A photograph of a landscape architect at a climate rally, holding a cardboard sign above their head that says 'Landscape Architects for Climate Action'

Image: OCULUS at a Climate Strike in Sydney.

Climate Positive Design

04 Apr 2023

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) has released its sixth report highlighting the need to “cut emissions quickly, sharply to create a safer, sustainable world.” The report warns the current pace and scale of climate action are insufficient but offers hope that effective climate action now will reduce loss and damage. The panel reminds us that “our choices will reverberate for hundreds, even thousands of years.”

Landscape Architects are in a position to design places that sequester more carbon than they emit over their lifetime through climate positive design. According to the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects (AILA), “climate positive design projects provide net positive climate outcomes. They also provide environmental, social, cultural, and economic co-benefits. Over a cradle to cradle, design life assessment, they sequester more greenhouse gases than they emit.”

A large proportion of landscape architecture project greenhouse gas emissions are embodied upfront during construction. The primary objective of climate positive design in landscape architecture is to reduce upfront embodied greenhouse gas emissions and then address operational greenhouse gas emissions over the life of a project.

AILA recommends using the climate-positive app Pathfinder to measure a project’s greenhouse gas budget over a 50-year lifecycle assessment period. It is a free web-based design and planning tool, developed by Landscape Architect Pamela Conrad, which allows testing of design alternatives for projects and information about low-carbon options.

OCULUS has been using Pathfinder to assess our projects since mid-2021. The numbers can be confronting, but the tool helps us reduce potential carbon emissions from our projects by calculating the carbon emissions generated from materials, plants and operations, and the carbon sequestration performed by new plantings. Our Climate Positive Working Group, led by Senior Associate Simon Bond, continues to explore ways to improve our climate positive design capacity and implement meaningful change across our projects.

Simon served on the AILA Climate Positive Committee from February 2021–March 2023. The Committee assists AILA in the development and implementation of actions that support climate positive design in landscape architecture. In 2022, AILA published a series of three guideline documents to show how Australian Landscape Architects can contribute positively to our climate:

Additional resources, including videos, are available on the AILA website.

An image of three report covers about climate positive design featuring photos of landscapes.

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