10 Practices Showing That “Sustainability” is More Than Just a Buzzword!


Sustainability is the buzzword that’s making the world a better place! You have probably realized that the way we manage our resources is gaining more space in the media and transforming our means of production and development. On the other hand, you may also have bought some products being advertised as sustainable and, later, discovered that certain stages of their production were contrary to this principle.

Visualizing the permaculture concept. Image credit: Gabe McIntyre; CC 2.0

A sustainable world. Image credit: Gabe McIntyre; CC 2.0

You may wonder if sustainability is just another marketing ploy or whether it is being seriously practiced. Since landscape architecture harmonizes the relationship between nature and built space, you should also be looking for a response within this field to see if it is worth using sustainable methods to produce your space to live and work. So, to better understand how individuals, designers, environmentalists, and communities are using this concept, you should read the following 10 practices that are among the most important examples of sustainability. 10. Preservation of wildlife habitats When starting to plant your garden or a larger green space, the first thing you need is to clean the site, removing all the existing plants, right? If you said, “no, that’s wrong”, you already know the first basic rule of sustainable design. Indeed, you should keep the native plants and only remove the invasive species to avoid disruptions in the natural processes in your yard.
Conservation projects. Landscape of Samburu, Kenya; image credit:  Piotr Gatlik /

Large scale conservation project. Landscape of Samburu, Kenya; image credit: Piotr Gatlik /

9. Sustainable green roofs You might also be impressed by some garden roofs and consider including them in your constructions. It’s no wonder; their aesthetic effect has been living in our imaginations since the Babylonians’ (or “Nineveh’s”, according to recent research) hanging gardens were cited in history books. And, although it is still uncertain if the story about Alexander the Great being amazed by their beauty is fact or legend, it’s a sure thing that a roof garden won’t be sustainable if it relies on a system like the great conqueror observed. According to some research, the aqueducts he saw may have been built for watering the legendary gardens.
Green roof. Credit: Copijn Tuin- en Landschapsarchitecten, The Netherlands.

Green roof. Credit: Copijn Tuin- en Landschapsarchitecten, The Netherlands.

To make your roof a successful green space, you would rather use the Scandinavian tradition of planting hardy species, such as several kinds of grass that can thrive with low maintenance. But, if you are really interested in a more complex garden, professionals can help you make it sustainable by selecting adequate plants, calculating the roof’s load, designing efficient rainwater storage and drainage systems, and analyzing whether the cost and maintenance suit your budget.
Green roof Credit: OODA architects

Credit: OODA architects

Regardless of the type of garden roof you decide to have, it will improve your building’s thermal performance and link it to the green surface net that is reducing the heat island effect in cities. Related Articles:

8. Efficient use of water Although including plants in your spaces shows that you are in tune with environmental concerns, if you adopt wasteful irrigation, you will probably have your green space classified as anti-ecological. Treating water as a resource and not as waste is an essential landscape design rule. And you can follow it by selecting the right plants for the local climate and the type of soil, in addition to storing rainwater. And, if the law where you live allows for the reuse of “greywater”, you can also build a system to capture water from bathing, laundry, and dishwashers, treat it properly, and use it to irrigate your plants.

 A simple diagram to show the various parts and functions of a Rooftop rainwater harvesting system. The process shown in the figure makes the collected rainwater suitable for drinking or common household use. Credit: CC 3.0, by Adityamail

A simple diagram to show the various parts and functions of a Rooftop rainwater harvesting system. The process shown in the figure makes the collected rainwater suitable for drinking or common household use. Credit: CC 3.0, by Adityamail

7. Increasing the permeable area If you have a garden with plant beds and lawns, why not design the paths and gathering areas in a way that they can absorb the rainwater as well? Permeable pavers can make your outdoor area be as good at absorbing water as natural soil. By using permeable pavement, you will prevent stormwater from being wasted through runoff – just like professionals are starting to do in larger public spaces with materials suitable to lightweight traffic, such as parking lots, bike lanes, and driveways. There is also a trend to apply permeable asphalt and concrete in heavy traffic areas.

