Energy Saving Landscapes the Next Big Game Changer?


By Ron Hall

The North Carolina Nursery & Landscape Association (NCNLA) offers an Energy Efficient Landscape certification course. I learned about it while reviewing the brochure for the NCNLA’s Green & Growin’ Show scheduled for Jan. 14-18 at the Greensboro Coliseum Complex. As I was not familiar with any similiar program directly promoting "energy efficient landscapes," I called Ross Williams, executive director of the NCNLA at his Raleigh, N.C., office to find out more.

What I learned excites me. These kinds of initiatives take our industry another step toward providing landscapes with more definable and measurable economic as well as aesthetic benefits.

Ross said the idea for initiating the "energy efficient landscapes" instruction came from a NCNLA member who was doing work on the grounds of a community college seeking LEED certification. LEED is the acronym for Leadership in Energy and Environmental design. LEED consist of a suite of rating systems for the design, construction and operation of high performance green buildings, homes and neighborhoods. Landscapes get short shrift in LEED. They are, in a word, snubbed by LEED. 

Meeting a need

The NCNLA member felt the association should address the concept of energy savings as it applies to landscapes, as well. Having a state association take the lead makes a lot of sense inasmuch as there are so many regional differences in terms of plant selection and plant care in the United States.

Williams told me that the 4-hour course being offered at the Show is likely to attract about 50 green industry pros, and each will receive a certificate for participating. To date, about 130 individuals (mostly contractors but some LAs and nursery owners, too) have earned certificates after attending at least one of the three training programs that the NCNLA has, to date, offered. 

He then suggested I speak with Dr. Barbara Fair with the Department of Horticultural Science at North Carolina State University. Fair directs the certification program although she’s quick to point out she relies on other people to share their specialized knowledge as part of the program’s instruction. "I elicit the help of other people who have expertise in subjects, such as turfgrass, that I don’t have," says Fair.

Fair, who describes herself as a "tree person," says the tree industry has been studying and documenting the economic benefits (summer cooling, windbreaks, carbon sequestration, etc.) for years. Society also generally recognizes both the economic and asesthetic benefits of trees. The economic benefits of turfgrass and other ornamentals are not as well documented or publicized- and certainly not as well recognized by the public.

Taking the broader view

Fair says participants in the Energy Efficient Landscape certification course are encouraged to take a holistic approach to landscape energy savings – from strategies to more efficiently deliver their services (obvious energy savings to contractors) to providing landscapes that reduce inputs and property owners’ energy use. This can be extended even to a more general energy savings, such designing and installing landscapes that prevent storm runoff, which would reduce the infrastructure and energy strain on wastewater treatment systems.

Admittedly, it’s unrealistic to expect few (if any) of the Energy Efficient Landscapes program participants to come away from a half-day session to be fully versed in all of the landscape disciplines needed to provide property owners with measureable energy savings. Nevertheless, it’s a positive step in that direction and an idea that hopefully will spread to other states and regions.

Ultimately, of course, as the industry improves its ability to reduce energy use (for itself and for its clients) and ways to accurately measure those savings, that will be a game changer.
"We’re just now getting our program off the ground," admits Williams, adding that the next step is to begin promoting to consumers the concept of properly designed and installed landscapes as "energy savers."

Ron Hall is editor-in-chief of Turf magazine. He has been an editor and participant in the green industry for more than 28 years. Contact him at [email protected].