ourselves to make sure that we’re actually doing these things?” she asked her fellow panelists. “What would it take for us to have a 2030 challenge specific to landscape architecture?”

The New Landscape Declaration

This renewal of a half century old landscape document in many ways echoes the feelings of frustration many of us feel over the  seemingly mindless pursuit of self interest and greed that continually threatens to overwhelm us, yet unless we are able to get more politically engaged within our communities of interest and beyond; into the other professional and public domains, we are preaching to the converted and our words are unheard by those who are crying for creative steps towards overcoming the myriad challenges awe face in our cities, towns and rural environments.  If you feel this to be true and worthwhile then I urge you to head on over to LAF  , sign the declaration and decide how you can let it be heard more widely than the jus the community of landscape architecture.

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On June 10-11, 2016, over 700 landscape architects with a shared concern for the future were assembled by the Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia. Inspired by LAF’s 1966 Declaration of Concern, we crafted a new vision for landscape architecture for the 21st century. This is our call to action.
Across borders and beyond walls, from city centers to the last wilderness, humanity’s common ground is the landscape itself. Food, water, oxygen – everything that sustains us comes from and returns to the landscape. What we do to our landscapes we ultimately do to ourselves. The profession charged with designing this common ground is landscape architecture.

After centuries of mistakenly believing we could exploit nature without consequence, we have now entered an age of extreme climate change marked by rising seas, resource depletion, desertification and unprecedented rates of species extinction. Set against the global phenomena of accelerating consumption, urbanization and inequity, these influences disproportionately affect the poor and will impact everyone, everywhere.

Simultaneously, there is profound hope for the future. As we begin to understand the true complexity and holistic nature of the earth system and as we begin to appreciate humanity’s role as integral to its stability and productivity, we can build a new identity for society as a constructive part of nature.

The urgent challenge before us is to redesign our communities in the context of their bioregional landscapes enabling them to adapt to climate change and mitigate its root causes. As designers versed in both environmental and cultural systems, landscape architects are uniquely positioned to bring related professions together into new alliances to address complex social and ecological problems. Landscape architects bring different and often competing interests together so as to give artistic physical form and integrated function to the ideals of equity, sustainability, resiliency and democracy.

As landscape architects we vow to create places that serve the higher purpose of social and ecological justice for all peoples and all species. We vow to create places that nourish our deepest needs for communion with the natural world and with one another. We vow to serve the health and well-being of all communities.

To fulfill these promises, we will work to strengthen and diversify our global capacity as a profession. We will work to cultivate a bold culture of inclusive leadership, advocacy and activism in our ranks. We will work to raise awareness of landscape architecture’s vital contribution. We will work to support research and champion new practices that result in design innovation and policy transformation.

We pledge our services. We seek commitment and action from those who share our concern.