Better Landscapes for Better Air Quality

For the cultivated landscape to be truly successful it must pass the Triple Bottom Line test (also known as "People, Planet, Profit"): 1. will it provide benefits to its human users? 2. will it provide benefits to the environment? 3. is it economically viable? See some examples on our Facebook page.

Lets consider these points and in particular how air quality is important to humans and our quality of life. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the average human inhales over 3,000 gallons of air each day and along with the vital oxygen we need to live comes all of the other things mixed with it, both good and bad.

"Clean" outdoor air naturally has certain things in it that we would consider harmful, such as carbon dioxide, pollen, dust and other volatile organic compounds (VOCs). When these things are at or below a certain level the human body can function normally and thrive, but when they are experienced above certain levels they can cause irritation at the least or severe health problems, even death, at the worst.

Poor air quality can cause these and other problems in humans:
  1. Well-being is compromised
    1. general sense of comfort or health is degraded
    2. irritation to eyes, nose, throat or skin
    3. allergies or impaired breathing
  2. Productivity is reduced*
    1. concentration on tasks is compromised
    2. sick days result in lost wages
    3. personal productivity or enrichment is lost due to "down time"
  3. Long-term health is placed in jeopardy
    1. reduced activity may lead to other health problems
    2. asthma
    3. cancer
When we are indoors, many of the things that cause these problems may be removed, filtered or diluted. But what about the quality of the air we are breathing outdoors and what of the fact that our indoor air is being supplied from the outdoors? It stands to reason that cleaner outdoor air is essential, but what can we do to improve it? Because air is a gas that seeks to fill its container and because wind and other environmental factors move this gas around constantly it is difficult to measure any kind of regional or global effect by what we do in our own back yards. However, small improvements there can result in measurable differences, especially at the neighborhood or local level.
  1. Make your property more attractive and engaging
    • creating places that you and others find appealing are more likely to be properly maintained
    • properly maintained landscapes will continue to function the way they were intended (just like your roof or your car)
  2. Reduce carbon
    • carbon can be scrubbed from the air with with trees, shrubs and perennial plants, especially those indigenous to the region
    • reduce energy consumption in the home (heating and cooling), and in the garden (lawn mowers, leaf blowers)
  3. Reduce particulates
    • less mowing and blowing not only means lower carbon emissions, it also means fewer dust, dirt, exhaust and organic particles that are sent flying through the air
    • reduce the sources of dust and other airborne particulates by repairing worn or scalped lawn, exposed soil and low-lying areas by planting native shrubs and perennials as a groundcover
  4. Reduce reflected heat
    • cooler air does not hold airborne particulates as well as warmer air
    • air can be made cooler by reducing the amount of solar energy that reaches pavements, walls and roofs
    • consider placing shade trees at the south and southwest corners of your home, create a vegetated wall or retrofit with a green roof
Making these small changes can result not only in improved air quality, but also in monetary savings in reduced fuel costs, maintenance fees, water and energy bills. This was proven in a case study in the city of Santa Monica, CA, where a 68% savings in maintenance labor costs was realized when a "traditional" landscape was compared to one utilizing these and other practices.


*Usually associated with indoor air quality, but cleaner outdoor can have an effect on this, especially when natural ventilation (open windows and doors) is part of the building design. NCBI Study | CBE Study

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