Using the free market to fight climate change
The carbon landscape-Using the free market to fight climate change
Large international corporations rebrand their products and create policies addressing environmental, community, fair trade and labour practices to meet changed consumer behavior. Landscape Architects could use their market position in order to influence the materials industry, thus reducing the carbon footprint of landscape architecture.
One significant problem with a worldwide economic recession is that governments, institutes, firms and individuals go into financial survival mode and subsequently financial security becomes top priority, often at the cost of many other issues including the environment.
Governments around the world are asking their people to start spending again to kick start the economy and protect jobs but what they are really asking us to do is consume to create cash flow to cover the past mis-management of the financial markets. This recession comes at cost to the environment by redirecting the general public’s environmental concern to economic concerns and then, as an economic solution, promoting the continuing high consumption of goods at an unsustainable rate and cost to the environment.
While the global community is redirecting its attention to the financial markets, the rate of climate change is not slowing down, which is illustrated in The Climate Change Science Compendium 2009 UNEP. Watching this from the side lines, I had wondered whether a recession, or more specifically “marketplace economics,” can be redirected or focused to create a tool that could deliver environmentally positive outcomes such as, but not limited to, climate change. If the NZILA worked as a collective and became focused environmentally friendly consumers what would be the reaction of industry and how would it affect NZILA landscape charter, polices and the way NZILA identifies itself and its actions?
The research involved in “The Carbon Landscape-Managing the Carbon Impact in Landscape Design,” presented at the World Landscape Congress in Kuala Lumpur 2007 (http://www.iflaonline.org/resources.php) suggests that the most significant carbon cost of a landscape architect’s work is not in the way they travel or run their office but in the materials they specify. All the more disturbing was that the planting work implemented over the career of a landscape architect is (very) unlikely to offset the significant embodied energy of the materials specified within their work which results in exciting and hopefully enduring urban and landscape designs but come with an “avoidable” negative impact on the climate.
If we accept that the materials we have access to as designers come with inherent environmental impacts, and this is the core issue of our own professional carbon footprint, then the question becomes: what is the best way to manage the damage? Is it by better education, stronger environmental protection, forming political lobbies, developing stronger local institute resources and information? While each of the aforementioned items are all positive ideas for management of climate change and not mutually exclusive of each other, they all have differing rates of returns in both timeframes it takes to achieve positive results and the degree of improvement gained . I have a feeling that the most influential tool we have access to is economics. In our market place position, in a cynical way, it is not hard to recognise the fact that money talks and hence maybe the best way to express our desire for more environmentally friendly materials to the manufacturing industry. First we need to know what is the collective buying power of the NZILA if it started acting as a concerned environmental consumer?
The survey I wrote cannot give an accurate answer to the value of the landscape industry in New Zealand but we need to start somewhere and it was a way to daylight the issue not for just the design community but to those who watch from the side lines and work hard to influence our material selections. The weakness of the survey is that the questions were only addressed to NZILA members who in reality only make up a small portion of the landscape design market, LANZ should also have been included to give a better over view of the value of the landscape materials industry as well as the large number of non-NZILA members who work in landscape design.
The idea was just to get a ball park number with the understanding that the numbers would be conservative and very much on the low side but it would be enough to start the conversation about empowering the NZILA as a collective in the market place and how that relationship could be used as a positive environmental tool.
The data the survey returned looked like this:
Note: Firms seemed split between planning work or design implementation which means there are certain firms that due to the typical services they offer having significantly large carbon footprint than their peers hence there are some firms that if they change their design behaviour would have a greater environmental impact.
Note: keep in mind that the multiplier of 324 is significantly less than the number of landscape designer in the market that could start working as a collective hence the 219 million odd is a low number than what is probably is in reality
Note: most firms were planting focused which made up the bulk of their work or they were materials focused (probably urban landscape design firms), not many firms were evenly split 50%-50% which again means there are a focused few design firms in the NZILA that are carrying the high carbon footprints and hence have the means of making the greatest changes.
Note: this is the more important number than the total landscape implementation figure as it suggests what the market value NZILA has in the carbon heavy “materials” market place. This number is conservatively low but does raise the question of whether a value of $116 million per year is enough leverage in the market place to start a dialog with industry. And if it is, what would we say?
The conservatively low figure of 116 million begs the questions what if the NZILA and LANZ as governing bodies, harnessed that economic buying power and started to give its members regional and local driven direction on material selection with the focus of reducing the carbon impact of landscape design?
Would it make the material manufacturing industry consider new directions for the management of the harvesting, production, manufacture and delivery processes? Would they start considering their materials’ abilities to be reused, recycled or bio degraded?
We know from watching large corporations that have had little regard for the environment or community in the past, such as, petroleum companies rebranding their products and produce environmental/sustainability polices. These companies do it because they believe that an informed market place now cares about the environmental impact of their products and will make a decision to purchase products based on a brand’s environmental profile. Would concrete companies supply the market with a mass-produced, low embodied energy product if they thought the market cared enough? What would happen if the thousands of IFLA members around the globe used their collective voice to send a message to the manufacturing industry that they wanted lower embodied energy products; what would be the flow on effect for climate change, energy consumption, raw material consumption, water consumption and pollution?
I sincerely thank those who were willing to give up their time and information for the benefit of the whole, there seems to be a core growing ground swell of interest in sustainability in New Zealand with most responses willing to embrace it if they had access to better information. The strongest interest is coming from the younger generation and smaller firms, maybe because they have more flexibility in the choices they make.
Topos 70, 2010