Permeable paver demonstration. Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0 JJ Harrison

Permeable paver demonstration. Credit: CC BY-SA 3.0
JJ Harrison

6. Vertical gardens contributing to a healthier city Walls are also surfaces that are increasingly becoming water absorbent through the use of vertical gardens. You might have seen versions of these living walls, some of them transformed into art panels, which promotes their use. But, nowadays, green walls are going beyond this, and are becoming a requisite for buildings and businesses to upgrade their green certifications because vertical gardens purify the air and improve the energy efficiency of the buildings. So, you if are thinking about incorporating green walls into your construction, you should know that, although the most practical types are the ones built with the insertion of pre-grown plants into panels or trays, you can make cheaper ones by growing on-site climbing species.
Green wall at Cecil street. Photo credit: Tierra Design + POD

Green wall at Cecil street. Photo credit: Tierra Design + POD

The crucial point in maintaining your living walls will be to design the watering system and, although there are several solutions for that, the most common are those based on the recirculation concept, which uses water more efficiently. 5. Selection of plants according to the place We can’t deny that some exotic plant species fascinate us with their beauty, and that we would like to have them in our gardens. But, as you have already learned from the first practice, the sustainable method calls for planting native species. This can unite private spaces with some public parks that are restoring the local wildlife. The good news is that you can get seedlings without cost from the many non-profit organizations that distribute them as an incentive to sustainable planting. So, this step will make your garden affordable and align you with community efforts to bring natural life back to urban spaces. 4. Reduction of the use of electrical energy Of course you would like to use your outdoor space for resting or social gatherings at night as well as during the daytime. And all the efforts to reduce your footprint will have been useless if, at the moment of designing the lighting system, you waste energy. The right choice is to make the place even greener by combining devices such as motion sensors, dimmers, and LED (light-emitting diode) or other energy-saving light bulbs, such as solar powered. Although they may be still pricey, you will see a reduction in your energy bill, so your investment will have a payback.
Oregon solar street lighting project. Image credit: Public Domain

Oregon solar street lighting project. Image credit: Public Domain

3. Use of recycled and recyclable materials When it comes to coating, finishing, and furnishing your outdoor space, you need to contribute to waste reduction if you want to be sustainable. Since designers are increasingly adopting this principle, there is a large market focused on it; you can find materials from demolition sites that can compose very charming rooms. Other excellent choices are recycled components — those made from raw materials harvested and processed according to environmental laws, such as certified wood and materials made from local sources to avoid the high costs of transportation. And, to be coherent with green approaches, you should check whether the materials you initially used can be reused or recycled and assure that their recycling process won’t generate even more damage to the environment. 2. Increase of green transportation Will constructing green areas, according to what we are talking about so far, be enough to guarantee the sustainability of our spaces? You must agree that, if the ways of transportation we use to access the parks, gardens, or green buildings are polluting and expensive, they will soon end our natural resources.
Cykelslangen. Credit: DISSING+WEITLING

Cykelslangen. Credit: DISSING+WEITLING

So, regardless of your location, why not opt to ride a bike, walk, or use public transportation instead of relying on cars all the time? If your city is not yet bike-friendly, it’s a great opportunity for you and your community to work to make that happen. The use of bikes as the main form of transportation can reduce gas emissions and provide the benefits of exercising outdoors, as countries such as the Netherlands and Belgium have been proving for years. 1. Urban agriculture At this point, you must have already noticed that the best way to produce outdoor spaces without negatively impacting nature is to keep them integrating to its cycles. And it wouldn’t be different in relation to our nutrition: You can help to reduce the use of energy to transport vegetables to the city if you grow your own produce in your garden. You can also join one of the organizations that develop urban agriculture through public gardens, providing a social and hands-on way to learn eco-friendly methods of producing healthy food. WATCH: Urban agriculture, closer to home Although each of these practices can help you to produce more pleasant spaces and manage our resources responsibly, your green contribution won’t be effective if you work on just one aspect while ignoring the others. Each is worth being adopted only if you are engaged in the whole process. And the commitment that professionals and communities are having with this subject proves that sustainability is not just a green wave that is ending soon, but a stream whose direction we all should follow. Recommended Reading:

Article written by Tania Gianone Return to Homepage

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