Clients are looking to landscape architects to provide nature-based solutions to climate impacts, with street trees, bioswales, and native, drought-tolerant plants in high demand.
ASLA has released its first national survey on demand for landscape architecture planning and design solutions to climate change. 563 landscape architects, designers, and landscape architecture educators in the U.S. responded to the survey in October 2021.
Nationwide, demand for planning and design solutions to climate change has increased over the past year. 77 percent of landscape architects and designers responding to the survey experienced at least a 10 percent increase in client demand for these solutions in comparison with 2020. And, of these, 38 percent of landscape architects and designers experienced more than a 50 percent increase in demand over the past year.
According to the survey results, city and local governments are the foremost drivers of demand for climate change-related planning and design projects. Non-profit organizations, state governments, and community groups, which may or may not be incorporated non-profit organizations, are also key drivers of demand.
Clients are concerned about a range of climate impacts, but are most concerned with:
- Increased duration and intensity of heat waves
- Increased intensity of storms
- Increased spread and intensity of inland flooding
- Loss of pollinators, such as bees and bats
- Changing / unreliable weather, or “weird weather.”
The survey finds that landscape architects are also actively educating public, commercial, and residential clients about the importance of investing in more climate-smart practices.
Nationwide, 65 percent of landscape architects and designers surveyed are recommending the integration of climate solutions to “all or most” of their clients. They are creating demand for more sustainable and resilient landscape planning and design practices through “advocacy by design” approaches that persuade city, local government, and other clients to update policies and regulations.
To increase community resilience and reduce greenhouse gas emissions, landscape architects are planning and designing infrastructure at all scales – from the city and county to district, neighborhood, and site.
The top community-wide infrastructure solution clients are requesting is stormwater management to reduce flooding. Solutions that reduce reliance on fossil-fuel-powered vehicles and greenhouse gas emissions from the transportation sector, which account for approximately 30 percent of all U.S. emissions, take up the next top four in-demand solutions: walkability improvements, trails, bike infrastructure, and Complete Streets. Improved bicycle and pedestrian infrastructure also increase community resilience to climate impacts by providing additional layers of safe transportation.
The survey found that projects to increase the resilience of communities and reduce greenhouse gas emissions may also be leading to positive economic impacts. 47 percent of landscape architects and designers surveyed estimate their climate projects have a construction value of more than $1 million, with 29 percent saying the value of this work is more than $10 million.
Also, 45 percent of landscape architects and designers surveyed estimated their climate projects created more than 10 local planning, design, construction, management, or maintenance jobs in the past year. Climate solutions are resulting in well-paying creative and green jobs.
“The survey data shows that communities are greatly concerned about a range of climate risks and impacts. They are looking to landscape architects to provide nature-based solutions that both store carbon and increase resilience to extreme heat, flooding, drought, sea level rise, and other climate impacts,” said Torey Carter-Conneen, ASLA CEO. “There is also concern about biodiversity loss, particularly the loss of pollinators and the native habitat they rely on, and landscape architects are providing solutions that address the twinned climate and biodiversity crises.”
More key findings:
Designing resilience to climate impacts is at the forefront. 48 percent of landscape architects and designers surveyed stated that “all, a majority, or about half” of clients are now requesting plans and designs to increase resilience to existing or projected climate impacts, such as extreme heat, flooding, sea level rise, storm surges, and wildfires.
Specifically, some 43 percent of clients seek to increase resilience to climate shocks projected for the next 2-5 years, while 39 percent seek to address immediate climate risks or impacts.
38 percent of clients seek to increase resilience over the next 5-10 years, while 32 percent of clients are planning now for the long-term and seeking solutions for expected climate risks and impacts 10-50 years out.
Nature-based planning and design solutions are in demand. Public, non-profit, community, and private clients are looking to landscape architects to plan and design nature-based solutions to impacts such as wildfires, sea level rise, flooding, drought, extreme heat, and biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation.
According to landscape architects, designers, and educators surveyed, these are the top solutions requested by clients for each climate impact area. Note: Not all climate impacts are relevant to the respondents’ regions.
Extreme heat solutions:
- Street trees (64 percent)
- Shade structures / canopies (60 percent)
- Tree groves (35 percent)
- Parks (35 percent)
- Green roofs (31 percent)
- Bioswales (62 percent)
- Rain Gardens (61 percent)
- Permeable pavers (59 percent)
- Trees (54 percent)
- Wetland restoration (45 percent)
- Native, drought-tolerant plants (67 percent)
- Low-water, drought-tolerant plants (65 percent)
- Irrigation systems (48 percent)
- Greywater reuse (36 percent)
- Landscape solutions that increase groundwater recharge (35 percent)
Biodiversity loss and ecosystem degradation solutions:
- Increase diversity of native tree and plant species (58 percent)
- Native plant gardens (57 percent)
- Increase use of plant species pollinators rely on (52 percent)
- Ecological landscape design (41 percent)
- Ecological restoration (35 percent)
- Firewise landscape design strategies (27 percent)
- Defensible spaces (22 percent)
- Land-use planning and design changes (19 percent)
- Forest management practices (17 percent)
- Wildfire risk or impact assessment (14 percent)
Sea level rise solutions:
- Nature-based solutions (33 percent)
- Erosion management (30 percent)
- Beach / dune restoration (25 percent)
- Other coastal ecosystem restoration (21 percent)
- Berms (19 percent)
Reducing greenhouse gas emissions is also now a key focus. Landscape architecture projects can incorporate Climate Positive Design practices so that they absorb more carbon than they emit over their lifespans. Projects at all scales can act as natural and designed carbon sinks, storing carbon in trees, shrubs, and carbon-sequestering materials, such as wood and pavers. 27 percent of respondents stated that “all, a majority, or about half” of clients are requesting projects that reduce or store greenhouse gas emissions now.
The top five strategies sought by clients to reduce emissions include:
- Parks and open spaces, which include trees and grasses that sequester carbon.
- Tree and shrub placement to reduce building energy use.
- Habitat creation / restoration, which can increase the amount of trees and plants in a landscape, remove invasive species, and improve the overall health of natural systems, and the amount of carbon stored in landscapes.
- Elimination of high-maintenance lawns, which involves reducing the corresponding use of fossil-fuel-based fertilizers and fossil-fuel-powered lawn movers and leaf blowers.
- Minimizing soil disturbance, which helps keep intact carbon stored in soils.
Clients are also requesting materials that store carbon, such as woods and carbon-absorbing concrete.
Top five solutions:
- Recycled materials, such as pavers that incorporate a high percentage of industrial byproducts.
- Reused materials, such as wood or concrete, which eliminate the need to produce new materials.
- Trees that absorb higher amounts of carbon than others, which include white oak, southern magnolia, London plane tree, and bald cypress trees.
- Carbon-sequestering shrubs, groundcover, and grasses, such as native grasses with deeper roots than turfgrass.
- Solar reflective materials that bounce back more sunlight and therefore reduce heat absorption and air conditioning energy use and expenses in adjacent buildings.