“More than ever, we are recognizing that environmental problems are among the most complex facing us. Scientific understanding of these problems is essential, but science and technology alone will not solve them. It is imperative that research universities involve large numbers of student and faculty in the pursuit of a prosperous society and a healthy environment. Moreover, all students must understand the environment/human dilemma so they can be active participants in the quest for a sustainable society.”

The Carolina Environmental Program at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill

In making a commitment to meet the challenges of forthcoming environmental and regulatory compliance, the University has adopted the strategies of proactive environmental management. Proactive environmental management begins with presiding over change, and, as the University is well aware, the key to success in implementing institutional innovation is management and a clear vision. In considering the process of innovation and managing change, three overarching questions emerge:

1. How will environmental objectives be successfully integrated into each of the hundreds of individual projects expected to occur in the next decade?

The key will be an overhaul of the design review process for new projects. Just as progress is being made to incorporate the nationally recognized LEED Green Building Rating System into the review process for new campus buildings, the University will need to redefine the design review process to conform to specific criteria regarding environmental issues. A new conceptual framework that helps to generate ideas, evaluate impacts to compare alternatives, refine initiatives, and establish performance targets will be the most valuable.

2. Many different stakeholders and diverse values exist within the boundaries of the University property. How will these diverse interests be represented?

Clearly stated environmental goals and principles for the University will help to guide overall development and focus stakeholders. The desired result is a gradual recognition of the benefits of sustainable development even when there are wide-ranging stakeholder interests. Because participatory planning is an on-going dialogue and involves the continuing education of everyone involved, it creates trust, builds confidence and enthusiasm for the goals, and broadens the base of public support. However, the goals will also need policy guidance at the highest levels of the University administration to ensure that greater knowledge both of techniques and purpose will lead to qualitative improvements as the University develops.

3. Who will take responsibility for implementing and monitoring sustainable development at the University?

How will responsibility be shared and integrated throughout the University to implement and monitor sustainable strategies? Who will have decision-making authority and determine policy for land and water resource management?

1. Monitor and measure the economic and environmental benefits of sustainable design.

To assist with and justify policy decisions, the economic and environmental benefits of sustainable development and land management can be identified, quantified, and monitored. Initial investigations should focus on these basic questions: What are the environmental costs of environmental degradation at the University — of poor water quality, of treating  excessive stormwater runoff, of sedimented streams, of flash floods, of erosion, of compacted soil, of replacing trees injured due to inadequate construction protections? How large are these costs, and where do they arise? For example, constructing and maintaining storm sewers requires significant capital. In contrast, reducing the amount of traditional stormwater infrastructure with techniques that infiltrate, store, capture, and reuse rainwater as a resource, results in less runoff, which in turn reduces sewer pipe sizes, maintenance and energy costs, and will more likely comply with forthcoming regulations. Such alternative techniques and best management practices produce tangible benefits in ecological, social and  economic terms. Yet, it will be difficult to demonstrate the value and benefits of sustainable strategies without an understanding of the symptoms and costs of environmental degradation. Environmental accounting is the first step toward acknowledging the value of ecosystem services such as clean water, healthy soil, and vegetation that enhances the quality of life on campus. Furthermore, resilient, healthy landscapes are better able to withstand natural and costly stressors such as floods or droughts.

2. Utilize the knowledge base that exists within the University community during the planning and review process for new projects.

The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill has considerable in-house resources who are knowledgeable about alternative techniques and sustainable design strategies, as well as the practicalities of implementation and ongoing maintenance. They could assist both design consultants and the University in the design and review process for new projects. Facilitating and strengthening the exchange of experience and ideas among research faculty, operations and maintenance staff, and facilities planning and design staff is recommended. This could take the shape of a formal committee, or it could be structured more fluidly on a project-specific basis.

3. Participate in regional environmental initiatives.

It is our experience that many of the environmental issues on University property — flood control, water quality, preserving natural areas — will be most effectively addressed collaboratively since they extend beyond the purview of any single land owner. By expanding its outreach and initiating discussions with the Town of Chapel Hill and communty representatives about these issues, the University can address local concerns before they become big issues. Public/private partnerships foster watershed awareness and planning, interdepartmental cooperation, and implementation of resource management and protection strategies. The University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill is more likely to see timely results for environmental initiatives and will be able to present a unified front for projects that require state and federal permits and regulatory review by adopting strategic partnerships.

“A land ethic, then, reflects the existence of an ecological conscience, and this in turn reflects a conviction of individual responsibility for the health of the land. Health is the capacity of the land for self-renewal. Conservation is our effort to understand and preserve this capacity.”

Aldo Leopold

The basic premise of sustainable landscape design is to allow the ongoing processes that sustain all life to remain intact and to continue to function along with development. While the first tenet of sustainable landscape design, and one that is actually often overlooked, is “don’t destroy the site,’ in reality we have already destroyed too much and we can no longer measure the sustainability of a design by its minimal impact on the natural systems of a site. Today, almost every site that landscape architects work on has been abused. Sustainable design must go beyond the modest goal of minimizing site destruction to one of facilitating site recovery by reestablishing the processes necessary to support natural systems. This approach is not “naturalistic landscaping” or “preserving endangered species” but the preservation, restoration, and creation of self-sustaining, living environments.

Sustainable design is not a unified philosophy for which there is one accepted, rigorous method. Perhaps most important, it is a process of raising consciousness and changing basic attitudes so ingrained we are often unaware that they shape our design and management of the land. These changes require that we actually see the present deteriorarion of the landscape, that we recognize the impacts of our interventions, and that we understand each site and each piece of a site as parts of larger systems.

The key to sustainable design is the systems approach sometimes called a holistic view. Most of us are aware that nothing exists in isolation and that everything is interconnected. Many of the skills of the design professions (which include engineering), however, are geared to solving arbitrarily defined problems and providing solutions that may appear reasonable from the point of view of a single professional discipline or single client, but unfortunately cannot resolve the multidimensional problems of the land. With sustainable design, we are not looking at single-focus solutions to single-focus problems, such as drainage, sewage disposal, or erosion control, but rather at the management of a whole set of resources.

Carol Franklin
Andropogon Associates, Ltd.