Two big issues face offices wishing to green their landscaping practices: water and pest control. The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that by 2010 two-thirds of the states in the US will face water shortages; some states are already fighting for their water rights. Part of the problem is certainly our water-hungry landscapes. As much as half of the 7 billion gallons of water used each day for commercial and residential landscape irrigation is lost due to evaporation, wind, and overwatering.
Many technologies—new and old—exist for mitigating excessive water use and have the added benefit of conserving your bottom line as a business. Green roofs, for example, are becoming more popular with urban landscape architects and have been shown to decrease rainwater runoff by up to 28 percent. This reduces the strain on municipal water systems and may help to prevent freshwater contamination by overflowing sewage in wastewater facilities.
Using advanced irrigation methods can significantly cut water waste, too. These efficient technologies measure local weather and landscape conditions and water according to actual needs rather than a preset schedule. Implementing water-efficiency measures can cut water and sewer costs by up to 30 percent and may also result in lower energy, chemical, and maintenance expenses. Harvard Business School, for instance, employed a computerized irrigation system that saves them 5 million gallons of water and $50,000 annually. Companies with water conservation policies in place also have a distinct advantage over those without since they’re better prepared to handle potential water restrictions and regulations.
Chemical amendments for commercial landscapes are also a significant problem. The US makes up approximately 34 percent of worldwide herbicide, insecticide, and fungicide sales, totaling $11 billion in 2000 and 2001; 13 percent of that total is purchased and used by the industrial/commercial sector. Environmentally friendly alternatives, such as choosing native plants and employing integrated pest management systems, can reduce landscaping costs: labor expenses, chemicals bills, and worker’s compensation claims (due to chemical-related injuries). Natural, eco-friendly landscaping can also reduce emissions of VOCs and nitrogen oxides (a greenhouse gas) by 100 pounds and 10 pounds (respectively) per acre per year.
Questions to get you started...
- Does the company track water use? If so, what’s your annual use of water in gallons per year?
- Does your company pay for water?
- Have you installed any systems for capturing rainwater?
- Has your company considered processing graywater?
- Do you have control over your landscaping service company? If so, do you practice drip irrigation and select vegetation with low water intensity or not use irrigation at all?
- Do you use integrated pest management for the building?
- volatile organic compounds (VOCs): Organic solvents that easily evaporate into the air. VOCs are emitted by thousands of products including paints, cleaning supplies, pesticides, building materials and furnishings and they may cause immediate and long-term health problems.
- World Water Council
- American Water Resources Association
- Virginia Tech - Creating a Water-Wise Landscape
- US Geological Survey - Water Resources of the United States
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Green Landscaping: Greenacres
- Water Use It Wisely - 100 Water-Saving Tips (organized by region)
- Arizona Municipal Water Users Association Regional Water Conservation Committee - Facility Manager’s Guide to Water Management
- Grist - Organically killed: Are 'organic pesticides' the way forward for organic agriculture?
- Public Works and Government Services Canada - An Architect's Guide for Sustainable Design of Office Buildings: Site and Landscape
- US Department of the Interior Bureau of Reclamation - Reclamation: Weather and Soil Moisture Based Landscape Irrigation Scheduling Devices - Gives a review of several weather sensing irrigation devices.
- US Environmental Protection Agency - The Smart Way to Water-Efficient Landscapes: Be a WaterSense Partner Page 2
- Atlanta Business Chronicle - State sues Corps over water
- US Environmental Protection Agency - WaterSense and Landscape Water Use: What’s Next?
- Contra Costa Water District - Commercial Programs: Conserve your bottom line with CCWD water saving programs
- Grist - Taking the LEED: Green Landscaping and Building Catches on in Cities
- Centre for the Advancement of Green Roof Technology - Runoff Retention
- GreenBiz.com - Water Conservation: The Upside
- Natural Resources Defense Council - Watering landscaping in the evening: Efficient Irrigation Saves Money
- New Mexico Office of the State Engineer - A Water Conservation Guide for Commercial, Institutional and Industrial Users Page 8
- US Environmental Protection Agency - 2000-2001 Pesticide Market Estimates: Table 2.1 and Table 2.3
- California Integrated Waste Management Board - Landscape Waste Prevention: Sustainable Landscaping
- Green California - Grounds Maintenance-Landscape Integrated Pest Management: Gardens, Turf, Roadsides, Rights-of-way
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Green Landscaping with Native Plants: How Does Landscaping Effect the Environment?
- Montana State University Extension Service - Healthy Indoor Air for America’s Homes
- US Environmental Protection Agency - Indoor Air Quality: Organic Gases (Volatile Organic Compounds - VOCs)