January 1, 2018

Selling low impact development

BY SCOTT BARBER

Doing the right thing and turning a profit


As water infrastructure across Canada ages and becomes more expensive, and the amount of impervious surfaces grows through housing and commercial developments, the importance of Low Impact Development (LID) for stormwater management and watershed conservation rises.

Over the last decade, green professionals, municipal governments and conservation authorities have implemented design strategies, including rain gardens, bioswales, permeable pavements and green roofs to mitigate flooding during peak events and limit the amount of nutrients and metals flowing into watersheds. 

However, the general public remains uneducated on the topic. If there’s going to be a paradigm shift, with consumers looking to the landscape profession for green infrastructure solutions for their homes and businesses, the industry needs to educate – and sell – their clients on the value of LID. 

 “I think we are on the cusp of people really getting what LID and green infrastructure for water conservation and stormwater management is all about,” says Margaret Abernethy, landscape designer with the Claremont, Ont.-based Cypress Hill Design and Build. 

While there is a small segment of the population who are very environmentally conscious who understand the value of LID, she says, the majority of consumers have no idea about the how runoff water on their property can impact the watershed in their communities. 

Careful with language
With those clients, “You need to be very judicious with the language you use; for example, a lot of people close off as soon as you use the term native plants. Particularly for small residential areas, some clients hear that word and they just shut right down. So you have to be mindful of the descriptors that you’re using when you’re working with someone who doesn’t have a lot of knowledge in the area.”

As a landscape professional who understands the importance of water management, Abernethy says it’s her responsibility to ensure that when a hard, impermeable surface is being installed on a property, the water that used to infiltrate in that area needs to be infiltrated in some other way or some other area. 

“I think we should all be doing LID types of applications regardless of whether a client asks for it or not,” says Abernethy. “As professionals, we should be managing the rainfall, we should be active leaders in that regard. When somebody calls us to put a patio in, it’s up to us to introduce water management principles. Over the next couple of years, I don’t expect that we are going to get a lot of calls from clients looking for that type of design, but we’re hopeful that if conservation authorities and governments and trade associations continue to get the message out there, that will change and we will eventually see home owners coming to landscape professionals and asking for those types of projects.”

The tides are turning
Anna van Maris of Parklane Nurseries in Beaverton, Ont. has been a leader in promoting LID practices and environmental stewardship through numerous public projects and demonstrations to the public at Canada Blooms. 

With a passion for the environment and an educational background in environmental studies, van Maris has focused her family business towards green LID and eco-friendly practices over the last 12 years.

“When I was in school, I was taught to take water and get it off the property as fast as possible,” recalls van Maris.  “I’ve since learned that was a mistake; that’s absolutely the wrong mentality to have when designing a landscape.”

She adds, “Municipalities are realizing that we need to reduce water consumption because they’re running out of potable water. Developments are happening too fast and they simply don’t have enough potable water. How can they possibly justify allowing people to use water to irrigate their gardens when the water has gone through so many different processes in order to clean it and make it suitable for drinking?”

It’s an expensive process for local governments, van Maris explains, and the problem is compounded by the fact we have so many hard, impermeable surfaces in our communities.  The stormwater infrastructure is designed to send water directly into rivers and these systems are getting overloaded during heavy rain falls, resulting in costly backups and flooding.

Worse still, is the amount of pollutants and sediments that are moving through the system and ending up in the watershed, van Maris says.

Governments add impervious surface taxes 
Municipalities like Waterloo Region in Ontario and the City of Victoria in British Columbia have recently implemented measures to tax property owners based on the square footage of impermeable surfaces on their property, in an effort to encourage LID and recoup some of the costs of managing the water infrastructure.  

Impervious surface taxes could spur consumer demand for LID landscaping. However, van Maris argues that green professionals shouldn’t move towards environmental practices simply to make money. 

“As landscapers, we are poised to do more than most to improve the planet,” she says. “We are in the industry of being stewards of the land; we are supposed to be taking this seriously.”

There are already plenty of homeowners looking for landscapers who genuinely care about the environment, she adds.
“There are people out there who want to do their part to protect the environment and the water in their communities; we are attracting them. We’ve been finding ways to keep water on our client’s properties since before rain gardens even had a name.”

