Meet the man behind the 'Carbon Landscape Collective'

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Concern over the environmental impact of the landscape architecture profession has led Texas-based Kiwi Landscape Architect Craig Pocock on a long and significant campaign to research and develop the concept of the ‘Carbon Landscape.

It’s a term he coined back in 2006 and covers issues such as the potential carbon cost of urban and landscape design, implementation, management and the disproportionately high carbon cost of urban renewal of public spaces.

Craig Pocock delivering his Carbon Landscape Roadshow in New Zealand last year.

Craig Pocock delivering his Carbon Landscape Roadshow in New Zealand last year.

In the past decade he has been developing and presenting the idea in Kuala Lumpur, Rio, Montreal, Melbourne, Austin and Wellington to the design and material industry and government organisations. The carbon landscape has had significant international uptake and has since been published internationally in multiple languages and is required reading and course work in Universities in both the United States and New Zealand.

The research has won a range of awards including the NZILA Sustainability Award of Excellence in 2013. In 2015, Craig was awarded the honour of NZILA fellow for his work on the carbon landscape and for its contribution to the industry. In 2016 he was placed on the IFLA advisory panel to advise on the impact of landscape architecture on climate change.

Last year Craig was back in New Zealand delivering his Carbon Landscape Roadshow. You can see the video of his presentation here.

He also took the time to answer some of our questions recently.

LAA - What is the carbon landscape?

CP - It is a term I coined in 2006 while writing a paper on the subject which I then presented at the IFLA World Congress in Malaysia in 2007. The term and explanation of the carbon landscape concept was then first published by the international design journal Topos in 2007 with an article of the same name. The IFLA presentation made quite an impact and as far as I know it is still the only IFLA presentation to have been presented twice in the same day at a IFLA World Congress due to the interest it generated. Before I got home from Malaysia the weekly magazine The Listener had picked up on this success, interviewed me and published an article called a “A Lion in the Meadow” that talks of the carbon landscape and my research. This had two impacts, it introduced the idea to the public and woke up the design and material industry who were fast to respond to the idea via letters to the editor and to the NZILA. It took that as a good sign that the dialog was underway. The New Zealand industry was not the only one to have reservations on the carbon landscape idea, the American Society of Landscape Architects also commented about their concerns on the ASLA website page “The Dirt” as soon as the first Topos article was published in 2007.

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In 2006 I felt I needed a term to identify the relationship between landscape architecture and the surprising negative carbon impact of design, implementation and management of public spaces and landscapes. When I started to look into the carbon issue it was not typically a design consideration for landscape architects. At the time they tended to be more focused on low impact stormwater design which made sense considering the high profile urban space Waitangi Park, in Wellington had just been completed.

Climate change mitigation within the design industry was not much of a topic of debate at the time and I wanted to illustrate the issue with what started out as a simple study of the carbon debt of my own professional projects over a 14 year period.

That first study has since has turned to into more than a decade of research that has been published and presented internationally. I am proud that the carbon landscape concept which has significant international recognition comes from New Zealand design DNA.

LAA - Why did you do the Carbon Landscape Roadshow?

CP - I was heading back to New Zealand from Texas to avoid the heat of the Texas summer, catch up with family, meet clients and to show my daughter around some universities so a road trip was always on the cards. I was also in talks with Beca about a project and somehow the conversation lead to combining the road trip with delivering carbon landscape talks around New Zealand.

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In the past I have presented in Australia, Canada, America, Malaysia, Brazil and to the New Zealand government but never to the NZILA community, the carbon landscape was never accepted as a conference paper. With a change of government and a refocus on the importance of carbon mitigation within local government the timing seemed good.

So with Beca’s help and the support of key material industry players for sponsorship we made it happen but what was interesting is how it grew organically into a much bigger road trip. Initially it was to be four main stops; Dunedin, Christchruch, Wellington and Auckland but in the end and through requests via social media I ended up presenting the carbon landscape at ten different locations to approximately 700 attendees.

The popularity and the ability to get sponsorship was a significant change from the early days of 2006. It was heartening to see not only people come and listen to the presentation but also willing to stay after to talk about issues they where facing in the industry and looking for shared solutions.

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LAA - What did you learn from doing the Road Show?

CP - There has been a significant change in attitude within the industry, mainly I believe driven by the possibility of the Zero Carbon Act being adopted. Local government is much more focused, engaged and looking for answers and that has sharpened the focus of the design and the material industry on this important issue.

In the dozens of conversations I had there was not a new carbon angle that I did not know about however what was new was the access to data that I had not been able to get in the past. There was a greater willingness to provide me with base information on management of landscape and implementation costs that I could now use to further calculate the carbon costs of landscape architecture and that was really exciting.

I was also really surprised at the make up of the audience, I had predominately marketed to councils knowing that the design and material industry would follow wanting to hear what the clients were hearing. What was surprising is the range professionals that came to hear the carbon landscape talk who are currently managing issues around carbon mitigation. We had airport managers, health board members, NZTA, recycling managers, Housing NZ, education providers, engineers, local government resilience managers, architects, regional councils officers, planners, mayors, councillors and of course landscape architects. I think what this indicates to the design industry is that there is a market out there who want engage with the carbon landscape concepts. Councils are not the only managers of large areas of land who are looking for carbon, water, chemical and economic efficiencies.

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LAA - What are you going to do next considering you now have access to new information after the roadshow?

CP - Once I got back from New Zealand I set up the Carbon Landscape Collective at as a place to deposit information on the design industries carbon footprint and mitigation opportunities. I will continue to grow and update that website as a place for designers, planners and managers to gain easy access to carbon landscape information.

I also wrote an article in December published in Local Government Magazine on the carbon impact of urban renewal and the possible ways of using social programming to avoid it . The plan is to continue to write, research and make short videos explaining the issues around the carbon landscape for client and designer consumption alike.

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I am now looking at the data and the list of key questions that the carbon landscape road show generated from local government and considering what to research first, mythology and how to deliver the outcome to the industry. I am also continuing to promote the carbon landscape to the international market via a range of avenues.

I want the carbon landscape to be an intergenerational idea and so I have taught the concept at Lincoln University for the last ten years in New Zealand. Last week I presented a keynote “An Anecdotal Walk Through Sustainability” that included the carbon landscape concept to the University of Texas, School of Architecture. I have always found design students quick and adaptive to take on new ideas and so I plan to make sure the carbon landscape is accessible to the next generation of designers internationally. It ensures the longevity of the carbon landscape.

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