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Whole Systems Design

Fast Company Magazine Looks at Transforming Landscapes into Low-Cost, Productive Spaces

Is Your Campus Next?

The article is over two years old, but thanks to my daily Twitter Tweets Keyword Alert digest, I found it.  Whole Systems Design, LLC develops human habitats yielding “perennial abundance and enduring value”.  That got my attention!

The Whole Systems Design approach is right on target with the Sustainable Sites Initiative, and LandEconics™ . Landscapes should be so much more than something nice to look at (with incredible costs to maintain) on one end of the spectrum, or mere “preservation” (without effective land management) at the other end.

According to the Fast Company article, the group  develops “properties that integrate buildings, are aesthetically attractive, grow food, respond to the local climate, and save money by being low maintenance, making them the epitome of putting land to productive use”. An example of how the firm tends to stack functions can be found at Teal Farm (run by the LivingFuture foundation) where “a ponds-and-wetlands system will filter gray water from the house while nurturing wild rice, cranberries, and trout”.

As we have found, the cost motivation factor can be a significant incentive toward integrative landscape design.  When decision-makers begin to understand the significant reductions that can be made to their ongoing operations and maintenance budgets, they begin to listen.  This is particularly true when you learn to use “financial-speak” and talk in terms of the “net present value” of dollars invested, and the “internal rate of return” on an investment over the lifecycle of the landscape.

Beyond the business case for landscape sustainability (which can be quite compelling), the idea that built landscapes can actually provide “ecosystem services” in much the same way that undeveloped ecosystems do is quite intriguing to property owners.  Contributing to the health and well-being of site users, reducing energy consumption of adjacent buildings, attenuating the urban climate, and managing stormwater runoff are just a few of these environmental “services” that the landscape provides.  And trees are great at mitigating greenhouse gas emissions – they capture carbon dioxide and store it for use in producing roots, leaves and bark.

And then there is the “productive” component of the landscape.  Rather than growing grass to perpetually cut, trim, and edge – how cool is it to draw from agriculture and actually produce “a garden that contributes fruits and vegetables to the dining hall”?

“The biggest challenge is helping people imagine what’s possible,” says BenFalk, Design Director at Whole Systems Design. “Information is the limiting factor.”

That is beginning to change.  The “Green Movement” has reached a tipping point, and is here to stay.  Every day brings more insight and understanding.  This is a fun and exciting time!

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