Welcome to our Blog. Inspiration, updates and industry trends from the team at Landscaping Solutions.
There are better ways to improve a company’s carbon footprint than carbon offsetting and mass tree planting schemes, says Landscaping Solutions MD Ben West.
Large companies will often offset their carbon footprint through mass tree planting schemes.
It’s wonderful to see once marginalised environmental issues becoming mainstream concerns, but we must ensure that action in these areas is both genuine and focused in the right direction. We must beware of ‘greenwashing’. Unscrupulous marketing departments have latched on to the fact that environment and sustainability issues are making headlines and are exploiting consumer naivety, a lack of consensus and toothless regulatory frameworks to increase sales and enter new markets. This seeds mistrust, confusion and apathy in the consumer. Research has shown that consumers can become indifferent or indeed harbour negative feelings towards green marketing, legitimate or otherwise, following sustained exposure to greenwashing.
Companies can declare sustainable credentials through carbon offsetting. What is carbon offsetting? In the simplest terms it is the balancing out of an individual’s or company’s carbon emissions by their funding an activity that involves the sequestering of carbon. A plane passenger travelling from London to Amsterdam can ‘offset’ a proportion of the carbon produced by that flight against the carbon sequestered by a tree planting scheme they have funded. Offsetting as part of a long-term plan for culture change is to be admired and encouraged but all too often these schemes are reminiscent of the absent father sending money to the kids whilst he’s away on ‘business’ with the secretary. Offsetting schemes assuage guilt without addressing the underlying issues - which is probably why fossil fuel companies like them so much.
Some airlines use tree planting schemes so they can offer passengers the opportunity to offset a proportion of the carbon produced by their flight.
Can we really buy our way out of the climate crisis? Carbon is best left where it is - in the ground. It’s not enough to carry on business as usual whilst throwing money at offsetting schemes which are at best well-intentioned but ineffective and at worst cynical and damaging. A better policy is to protect existing natural systems whilst rewilding wherever possible. The best way to plant trees is to allow them to regenerate naturally. Jays and squirrels plant trees throughout the autumn for free. This is much more sustainable than armies of trees planters driving to remote sites and much more likely to succeed.
Take a look at the images of HS2’s failed attempts to greenwash the impact of their atrocities in the Chilterns; fields full of plastic tubes containing dead and dying saplings. Remember that the thorn is the mother of the oak; a tangle of thorny scrub (possibly the most undervalued of all our native habitats), consisting of hawthorn, dog rose, blackthorn and bramble is a far more effective nurse to the species that will eventually become climax woodland: ash, oak and beech.
In any case we shouldn’t get too fixated on tree planting as a panacea for all our climate and biodiversity ills. We need a diverse mosaic of habitats to contribute to carbon fixing and biodiversity gains. Woodland is well down the pecking order when it comes to holding carbon in the landscape. Seagrass meadows, mangroves and salt marshes are all examples of habitat that are ahead of woodlands in the carbon fixing stakes. Top of the list are peatlands: tundra, bogs, fens, moorland, meres and mires. These are the very habitats that some elements of our industry are keen to see relocated and releasing carbon in pots, planters and borders up and down the country. We damage these habitats, and unlock carbon in the process, when we disturb them. Disturbance includes planting trees on them, as well as on heathland, ancient woodland and a host of other fragile and threatened habitats. This has happened throughout the twentieth century in this country and may continue should we blindly pursue ill-conceived carbon offsetting schemes or political promises geared to gaining the popular vote at the ballot box.
How damaging is artificial lighting to the environment? Landscaping Solutions MD Ben West considers the impact.
Artificial light can adversely impact the behaviour of birds.
We don’t have lighting in our garden. The generosity of the local borough council is such that all the light we need, and pools more, is gathered from an adjacent lamp post. Indeed ‘light trespass’ from this single luminaire infuses evening al fresco dining with all the charm of a Gestapo interrogation. The offending street lamp has recently been limited to operation from dusk until midnight, presumably as a cost cutting measure but possibly also as a response to emerging evidence of the negative effects of artificial light on the environment.
Recent studies, particularly those undertaken by the Environment and Sustainability Institute at the University of Exeter, have revealed artificial light to be adversely impacting the behaviour of a much wider range of species than myself and the missus. Birds are particularly affected with physical reproduction traits and behaviours being modified. Bird movements are also being disrupted, along with those of bats and fish, as navigational ‘signposts’ such as starlight, moonlight and diffuse natural light in the atmosphere are obscured or obliterated by ‘Skyglow’ from artificial light. This phenomena is observable many miles from source, can be equal to or exceed light intensities produced by moonlight and sufficient to mask natural lunar light cycles.