Like Abernethy, van Maris is careful about how she explains rain gardens and native plantings to her clients. “At first we were putting rain gardens and native plants in without even telling our clients we were doing it,” she recalls. “We did it because it was the right thing to do. We’d convince them to use Rudbeckia for example, because it’s a beautiful yellow flower, not by preaching that it’s native.”

It’s not about being sneaky, or tricking clients, Abernethy and van Maris each stressed. Rather, they find ways to emphasize the benefits of rain gardens and native plantings without proselytizing. The language you use is critical. 

“You don’t want to come across like you’re wagging your finger at them,” says Abernathy. “Just talking about these ideas and being genuine and passionate can go a long way in selling it to a homeowner. You don’t have to lecture people, you can just bring it into the conversation casually. We tend to start in the house with clients, and then we bring them outside, because they get much more engaged when they’re outside. And then it’s easier to point out areas where there may be drainage problems and say, ‘you know, there is a really great way to look after this, and one of your needs and wants is low maintenance gardening, so we can find a rain garden solution that can work towards both your needs and wants.’

 “I can tell pretty quickly whether the person is more concerned about their own needs and wants, or the environment. So when I introduce LID or infiltration capacity, we can emphasize that it will save their foundation, or it will be beneficial for the environment. There is a challenge there, when it comes to talking about the added costs of dealing with the water, but we describe it as an important part of the structure.”

She adds, “We tell clients, even if they we know they aren’t going to go for it, that these are things that we are passionate about as green professionals and that we want to make sure that everything we do is responsible.”

Going forward, it’s clear it will take a combination of financial incentive and environmental altruism on the part of consumers before spending patterns will shift. However, with the right approach, it’s possible to incorporate elements of LID into residential projects and to get clients engaged in water conservation. As Abernethy and van Maris demonstrate, it’s not only the right thing to do, but it’s great business, too. 

What is Low Impact Development?

Low Impact Development (LID) is a set of construction and landscape design strategies that mitigate the potential negative impacts of excess stormwater by managing runoff as close to its source as possible. In simple terms, it’s all about reducing the amount impervious surfaces like concrete and asphalt where water can’t soak into the ground. LID practices often recreate natural or predevelopment hydrology (the way water moves) through the processes of infiltration, evapotranspiration, harvesting, filtration and detention of stormwater. LID often incorporates native plants, which are well adapted to the soils and climate conditions of their region and often require less maintenance, water, and fertilizer than many ornamental non-native plants. 

LID designs work to remove nutrients, pathogens and metals from runoff, preventing pollutants from flowing into watersheds, lakes and rivers. The goal is to reduce the rate and amount of water running off of a property; with less water moving into watercourses from storm sewers, the risk of flooding (particularly during peak storm events) and stream bank erosion descreases, and water quality is enhanced. LID also provides economic benefits, as less runoff reduces the burden on municipal waste water systems. Treating, pumping and distributing water also uses a large amount of energy, resulting in greenhouse gas emissions and increased carbon footprints.

Examples of LID include: rain gardens, bioswales, downspout redirects, rainwater harvesting with barrels or tanks, porous or pervious pavement, green roofs, as well as soakaways and infiltration trenches. 

Free life cycle analysis tool now available

While the initial costs of LID are often higher than traditional designs, research shows lower maintenance costs make LID more economical over the life of a project. The Canadian Nursery Landscape Association (CNLA) recently commissioned a report “Life Cycle Cost Analysis of Stormwater Management Methods” by William Marshall of Equilibrium Engineering to evaluate and compare the long term costs of LID and traditional designs. 

“In almost every case these sustainable, low impact designs were cost effective over the life of the project compared to traditional pave and convey away methods, while also providing additional environmental and social benefits,” the report states. “Average annual maintenance costs were consistently lower than the traditional techniques, which often required significant material removal as part of their rehabilitation, unlike the more durable natural designs.”

CNLA has made the report available for members “as a tool to assist landscape architects, landscape designers, landscape contractors, growers and retailers to confidently sell their products and services as the environmental alternative by quantifying that product’s cost, contributions and requirements over its lifecycle. As the landscape horticulture industry responds to climate change issues with landscape solutions, knowing what our product is worth, understanding how it contributes and communicating what it requires to live and work as living systems and natural solutions is essential for every member in every sector.”

The report is available at http://gfl.me/h3EO.


Landscape Trades, January 2018