Like any red-hot industry that’s cooled to a tepid sizzle, there are still pockets of opportunity for design/build contractors. On the commercial side, there continues to be a mounting movement toward “green-certified” buildings. That said, a landscaper’s biggest opportunity could very well be getting homeowners to buy into this movement as well.
According to results of a survey conducted by Harris Interactive on behalf of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), 96% of U.S. adults have personally adopted sustainable or energy-efficient practices inside their home, but only 58% have adopted them in their lawn or garden. Landscape contractors who are able to provide services to help close this gap could be greatly rewarded.
“The results clearly show a desire and willingness to use techniques that reduce utility bills at home, but few know what can be accomplished outside their homes,” says ASLA CEO Nancy Somerville. “Consumers are interested in doing the right thing environmentally in their yards and gardens, but are not knowledgeable about water conservation techniques, how to site trees strategically to reduce home energy use, and other aspects of environmentally friendly landscape design and maintenance.”
GREEN IS HAPPENING NOW
Jody Shilan, a former landscape contractor and now green industry consultant, will attest to that. Shilan coaches design/build companies to help develop their systems and grow their businesses. He says most of the contractors he works with agree that “sustainable landscaping” is more of a buzzword than highly requested service when it comes to the average homeowner.
But the green industry has taken a very proactive approach. Mike McShane of Plantique Inc. in Allentown, PA, is the 2008-9 chair of PLANET’s design/build specialty group. He says environmentally friendly initiatives are definitely on the rise in the landscaping industry, including things like underground water retention and rain gardens.
“Our industry also continues to utilize new and improved plant cultivars that are disease-resistant and lower-maintenance,” McShane adds. Cultivars refer to plants that are bred with distinct characteristics. Some are particularly pest-resistant and known to thrive in certain areas. They require substantially less, if any, irrigation and fertilization.
HEIGHTENING ENVIRONMENTAL FOCUS
Somerville says landscape projects with a strong sustainability component have been growing in importance over the past few years. Public and government focus on climate change, watershed quality and conservation, and related environmental issues has significantly increased. “The result has been more projects involving remediation, water conservation, green roofs, and other forms of green infrastructure,” she points out.
McShane adds that certain zoning mandates in particular regions of the country have affected landscape design in the areas of storm water run-off and impervious surfaces. In addition, many local and regional efforts now provide guidelines and tax incentives for improved land development and management practices.
The ASLA is currently working to create sustainable landscape performance benchmarks with weighted credits and a recognition system. According to the ASLA, the U.S. Green Building Council is lending its support to this project and anticipates incorporating the metrics into future versions of LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System.
“Landscape contractors should become knowledgeable about more sustainable approaches to landscape construction and maintenance—and should be proactively offering those options to their clients,” Somerville says. Visit sustainablesites.org for more information.