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LEED Lawn: Guide To Sustainable Landscaping

April 26, 2023
LEED Lawn: Guide To Sustainable Landscaping
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So you want to have a LEED-certified lawn. That’s great! Not only will your landscaping look phenomenal, but you’ll be able to boast one of the most economic-friendly yards in the neighborhood. You’ll be able to assume some long-term cost savings by reducing waste and maintenance costs, not to mention the tax breaks you’ll stand to receive. Whether you’re a homeowner or a commercial property trying to improve on its carbon footprint, LEED certification is a noble pursuit.

LEED Certification is awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council. There are levels of LEED Certification, but the underlying requirement for any LEED Certified landscape is that it meets standards for water usage, energy consumption, resources and environmental quality. Higher levels also include innovation and environmental design. This includes avoiding invasive plant species, minimizing water consumption, and the use of synthetic chemicals for pest control and fertilization. Your project must be in a permanent location or on an existing building site and must use reasonable LEED boundaries. All projects must be constructed and operated on a permanent location on existing land. No project that is designed to move at any point in its lifetime may be considered for LEED certification.

The following is a checklist to help you work toward getting that LEED Certification and make sure you’re following all the steps necessary for the landscaping of your dreams.

Determine The Level Of LEED-Certification You're Pursuing

There are different levels of LEED Certification that you can acquire, with points or credits offered for the various number of items you include in your landscaping project. The LEED rating system is designed to evaluate buildings, spaces or neighborhoods and all of the environmental impacts associated with those projects. There are essentially four levels of LEED certification – Certified/Green, Silver, Gold and Platinum. The lowest level, Certified, only requires a minimum of 40 points, while a Platinum certification requires more than 80 points. Landscape design and maintenance are factored into the scoring system use for LEED certification.

To read more on LEED certification levels, check out this article.

Determine Your Landscaping Budget

While a LEED-Certified lawn/landscape can help you save money over the long-term, getting to that point definitely comes with a cost. To reach that Platinum level you should expect to have an appropriately high budget, whereas a Green certification can be more cost-effective. There are some costs you just can’t avoid, but in many cases you can make smart decisions that will save you money. Instead of using LEED-approved chemicals for weed control and insects, consider focusing on soil health and appropriate irrigation that promotes healthy turf. When a lawn is healthy there’s little room for weeds to move in. Another trick is to use permeable surfaces instead of hard surfaces, such as concrete or asphalt. Permeable interlocking pavers are LEED eligible and reduce the need for irrigation, and come at an affordable cost. Finding ways to harvest rainwater or stormwater runoff is also a great way to save money on high-cost irrigation sources. Utilizing native plants – especially shade-providing trees – goes a long way toward mitigating costs associated with drought and water conservation.

Contact Local Extension Service Or State Agency For A List Of Regional Plant Species.

According to the U.S. Green Building Council, the prerequisites of a LEED-Certified lawn is that it has no invasive plants. Invasive plant species vary by region, so one of the first things you should do is consult your local Extension Service or State Agency to get a list of regional plant species. Not all non-native species are considered invasive, so getting that consultation is key!

A list of regional resources is also available from the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Meet Basic Landscape Standards.

LEED points/credits are assigned according to various design specifications – such as erosion control or soil stabilization measures. Basic landscape design music use turf that is drought-tolerant. That turf can’t be in a densely shaded area and cannot be used in an area with a slope of more than 25-degrees. If mulch or soil is necessary to meet these requirements, organic mulches are recommended. All compacted soil must be tilled to at least 6 inches. An alternative to this is to limit the use of conventional turf. Those who use less than 20 percent conventional turf in their landscape design will receive the highest points toward their LEED certification. Installing drought-tolerant plants or reducing the overall irrigation demand is also a basic requirement, with the more points given for greater amounts of irrigation reduction.

Of the minimum 40 points required for basic LEED certification, most are landscape-related. If you’re taking on the project yourself make sure to fully research those landscape specifications, or if you’re using a contractor make sure to research contractors who are familiar with LEED certification and have experience with those types of projects.

There are multiple steps that come with the details of that pursuit of a LEED-certified landscape, but in general, some basic landscaping strategies can help you earn the credits you need to be awarded that LEED certification. And best of all you’ll be making a positive impact on your environment!

Eddy Zakes
Eddy is a distinguished expert in the snow removal and landscaping industry, boasting over 20 years of experience. As an Advanced Snow Manager certified by the Snow and Ice Management Association (SIMA), he is dedicated to upholding the highest industry standards. His strong commitment to excellence and relentless pursuit of improvement makes him a trusted voice in the snow removal and landscaping.
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