The Landscape Guide

Colour Plans, Green Belts, Green Towns, Greenways, Minerals, Public Open Space, Sustainability, Urban Design, Village Envelopes


Position Statement

There is a need for practical action on sustainability. Landscape architects can play a significant and central role in achieving greater sustainability. There is a fundamental need to use the land wisely, to keep it in good biological health, and work with the natural processes of growth and decay. There is a particular need to take greater account of the long term and long distance impact of our local actions, as their unforeseen environmental effects become ever more complex. Landscape architects are trained to ‘design with nature’.


At the United Nations’ first Earth Summit, in Rio de Janeiro, in 1989, the world’s political leaders made a collective commitment to "Sustainable Development" - to using the Earth’s resources wisely, fairly, and without compromising future generations. This was confirmed at the second Earth Summit in 1997.

Each one of us depends for our survival, on the Earth’s natural life support systems. Nature provides the food we eat, purifies the water we drink, and processes the air we breathe.

The landscape is fundamental to sustainability, and the way we manipulate and manage it requires the greatest of care. All over the world, the loss of protective vegetation is causing soil to erode far more rapidly that it can be restored. This is unsustainable. Poisonous chemicals pouring down the streams and rivers of the world are polluting the oceans and overloading their natural capacity to process our waste, or maintain the rich biodiversity of marine life. That is unsustainable! The air within our towns and cities is increasingly hazardous to human health, thanks to the intensive burning of non-renewable fossil fuels. That is unsustainable too!

To deliver sustainability on the scale required by "Rio", there is a need to take global environmental pressures far more seriously, and to deliver remedies at a local level. In the UK we have one of the least sustainable lifestyles in the world. Of all the people on the Earth today, one in every hundred lives in the British Isles, and we maintain our comfortable way of life, largely by exploiting much more than our fair share of the Earth’s resources. The Rio Convention set a challenge to use physical resources wisely, but it also made a commitment to "fair shares" for all the people of the world. Human Equity must therefore be an integral part of any policy on Sustainable Development.

Pesticides from British parks and gardens are now being carried beyond the Arctic Circle, by ocean currents and migrating wildlife. Mature street trees are being fatally damaged by service trenching, salt spraying and traffic vibration.They cannot be regrown within our lifetime.

The materials we use in changing the landscape all have both a past history and a future. There is a need to take account of the "cradle-to-grave" credentials of everything we use. Where were the aggregates quarried, and how were they transported? How much energy was involved in firing the bricks, or spinning the plastic pipe? Will the plant containers be recycled or re-used, or can they biodegrade, and was the compost extracted from a precious peat bog, or manufactured from organic vegetable waste? If the timber in seats, or footbridges is reported to come from sustainably managed forests, how can we be sure, and what does that mean anyway? What were the working conditions of the people who manufactured the fertiliser, or quarried the paving blocks?

There is a need to ask a great many more searching questions, if we are to be sure of sustainbility.

Landscape architects have one other critical role to play. They have the skills to shape our surroundings in such a way that we are all made more aware of the need for sustainability. For most people, the landscapes where they live and work are their prime source of environmental awareness and inspiration. Those landscapes should be constantly changing to reflect our temperate climate and the changing seasons. They should display the subtlety and the vulnerability of nature, and they should stimulate the sensitive, conscientious side of the human condition.

In an urban society such as ours, it is easy to push nature "out of sight and out of mind", and to create surroundings which are brutalising. With care, instead we can have local landscape which inspire the wish to strive for sustainability, and which demonstrate its principles in the way that they are shaped and managed.

Contact:  Chris Baines