Landscapers go green 

By this point, many people know that a perfectly plush lawn isn’t the most environmentally-friendly choice for large swaths of the country. But what’s the greenest greenery for the plots around homes and offices?

That’s a question the landscape architecture industry is trying to answer now, as it meets at Moscone Center this weekend. The American Society of Landscape Architects is preparing formal standards for what will constitute an eco-friendly domesticated landscape, which the group hopes will be incorporated into the existing Leadership in Environmental and Energy Design standards set by the U.S. Green Building Council. The first draft of the standards will be released within two months, ASLA spokesman Jim Lapides said.

The standards could lead to increased visibility for the profession and a competitive edge for people certified in the new standards, Lapides said. In San Francisco alone, 15 LEED-certified "green" buildings have already been built, and more than 50 more are in the development pipeline, according to the council.

"There’s a real trend for pursuing LEED certification, and landscape architecture is part of that," said Andrew Segal, an SVP at development firm Lowe Enterprises, which is presently evaluating whether it wants to pursue LEED certification on several projects.

The new standards would formalize existing practice, according to landscape architecture firm Surfacedesign Inc. Principal James Lord. San Francisco firms Surfacedesign, Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture and Hargreaves Associates have all won awards for sustainable design this year.

"Our profession itself has been doing it for a very long time already. The profession itself has always looked at these… holistic approaches," Lord said, but added that standards would change the visibility of his industry. "Our role within the built environment is greatly elevated by this."

ASLA is working with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the United States Botanic Gardens to develop the standards in the areas of soil, water, vegetation, materials and waste and energy.

There may be controversial elements, such as the role of plants native to particular areas, Lapides said. Once released, the draft will be open for comment by the public before the final standards are written.

The move comes at a time when salaries for landscape architects have already risen 20 percent between 2004 and 2006, to $89,700, Lapides said. It expects this weekend’s conference to be its largest ever.

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