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10 year logoBy Bruce Zaretsky

‘It seems that everyone’s talking about “sustainability” these days, with the usual thought being that, as exterior designers, good environmental stewardship must be one of our main missions.’

That’s the way Bruce Zaretsky opened his On the Level column five years ago before asking a string of key questions:  ‘But what is sustainability?  What do watershapers need to do to encompass this philosophy?  As important, what does it mean to our clients, and where are they in all of this?’  


Sustainability is defined as striving for the best outcome for both human and natural environments, now and well into the future. . . .  That’s definitely a Big Picture concept, and accepting it (as I do) means we should all – irrespective of socioeconomic status, career choices and lifestyles – live our lives while taking no more from nature than we need, creating no more waste than is absolutely necessary and doing our best to meld the two goals by doing what we can to turn waste into usable commodities.’


‘I’m not suggesting that anyone should stop installing watershapes or patios or landscape plantings or irrigation systems or anything else:  What I am saying is that we should be thinking about where our supplies come from, how they are being shipped, how much waste we generate on our projects and any of a number of other things we do that influence how future generations will live.’


‘The great news is that it doesn’t take a tremendous amount of sacrifice – just a different way of looking at things and a concerted effort to educate ourselves as to what’s involved.’


‘[O]ne of my goals in 2007 was to do my best to get through the entire year without having to bring any dumpsters onto my job sites.  While I haven’t been entirely successful (we removed a good number of pressure-treated decks this year and had no other choice than to haul any unusable portions to the landfill), we substantially succeeded in minimizing what we threw away.’


‘In sustainability terms, the rallying cry is “buy local,” because shipping across the country or, in the case of stone, from the next state can add seriously to the overall environmental impact of what we do.  Yes, we all clamor for the prestige of using that rare, imported stone on the patio or around the pool, but the plain truth is that almost every area has good stocks of perfectly presentable local stone.’


‘As exterior designers, we need to consider the environment in which our work is found and use our powers of persuasion to influence clients to do the right thing.  They entrust us to design and install beautiful watershapes and landscapes that will benefit their lives, and as I see it, it’s up to us to help them develop a vision of what they want that encompasses the well-being of their children and their children’s children.’


‘That may make me sound like a grand environmental missionary,’ he concluded, ‘but the fact is I’m not advocating that we ditch our cars and televisions or abandon Peruvian Travertine.  All I’m saying is that we’ll all benefit by doing what we can to lessen our impact on the land.’  

Sustainability is still a major concern for architects and landscape architects, but has this philosophy caught hold in the general watershaping community in the last ten years in the way Bruce Zaretsky advocated back in 2008?  Share your thoughts on this important topic below.  


Bruce Zaretsky is president of Zaretsky & Associates, Inc. a landscape design/construction/consultation company in Rochester, N.Y.  You can reach him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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