The reality of drought continues to impact our communities, as the landscape industry is forced to make tough decisions when faced with drought management measures. We’ve seen existing urban landscapes converted to xeriscapes, paved over, stripped of turf or simply abandoned by turning off irrigation water. Others have chosen to ignore drought issues by continuing to manage landscapes in a traditional fashion.

Urban landscapes provide a wealth of ecosystem services, ranging from oxygen production and human healing capability values to wildlife habitat and pollution reduction. And how about the increased property values realized by well-maintained, healthy landscapes?

Understanding the importance of landscape’s benefits, while taking measures to manage drought, can be a daunting task. While abandoning landscapes is not the answer to drought, making no change in landscape practices whatsoever isn’t, either. A socially responsible approach must be taken to find a balance between the two.

Social responsibility is a commitment to supporting and improving the communities in which we live, work and play. It means developing products and technologies to enable efficient use of our natural resources and reducing our environmental footprint. So, how can we employ social responsibility in times of drought?

Education

Urban landscapes are living, breathing ecosystems. The landscape industry is continually evolving, to accommodate the needs of these landscapes. At the same time, the industry is growing to meet the landscape needs of our communities. New and innovative ways to design, install, manage and maintain landscapes are continually being developed to service our ever-changing communities and the ecosystems in which we live.

When approaching a landscape project in times of drought—or any time for that matter—it’s important to be aware of the current trends and local regulations impacting the industry. Educational opportunities can be found in many places, including universities, as well as from manufacturers and distributors. Being educated in this area provides an opportunity to make decisions to maximize water-use efficiency while creating beautiful, healthy and functioning urban landscapes.

Finding a balance

Finding a balance between healthy urban landscapes and saving water can be a difficult task. The knee-jerk reaction of drastically modifying urban landscapes in times of drought may lead to overall water availability issues.

Turfgrass, for example, receives the majority of negative publicity during drought periods and is often removed. However, the health benefits realized from the ability to play sports and exercise on open turf spaces represents a tremendous value. The value of turf quickly decreases, however, when it’s planted in unusable spaces such as street medians, making the water and the energy expended to maintain them much more difficult to justify. It is very important to know how our landscapes will be used, in order to better manage and allocate resources for them.

Take Action

Times of drought create an excellent opportunity to make upgrades to the urban landscapes where we live, work and play. After investing in education and identifying a balance within a project, it’s time to take action. Simple things, such as implementing irrigation management programs and balanced fertilizer schedules, may lead to big resource savings.

Larger, more complex projects, such as irrigation retrofits and plant substitutions, are good examples of balanced resource use, and also visually convey that action is being taken to implement solutions. Taking the initiative to manage resources before, during and after drought times builds strong, healthy and resilient urban landscapes.

Share the Knowledge

The knowledge gained through education is extremely valuable. Whether the execution of a landscape project is a success or a failure, the lessons learned can be appreciated just as much as the project itself. New, innovative ways to design, install, manage and maintain landscapes must be experimented with, prior to full industry acceptance, and it’s up to each individual or organization to share their experiences. Sharing these experiences with others will allow them to also create healthy, balanced landscapes, thus reducing the overall amount of resources used.

It’s no coincidence that the last step of being socially responsible in times of drought is very connected to the first, as the knowledge gained may be shared directly back through the very same educational channels we started with, further strengthening the landscape industry as a whole.

Taking a socially responsible approach towards landscapes during times of drought creates an educated workforce, identifies the balance between resource use and ecosystem services, implements resource management measures, and creates a path to share knowledge gained from the process.

Part of being socially responsible is making sure that the overall goal of resource savings is achieved. This cannot be done alone. By using the model of continued education, finding a balance, taking action and sharing the knowledge, the landscape industry can work together to achieve resource savings goals while growing and strengthening its overall viability.

EDITORS’S NOTE: Bryce Carnehl is corporate social responsibility manager at Hunter Industries.