All the discussions regarding sustainability, whether it is related to products, designs, ideas, etc. we must always remember the most important concept: the system view. There have been two very influential books in formulating my understanding of sustainability. The first published in 2008, written by Peter Newman and Isabella Jennings is Cities as Sustainable Ecosystems. The other, published in 1996, is The Web of Life written by Fritojof Capra. While Newman and Jennings specifically compare an evolving ecosystem of a city, Capra takes a holistic view. He incorporates the human mind, theories, mathematics and structures. Both books discuss the understanding of natural systems and humankind’s place in the systems.
We as Landscape Architects and designers need to continue our understanding these systems. Sustainability is not achieved by one specific item or instance, but with an understanding of energy flow through the system.
What does it mean to make design decisions based on a system? It means, understanding the energy flow not only in design, but also in the general public’s lifestyle. Examine the sustainable design practices that we integrate now, green roofs, porous paving, mixed-use housing, grey-water plumbing, public transportation, low-flow irrigation, high-efficiency windows, and the list can go on and on. All are integral pieces (and needed) but what is lacking is the public understanding of the system relationship to lifestyle. It is in this role of the arranger, assembler, and educator for the system, that I see Landscape Architects and American Society of Landscape Architects fulfilling.