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. The landscape architect mined elements from the cannery structure including abandoned machinery for repurposing in the context of the new gardens. The recycled tumbled glass riverbed in the Dining Room Court, and stone columns in the Lew Hing Garden add to the historic character. Hand crafted site furnishings made from FSC-certified wood, concrete, steel, and glass were designed by the landscape architect and crafted by Miller Company Landscape Architects’ in-house installation team.

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

To avoid sending useful materials to landfills and cut down on materials that release toxic substances, The Sustainable SITES Initiative™  (SITES®) recommends reusing existing materials or recycling them there. Homeowners can also specify local materials to support local economies, cut down on energy use for transportation, and increase demand for regional resources.

Sustainable residential landscape design can significantly increase the quality of the environment through the use of innovative low-impact materials that are permeable, recycled, recyclable, reflective (high albedo), and non-toxic. 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 green house gas (GHG) 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 Surfaces
Sustainable Woods
Reflective Materials
Sustainable Concrete


Green Seal

Scientific Certification System

The Sustainable SITES Initiative™  (SITES®)

U.S. Green Building Council

Reuse Alliance

Global Reporting Initiative


MBDC, Cradle to Cradle Certification

Center for Built Environment, University of California, Berkeley


Sustainable Landscape Materials and Practices, University of Delaware Botanic Gardens

Materials, Global Reporting Initiative Standards

Materials Management, Sustainable Cities Institute

Strategies for Waste Reduction of Construction and Demolition Debris from Buildings, Environmental Protection Agency

Building a Park Out of Waste, American Society of Landscape Architects

Top 5 Eco-Friendly Building Materials, Smart Cities Dive


"The Innovative Use of Materials in Architecture and Landscape Architecture: History, Theory and Performance,” Caren Yglesias, McFarland, 2014

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

The Upcycle: Beyond Sustainability – Designing for Abundance,” William McDonough, Honorary ASLA. North Point Press,  2013 

"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,” J. William Thompson and Kim Sorvig, Island Press, 2007

Sustainable Landscape Construction, Third Edition: A Guide to Green Building Outdoors,” Kim Sorvig & William Thompson, Island Press, 2018

Low Impact Living: A Field Guide to Ecological, Affordable Community Building,” Paul Chatterton, Routledge, 2014

Government Resources

Green Home Case Study: Studio 24, City of Seattle

Landscape Materials, City of Seattle

Green Building Tax Credit, State of New York 

PlaNYC 2030, City of New York

Street Design Materials, New York Department of Transportation

Zero Waste, City of New York

Sustainable Building Ordinance, City of Atlanta

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

Environmentally Preferable Purchasing Policy, City of Berkeley, California

Green Spending: A Case Study of Massachusetts’ Environmental Purchasing Program, Environmental Protection Agency

Construction & Demolition Recycling, City of Oakland, California


Green Point Rated

McGraw-Hill Construction Sweets Network 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

Mill Creek Ranch, Vanderpool, Texas
Ten Eyck Landscape Architects Inc.

Le Petit Chalet, Southwest Harbor, Maine
Matthew Cunningham Landscape Design LLC

Sonoma Retreat, Sonoma California
Aidlin Darling

Quaker Smith Point Residence, Burlington, Vermont
H. Keith Wagner Partnership 


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