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CA04 - The OG of Carbon Capture
The importance of on-site planting.
THE TOPIC - SITE PLANTING
I live on the west coast of Canada just outside of Vancouver. Often on long weekends we head to the actual coast and enjoy the mountain views and relaxed vibe of Vancouver Island. For those of you not familiar with the region, it is a rainforest. Never that hot, never that cold, mostly temperate with lots and lots of rain. When I moved here in 2015 we experienced over 60 days straight without rain. It is a very green place to say the least.
Despite the abundance of water and plant life, I’ve noticed a scary trend that is gaining traction. THE REMOVAL OF ALL SITE PLANTING. Where homes from the 90’s and early 00’s were covered with beautiful gardens and grasses, 20’s homes are now surrounded by rock, gravel, and fake turf.
Here is a photo I took while out on a walk, you’d think this was a shot of California during a drought … it’s actually Vancouver Island during the rainy season. We’ve got a problem.
It’s easy to think that carbon reduction is all about implementing new technology, new low-carbon materials, and finding innovative solutions but often it’s more about stepping back then stepping forward. Let’s not forget that climate change isn’t an age-old problem, it’s a modern one and increasingly a recent modern one.
So today’s topic is about something we seem to have forgotten about, the importance of site planting. Simple trees, shrubs, and grass. Nothing groundbreaking today, but critical nonetheless.
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WHY IT MATTERS
Site planting matters for three primary reasons:
Planting is the OG of carbon capture technology.
Planting reduces heat island & water runoff
Planting supports biodiversity
Let’s dig a little deeper:
1 - Planting is the OG of carbon capture technology
Trees, plants, and grasses are basically the original form of carbon capture, although they aren’t typically thought of that way. They absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and store it in their trunks, branches, and roots. This is important because increasingly we see sites that have more and more non-planted surfaces reducing the amount of carbon captured on the site.
2 - Planting reduces heat island & water runoff
Planting can serve many purposes on your site, but they do wonders for reducing temperature and absorbing water runoff. If you’ve never seen it before check out this image that perfectly illustrates the power of trees and plants to reduce the heat island effect which as the climate warms will become increasingly important. In many places, climate change will result in increased rainfall and subsequent flooding and site water runoff. It’s important that sites incorporate large areas of planting to deal with these issues and allow site water to enter the ground directly on-site.
3 - Planting supports biodiversity
Sites that are stripped of natural elements become wastelands without life and diversity. Let’s think about the insects and small mammals alone that cannot be supported on sites that are made of turf or rock. Yes, urban and suburban planting is not the same as forests, wetlands, or grasslands, but they are still an important part of our environment, and one we cannot afford to lose.
HOW TO REDUCE
A strategy that I have found to be easier to accomplish than I expected is including a small bioswale and on-site pond. It is a great way to increase the natural site planting and help manage site water runoff. Bioswales don’t take a massive amount of effort or space, but they can have a big impact on the site water management as well as the amount of planting on the site. Look for a spot on your next project and start absorbing carbon.
The GREEN STREETS HANDBOOK produced by the United States Environmental Protection Agency is a great resource that goes through extensive standards for bioswale design, among other great site strategies. It’s filled with other great links to resources as well to help you on your design journey.
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