Light pollution is a relatively new phenomenon so the long term effects on biodiversity are unknown. However, the short term effects are obvious; leave a window open on a summer’s evening and it’s clear that artificial light has an effect on night flying insects such as moths. Is there a link between the reported declines in moth numbers over the past thirty years and the increase in artificial lighting during the same period? It’s too early to answer questions like these definitively but it’s easy to test the hypothesis; switch out the lights and the problem disappears. Knowing the detrimental effects on wildlife, can we continue to freely prescribe lighting in our design work? Maybe it’s time for a more measured approach. Let’s look at the facts;
The relative impact of different types of lighting depends on where they are on the spectrum. Different kinds of lamp emit light over a distinctive range of wavelengths. Light becomes more environmentally impactful in the following ways;
a) As it becomes broader on the spectrum (or ‘whiter’).
b) As the ratio of blue to red emissions increases.
c) With increased emissions in the UV (ultraviolet) range.
The broader the spectrum the more overlap with the sensitivity of biological systems. Lighting toward the red end of the spectrum is generally thought to be less impactful to the environment though this also has a bearing on the ability of birds to migrate and has an effect on plant physiology.
Light-emitting diode (LED) lighting systems require lower wattage than traditional light sources and produce lower radiant heat for the same light output. They have a longer working life and allow easy light level manipulation. Unfortunately they utilise white light which is disruptive to natural systems and the blue component is disruptive to human circadian rhythms.
So what should we be doing as environmentally conscious professionals?
- Maintain naturally unlit areas wherever possible.
- Specify light only where there is clear, sufficient and necessary human benefit. - Provide barriers to ‘light trespass’ such as covers or hoods, walls, screens and evergreen hedges.
- Ensure lighting is switched on only when needed by utilising motion control
- Disseminate knowledge to clients to raise awareness.
- Use LED lights on as dim a setting as possible.
- Avoid use of white and blue lights and fittings which emit UV light.
“Stop the world I want to get off!” We have probably all said it. The current cessation of ‘business as usual’ offers us all the opportunity for serious contemplation on the trajectory of our species. A rare period of respite from the rat race. COVID-19 has enabled us to step outside ‘the machine’ for a new perspective. A chance to make collective changes to it or personal changes to our lives within it. We are usually so seduced by its gears and gadgets we fail to pay full attention to its failings. Perhaps that’s why the children have been leading the way. Not yet indoctrinated, they are free to see its inner workings with unfettered clarity. Witness how they turned away in disgust upon seeing how all things are mangled up in its motors.
The manner in which the machine has been so swiftly brought to its knees is alarming and, in light of the looming climate situation, highly likely to reoccur. Do we really want to continue with business as usual? Can we reorganise ourselves in a way that works harmoniously with nature and recognises humanity’s role in the web of life, a key part of the puzzle rather than a puzzled interloper?
All the recent turmoil - Brexit, COVID-19, climate change - sees humanity at a crossroads, forced to reflect on the next step. What kind of creatures are we? What kind of creatures do we want to be? What kind of world do we want to live in? What relationships do we wish to cultivate with all other creatures and our planet? Do we really want business as usual, as destructive as that has been?
It’s also time for our industry to reflect on these questions. How much of what we have achieved through landscaping and design has been beneficial? For every client with a ‘no maintenance’ outdoor room, every unsustainable show garden, every neatly manicured park, there’s a child labourer, a polluted waterway, a displaced aboriginal or a degraded peat bog. How does this make us feel? Can we continue to turn a blind eye? What do the young people we so desperately covet make of our industry? Are they enamoured with its current state? We need to reimagine ourselves so as to be as attractive as possible to the best of their talent, those wanting to join a movement leading the way and making a difference.
Humanity has the tools to shape its visions, God-like in its ability to manipulate itself, culture and landscape. First, it must clearly define the vision for which it strives. Much current decision making is under the stewardship of those exploiting the planet and its inhabitants in order to turn a short-term profit or maintain power. Will heightened awareness of the planet’s plight and its exploited societies and cultures reach enough of a crescendo to turn the tide?
Rather than business as usual we need a paradigm shift. Without structural revolution we are due to experience more of the same, but exponentially worse. How can we allow ourselves to consider going back to business as usual? Let’s use this time constructively by listening to what nature is telling us and then planning how to emerge transformed. People are looking for leadership. As landscape professionals, we are closer to nature than most and therefore better able to understand what the ‘new world’ needs to look like in order to go forward in a sustainable and regenerative manner. It is our duty to win over as many hearts and minds as possible. If we fail to rise to the challenge, there may soon be no business to go back to.