December 6, 2023
Intelligent Design

How the design sector can help mitigate climate change through careful planning


The value of planning and design is becoming more and more evident as landscape designs become more complex — and we work not just to beautify, but to mitigate climate change.
There are very few projects, however seemingly simple, that do not have a rule or regulation and bylaw attached. The critical value of a designer is not necessarily knowing the exact rules for any given region, but the awareness they bring that rules exist, and their ability to find them early in the process.

This is where the idea of leveraging designers’ knowledge and skills really starts to take shape. Designers have influence: as the government reaches out to trade associations for help in supporting climate change initiatives, designers have more opportunity than ever to affect how rules and regulations are created and implemented.

Many municipalities are also working through bylaw changes and asking for professionals' input. Tree protection bylaws are one example of where we can help create a practical bylaw that reflects the requirements of the site and the client, while continuing to protect one of our most valuable resources: our urban tree canopy.

When hiring designers, most clients already know what kind of look they’re trying to achieve. Images on the internet of projects from across the globe influence what people think is best for their project. But more often than not, this is where the client's knowledge about a landscape and landscape design ends.

As designers, this is where our real opportunity to influence the effects of a project on our clients and the community begins: at the grassroots level. For example, managing water on site is mandatory in most municipalities. How this is handled can be creative, unique and practical. Choosing locally- sourced materials and encouraging the use of permeable surfaces is another area where designers can make a great impact in a small space. Plant selection is one more way knowledgeable designers can bring value to a project.

In her last article in Landscape Trades, Christene LeVatte, vice-chair of the National Landscape Designer Sub-Committee (NLDSC), discussed the work being done by that committee to create a standardized method for designers to weigh their projects and ensure environmental sustainability. This could look very different for each project and involve different elements, but it is critical to create a basic standard that applies to each one.

This should include:
  • Categorizing the landscape components to be considered. Grading and drainage, hard surface considerations and plant material selection are a few examples of these categories.
  • Creating an informative flow chart to help decision-making for both designer and client. The client should be made aware of environmental considerations and options regarding material selection from both a cost perspective and an environmental cost or credit perspective. Many clients are simply unaware of the costs associated with their choice of materials and how those choices can offset a project's carbon footprint.
  • Ensuring the process is consistent with the Canadian Landscape Standard (CLS). As the second edition of the CLS goes through final review, it will reflect the latest work the NLDSC has put into this valuable resource for all designers.

Another tool the committee is excited about is the Clean Air Calculator — a web-based application developed in partnership with the University of Guelph, the Canadian Nursery Landscape Association and the Green Cities Foundation using ArcGIS Software provided by the Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI).

The Clean Air Calculator helps connect plants to people, businesses, schools and municipalities, and to visualize the positive impact of plants on the environment. This easy-to-use mapping tool demonstrates how the relationship between a landscape (based on its makeup of turf, trees or shrubs) and its surface area creates a measurable environmental impact.

As the NLDSC continues to discuss these initiatives, we invite your comments and suggestions. If you haven’t added your name to our national list to receive updates from the committee, we want to hear from you. Just send a quick email to Anne Kadwell, CNLA landscape and retail sector specialist, at

art vanden enden
PAUL BRYDGES BLA, CLD, APALA, ASLA, CSLA, OALA, FLP is a senior landscape architect at Brydges Landscape Architecture based in Guelph, Ont., and is chair of the CNLA National Landscape Designer Sub-Committee.