When Kermit the Frog crooned the tune “It’s not easy being green,” he wasn’t singing about environmental issues. We who are in the green industry, however, might want to rewrite that song, with appropriate lyrics about the challenge of exchanging some of our traditional practices for greener ones.
Over the last few years, a rapidly growing environmental movement has swept the nation. “Going green” is a phrase that has been used to mean many different things, from bringing your own reusable bags to the grocery store to switching to LED lighting to conserve energy. The list goes on and on, and just about every industry has been affected in some way, shape or form.
And, though it may not be easy, the green industry is ‘going green’ (or going greener, if you will), in a big way, too. Eco-friendly alternatives, from products to practices, keep sprouting up. More landscape contractors are using organic nourishments rather than chemical fertilizers, switching to alternative fuels for their machines, and cutting back or eliminating the use of chemical pesticides and herbicides.
They’re changing inefficient sprinkler heads for newer, water-conserving ones, or putting in drip systems.
They are adding environmentallyconscious services and educating their clients on the benefits of sustainable landscapes.
The green movement within the landscape industry is growing stronger every year, not because contractors are driving it, but because their clients are demanding it. ‘Environmentally friendly,’ ‘eco-green’ and ‘sustainable’ are terms we’re going to hear a lot more as time goes on. We need to learn how to provide our clients with landscapes that are not just beautiful, but sustainable as well. It’s a balancing act that we’re all going to have to learn to do.
Our industry is beginning to recognize the efforts of landscape companies that are raising the bar when it comes to being green. One of these is the San Diego, California-based Envision Landscape Studio, a company that specializes in modern designs for eco-friendly sustainable landscapes.
One of Envision Landscape Studio’s projects, entitled “Modern Urban Farmstead,” recently received recognition from the California Landscape Contractors Association (CLCA), during its annual Beautification Awards presentation. The project won the Bob Baier Memorial Award, given to designs that excel in sustainable methods.
Landscape architect Navid Mostatabi headed up the winning project. “How green can we be?” is a question he struggles with daily as he goes about transforming residential landscapes in this oceanside city.
“The greenest thing would be to do nothing,” he said. “Building decks and swimming pools is not very green.”
But Mostatabi also understands that doing nothing will not get him far in this business. To make an impact, you must build, change, install.
So he strives to make the landscapes he designs as green as possible, while remaining commercially viable.
Since graduating from the landscape architecture program at California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo, he has been on a mission to balance the realities of landscape construction with the goal of being environmentally responsible. With his expert knowledge of both plants and materials, Mostatabi strives to educate his clients about creating the most natural ecosystems possible within their own landscapes.
In every design he creates, he aims to give his clients landscapes that are both functional and productive. “Creating an aesthetically-pleasing landscape is really easy,” he said. “But, in a way, it’s not enough anymore. We’re trying to make it so people can produce something from their landscape, like food. Make it so they’re actually able to use the space, and not just fill it with a green lawn that looks nice, but doesn’t produce anything.”
The owners of the award-winning property had just finished remodeling the interior of their Pacific Beach home when they decided they wanted a clean, modern outside area to match the inside. They did a Google search for “sustainable landscapers” and discovered Envision Landscape Studio.
When the crew first arrived at the home, they found its front and back yards in a state of disarray. Over a span of eight months, they transformed the sloped residential corner lot into an urban farm, fusing together contemporary features with sustainable landscape practices.
Mostatabi worked with his clients to design a concept that was both waterwise and eco-sound. He didn’t let the look of the other homes in the well-established beach community distract him from remaining true to his green vision. He incorporated native plants and a minimalist aesthetic, things commonly associated with ‘green’ landscapes—but he didn’t stop there. He took the concept one step further—rather than just creating a landscape that looks pretty, he instead designed one his clients could actually use.
That design included raised vegetable beds, a variety of fruit trees, a living green wall, a swimming pool with a solar water heater, an outdoor kitchen area, a rainwater-harvesting system and a drip irrigation system fed by it.
“A lot of the spaces that we create are extensions of the home, to really encourage people to use the outdoors,” he said. To achieve this, Mostatabi likes to create “interactive” areas, i.e. areas that produce a benefit.
For instance, in the front yard of Modern Urban Farmstead, the multiple, custom-designed, raised vegetable beds benefit his clients by enabling them to grow their own organic food. (Vegetable beds are a design feature that he incorporates into more than 75 percent of his projects.)
Another interactive element was the inclusion of a chicken coop. The chickens provide multiple benefits. Not only do they produce freshly laid eggs, they’re a natural means of pest control, as they supplement their feed with the insects they find.
Next, Mostatabi tackled the job of effectively irrigating the entire landscape with little or no wasteful runoff. Four rainwater-harvesting cisterns, large enough to store 1,600 gallons of water, were installed just below the home’s roofline. This rainwater is the main source of irrigation for the landscape, virtually eliminating the need to tap the potable supply.
The project was a huge success. Not only did it win recognition from CLCA, but perhaps even more important, the people footing the bill, their clients, loved it. They liked the eco-green theme so much that they purchased patio furniture made completely from recycled milk jugs. “I think clients nowadays are more willing to hear these sustainable ideas,” he said, “and are open to the notion of incorporating them into their landscapes.”
Mostatabi and his colleagues at Envision Landscape Studio understand that while it may not be easy being green, they try to be wherever possible. They realize that design/ build is, by its very nature, an energy-intensive field, requiring large quantities of materials and the fuel to install them.
In every project they undertake, they make a conscious effort to incorporate even the tiniest eco-green elements in order to offset their overall carbon footprint. For instance, every aspect of the urban farm utilized a greener substitute for the standard and conventional, from the energy-efficient LED lighting to the recycled, decomposed granite used in the pavers. That’s the sort of attention to detail that wins awards.
Mostatabi has a word for landscape contractors who are nervous about diminished profits if they switch to a more eco-friendly approach. “From a contractor’s perspective, you need to be really passionate about this,” he says, implying that your desire to be green should be ahead of the profit motive.
You have to make a profit, of course; this is a business, after all. There is a middle ground between totally green and totally traditional; it doesn’t have to be all-or-nothing. Eco-green landscape contractors come in all shades of green, from a slight hint of mint to bright kelly. If you want to add sustainable practices, you can do it gradually, perhaps adding a list of eco-green services to your established menu. Let your customers drive the change. If you give them what they want, you’ll get the best prize of all—their continued business.