October 5, 2023
Landscape Designers work toward a greener future

A national subcommittee is launching a new project to standardize the sectors’ approach to design in the face of climate change


My first experience with LEED certification was shortly after its launch in 1998, on an elementary school project in Cape Breton, N.S. Born through a partnership between the United States Green Building Council and the Natural Resources Defence Council, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification is now the gold standard for green building. Today, we have an opportunity to apply similar rigour to how we approach landscape design with environmental impact in mind.

What resonated with me back in 1998 were two LEED program fundamentals. First was the organized process, with its clear goals and paths to project targets and compliance. The second was the core principles of the Triple Bottom Line — economic prosperity (profit), social responsibility (people) and environmental stewardship (planet).

Both fundamentals can be applied to the practice of landscape design, with the responsibility of the landscape designer and landscape design as an integral part of our industry value chain. Paul Brydges, chair of the Canadian Nursery Landscape Association’s Landscape Designer Committee (LDC), has talked about the important role of the landscape designer as ‘first contact’ and ‘influencers.’ That’s a key reason the LDC, as part of a national strategy, is developing a Landscape Design Climate Checklist to support that role and provide designers with a tool to guide the design process with a consistent approach, as it relates to our professional commitment and responsibility to our industry, clients and customers. An ‘influencer’ is generally defined as a person with the ability to influence potential buyers of a product or service, and while the term is typically associated with a social media presence, we (LDC) are using it in the context of a client or customer’s first contact after a call to a landscape architect, landscape designer, landscape design/build contractor or visit to a favourite garden centre.

The Certified Landscape Designer, Landscape Design Manual, Second Edition, which holds a special place near my desk, sums up a key challenge for landscape designers. In the section on professional development, industry standards, evolving technology and new trends, it states: “the requirements to the practice of the landscape design discipline are changing at an ever-increasing rate.” The ever-changing variables inherent to our sector makes our work complex, but these variables also illuminate a real opportunity to come together and make a difference as part of the green sector.

From initial survey data conducted by CNLA, we know the level of practice in Canada is varied. Some landscape designers are self-taught, some have university degrees, and in between there are several certifications and diploma options for those entering the field.

Variable number one
Climate, climate change, climate adaptation, climate action: a global crisis, a national commitment, a local action. There is much clamouring and competition in the climate space — claims of green, ownership of green, not to mention greenwashing, the PR spin that implies concern for the environment without taking any real action. Climate change is a big piece of nebulous business. But in a boots-on-the-ground context, adopting even small green practices can be powerful when purposeful.

Variable number two
A Landscape Design Climate Checklist — a standard and scalable approach to guiding the client or consumer through the climate action space, ticks the ‘people, planet and profit’ boxes, supports our broad and deep value chain, and brings credibility to a sector that has acknowledged its influence and embraced its pivotal position.

So what should a curated landscape design climate checklist look like?

In broad terms, as a tool, it should:
1. Categorize the landscape components to be considered.
2. Take the designer and client through an informative flow to help decision making.
3. Be concise and easily integrate into existing sales platforms — printed or digital.
4. Support existing sector standards and best practices.
5. Be a living document.

As the LDC begins to develop this document, we invite your comments and suggestions. And if you haven’t added your name to our national list to receive updates from the CNLA Landscape Designer Sub-Committee, we want to hear from you. Just send a quick e-mail to Anne Kadwell, CNLA Landscape and Retail Sector Specialist at akadwell@canadanursery.com


art vanden enden
Christene LeVatte, Co-owner of Highland Landscapes for Lifestyle, a family-owned landscape design/build firm and turf production farm in Cape Breton, Nova Scotia. Christene is Past President of the CNLA, Past Chair of and current CNLA National Representative on the Canadian Landscape Standard CNLA Joint Committee and is the CNLA Government Relations Chair.