Professional Practice

Sustainable Residential Design: Using Low-Impact Materials

low impact materials page
ASLA 2010 Professional Residential Design Honor Award. Pacific Cannery Lofts / Miller Company Landscape Architects

New and non-recyclable materials used in homes and landscapes consume enormous amounts of resources to produce and distribute, and then create additional waste when they are demolished -- they often aren't originally designed to be recycled. Waste materials create waste landscapes: landfills, massive incinerator systems, and multi-square-mile floating plastic garbage islands in the world's oceans.

Through "integrated site design," a comprehensive approach to sustainable building and site design, sustainable residential landscape architecture practices can not only improve water and energy efficiency, but also reduce waste. If part of a broader integrated site design, sustainable residential landscape architecture can eliminate waste created from producing and using design materials.

Integrated site design is a framework for increasing the quality of the built environment and involves maximizing existing natural systems to produce and apply low-impact materials. These types of designs leverage the many benefits of natural systems, thereby significantly cutting down the use of materials that release toxic substances and fill up landfills.

Homeowners can significantly increase the quality of the environment through the use of innovative low-impact materials. These materials include permeable, recycled, recyclable, reflective (high albedo), and non-toxic materials. Using these materials can minimize consumption of newer materials, enable a continual reuse of limited natural resources, and decrease waste and environmental pollution. Used in both landscapes and buildings, low-impact materials can reduce CO2 emissions.

Local governments are also partnering with non-profit organizations to increase public awareness about using sustainable residential design practices to apply innovative, low-impact materials.

Permeable Materials
Certified Woods
Reflective Materials
Adhesives, Paints, Coatings, and Sealants


Center for Built Environment, University of California, Berkeley

Forest Stewardship Council

Green Seal

MBDC, Cradle to Cradle Certification 

Scientific Certification System

Sustainable Sites Initiative

U.S. Green Building Council


Sustainable Landscape Materials and Practices, University of Delaware Botanic Gardens


"Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things," William McDonough, Honorary ASLA, and Michael Braungart. North Point Press, 2002

"Green from the Ground Up: Sustainable, Healthy, and Energy-Efficient Home Construction (Builder’s Guide)," David Johnston and Scott Gibson. Tauton, 2008

"Materials for Sustainable Sites: A Complete Guide to the Evaluation, Selection, and Use of Sustainable Construction Materials," Meg Calkins, ASLA. Wiley, 2008

"Sustainable Landscape Construction: A Guide to Green Building Outdoors," J. William Thompson, FASLA, and Kim Sorvig. Island Press, 2007.

Government Resources

City Green Building, Department of Planning and Development, City of Seattle 

Green Building Tax Credit, State of New York 

PlaNYC 2030, City of New York

Sustainable Building Ordinance, City of Atlanta

Sustainable (Green) Building: Green Building Materials, Integrated Waste Management Board, State of California


Building Green

Green Directory

Green Product Directory, Built It Green

McGraw-Hill Construction Sweets Network

Permeable Pavers, PaverSearch

Sustainable Product Directories, Integrated Waste Management Board, State of California


Beach House, Amagansett, New York
Dirtworks, PC Landscape Architecture, New York, New York

Curran House, San Francisco, California
Andrea Cochran Landscape Architecture, San Francisco, California

Stone Meadow, Martha's Vineyard, Massachusetts
Stephen Stimson Associates, Falmouth, Massachusetts


If you know of useful resources we've missed, please send your recommendations to:


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