Urbanite salvaged from a parking space to create a waterfall. Image – Studio Petrichor

Urbanite salvaged from a parking space to create a waterfall. Image – Studio Petrichor

Embodied Energy in the Realm of Landscape Design

by Team Petrichor

As we walk, eat, and survive through our daily lives, we spend most of our time wandering under the roofs and walls of buildings. Whether it is a storefront where we get our groceries or an abode that shelters us, we spend approximately 90% of our time indoors. Have you ever asked yourself how this structure makes it to your neighborhood? Where did the materials come from? It may not have crossed your mind but with a global economy, materials are made from resources located in every corner of the world. Every material we use to create buildings and form our landscaping requires energy. This is known as embodied energy. Embodied energy is the energy consumed by the processes associated with the production of a building, from the mining and processing of natural resources to manufacturing, transporting, and product delivery(YourHome AU). 

In the realm of landscape design, there are various materials that are the biggest culprits to embodied energy. The practices of modern landscaping require the use of steel, concrete, and plastics which are some of the largest contributors to global energy usage. Steel, whose footprint is reduced when recycled, requires immense energy. The U.S. steel industry (including iron production) relies significantly on natural gas and coal coke and breeze for fuel and accounts for roughly six percent of the total energy consumed in manufacturing(EIA). Concrete not only uses a lot of water in its production, but also while the cement industry uses one-quarter of one percent of total U.S. energy, it is one of the most energy-intensive of all manufacturing industries(EIA). Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC), Polyethylene (PE), Polypropylene (PP), and many more plastics that are used in landscaping are also large consumers of energy in production(Openenergymonitor). 

It is important to recognize the embodied energy in products that we use daily as contractors, designers, and homeowners to consider what we can do differently. According to Level.org, when selecting materials, the embodied energy should be considered with respect to:

  • the durability of building materials
  • how easily materials can be separated
  • use of locally sourced materials
  • use of recycled materials
  • specifying standard sizes of materials
  • avoiding waste- recycling
  • selecting materials that are manufactured using renewable energy sources.

Sawcut flagstone grid repurposed from preexisting patio space. Image – Studio Petrichor

At Studio Petrichor we take our responsibilities very seriously when it comes to making sound decisions on behalf of the environment and our clients. We are learning to assess the value of on-site materials and create beautiful gardens using those materials.  By doing so, we avoid waste and develop new and creative ways to enhance garden space.  Awareness of embodied energy is fundamental to reducing our carbon footprints and designing for the future. This is “how we do it”.