Feature Article - September 2007
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Eco-Nomically Green

A Little Green Goes a Long Way

By Dana Carman

Think Globally, Act Locally

The environmental crisis we face illustrates how even seemingly small actions can have a much larger impact. Take, for example, the materials you use in your building. Using recycled and natural materials may seem like the greenest way to go, but another green decision is using local materials.

"The impact of what you install on a building starts before it even gets there," Zahniser said. "The extraction and manufacturing have impacts along with the energy expended and fuel used to transport it."

Local materials aren't just used in the building either. The landscape surrounding your building contributes to the overall greenness of it. The simplest thing to do is use plant material native to your area, said Jim Figurski, principal with GreenWorks PC, a landscape architecture firm in Portland, Ore.

"Those materials have developed a tolerance for whatever pests or issues are in your area," he said. "They've adapted over centuries of climate and hazard, and as a result, they need less care and chemical treatment. They often need less water than an ornamental plant put into a new environment." Both of which result in cost savings.

Another consideration when designing your landscape is making sure there's space to let the plant be what it is. When plants are crammed into spaces to create an immediate effect, overgrowth requires mechanical pruning and the more you cut and prune a plant, the more susceptible it is to disease. Your expensive landscaping is no good if your plants die and you have to redo it.

Water your plants efficiently and design irrigation systems that water the plants at the root zone instead of blanketing entire areas, which wastes water. Additionally, consider where your plants are and what the exposure is for each of them so you can maintain proper hydration without wasting water or over-watering. For example, if one side of the building is always dried out, while the other is always wet, those two areas shouldn't be on the same zone for irrigation.

Landscaping, like other elements, should be a part of the integrated design process. While it may seem like something that can be achieved independently and after the fact, the building works in conjunction with the landscape and vice versa, so the two must be integrated from the start.

"It's an old environmental adage," Figurski explained, "but everything is connected. When you think about those connections, that's when it works."

Another way you can green up your landscape includes using porous pavements to put water back into the soil. They're typically light in color and don't absorb and store heat and radiate it back into the environment. That means they don't contribute to the "heat-island effect."