Hort Journal: Embedding Sustainability Into Green Infrastructure

By Michael Casey MAIH RH0106

This article first appeared in the October 2019 of Hort Journal – visit www.hortjournal.com.au for the full edition.


Sustainability isn’t a new concept by any stretch of the imagination, and the principles of sustainability were being practiced well before it had a name or became an industry buzzword. But as with any innovation or technology in the industry, it is important to continue to push the boundaries of what it means to be sustainable and continue to critically imagine sustainability in new ways.

In today’s environment of change and uncertainty around our climate and global warming, loss of habitat and biodiversity, water and food issues and our constant need and desire for natural resources, it’s time we look at how we approach traditional landscape and garden construction. Sustainable gardens and landscapes are about designing our open spaces in a way that maximises the positive benefits that gardens have on the environment while minimising the negative impacts.

Environmental sustainability

Environmental sustainability considers the critical balance between the formation of a new landscape and its impact upon the broader natural environment. Where possible, effort should be taken to mitigate negative impacts of development whilst optimising the positive effects a considered and ecologically harmonious landscape can have within an urban environment. Considerations should include how landscape features, plant choices and micro climates can impact upon the reduction of urban heating, enhance biodiversity, improve rainwater retention, consider water conservation, attract beneficial wildlife and minimise the need for synthetic pesticides.

Whilst environmental sustainability is typically at the forefront of how we conceive and measure sustainability, it isn’t the only consideration that needs to be made.

Economic Feasibility

The economic feasibility of green walls and roofs remains a critical component for their adoption within urban development. Feasibility can be considered in terms of the initial outlay of green infrastructure and installation – something that is increasingly becoming more economical as product innovation continues to see cost-efficient and low-cost solutions within the marketplace. Green infrastructure also contributes to the economic sustainability of developments in terms of overall building and continued running costs. Savings through energy conservation (for example, less need for artificial cooling systems), increased property values, protection of building facades, contribution to acoustic insulation and qualification for rebates and green building ratings all impact significantly on economic feasibility of a project.

So whilst economic sustainability continues to ensure much of the viability and uptake of any project, social sustainability continues to be less understood and practiced. With the increasing use of green infrastructure in our built environments is there a place for smart design that can include more from the social sustainability model?

Social Sustainability

The principles of social sustainability can be thoughtfully applied to any project design and implementation. Social sustainability goes beyond just how thoughtful design can screen or mitigate external environmental pollutions and enhance the enjoyment of a space, to deeply consider where relevant the importance of co-design, community embeddedness, accessibility, inclusivity and the therapeutic benefits of the landscape and plant choices more specifically, particularly in public spaces. Doing so allows a site to make a contribution to its surrounds, to reflect and respond to the needs of its local community and make a statement about the importance of nature in living well.

Incorporating Green Spaces 

The ability to deliver free and accessible public spaces, social areas, using greenery to relieve stress and fatigue and the desire for people to become more involved in their communities all stem from the smart use of greenery whether that landscape has been used directly to assist them or it becomes an indirect benefit from having these structures installed in neighbouring locations.

Having grown up in a suburb that had a park, sporting oval and school grounds close by I was never far from nature and the ability to use this amenity. This was also the case for many of the children that also grew up in and around these spaces. Green spaces are mostly free and accessible for all and should be equally available for all. But what happens when our built environments are lacking these spaces or any addition of greenery due to lack of space.

If a greenwall or greenroof was built across the road on a building that the owners were able to afford does this allow for the greening of what would have been an uninhabitable area that can now be enjoyed by others? Does the use of a building draped in green allow for the occupants who may not have access to a garden enjoy what the building now offers?

The more we design our cities to incorporate greenery where possible the more we may give that opportunity to for everyone living in those areas to now both physically and visually enjoy spaces that may have been avoided due to shortage of space.

So with these principles in mind how can we look at the field of green infrastructure and apply these to improve the design and implementation of greenery in urban environments?


Michael Casey is Director of Evergreen Infrastructure and MJC Horticulture Pty Ltd a Design, Consultation, Construction and Management company operating in and around Melbourne. He is currently President of the Australian Institute of Horticulture and on the National Council with Therapeutic Horticulture Australia. Michael can be contacted via: michael@mjchorticulture.com.au, president@aih.org.au or michael@evergreeninfrastructure.com.au

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