“Climate change is the defining issue of our time”

- Sir David Attenborough 2018

As stewards of the environment, landscape architects must advocate for climate positive outcomes, extending the current approach of carbon neutral outcomes. 

Climate positive design projects provide net positive climate outcomes. They also provide environmental, social, cultural, and economic co-benefits. Over a cradle to cradle, design life assessment, they sequester more greenhouse gases than they emit.

To embrace Climate Positive Design, there are three key things Landscape Architects can to do:

  1. Understand the environmental and carbon impacts of what we do through evidence-based research.
  2. Manage and mitigate these impacts through good planning and design.
  3. Advocate and educate for better understanding of carbon neutral and climate positive design with our clients, colleagues, collaborators, stakeholders and Government.

Climate Positive Design Position Statement

AILA is committed to the objectives of Climate Positive Design, and support, for AILA members in adapting to achieve climate positive design objectives


About the Climate Positive Design Working Group

The Working Group assists AILA in the development and implementation of actions which support climate positive design in landscape architecture. Recognising that there are many areas outlined in the AILA in the position statement, the working group prioritises and its focuses activity.

Working Group Members

Martin O'Dea (Chair, NSW
Adam McEllister (QLD) [December 2020 - April 2021]
Brendon Burke (VIC)
Jasmine Ong (National Board)
Kate James (SA)
Lakshmanan Madhu (VIC)
Madeline McEwan (WA)
Sarah Morgan (NSW)
Simon Bond (NSW)
Verity Campbell (VIC)
Ben Stockwin (AILA CEO)

Green Infrastructure Position Statement

Green infrastructures (GI) are the strategically planned networks of natural and semi-natural areas in urban and regional settlements that provide environmental, social and economic benefits to society


Terms of reference

Purpose of the Climate Positive Design Working Group is to provide advice and support to the AILA Board in setting and implementing policy and activity that supports climate positive design outcomes for the profession.



AILA Climate and Biodiversity Loss Emergency Declaration

IFLA Declaration of Climate & Biodiversity Emergency

AILA's Climate Positive Design Guidelines

So that Australian Landscape Architects can be part of the solution, AILA are preparing a series of three guideline documents that will be published in mid-2022.

Volume 1

Climate positive design action plan for Australian landscape architects

Volume 1 provides clear, simple advice on what Australian landscape architects can do to understand and deliver climate positive design through good planning, design, documentation and construction and renewal.


Volume 2

Organisation guide to climate positive

Volume 2 outlines the steps your practice, business or organisation can take to achieve carbon neutral certification and beyond to become climate positive. Download Organisation Guide to Climate Positive.
Watch the Member Connect webinar: How to make your business climate positive


Volume 3

AILA roadmap to delivering climate positive design

Volume 3 sets the framework, guidance and time frames for the AILA Executive and State groups to roll out climate positive members, and provide engagement and policy direction.


Understanding the environmental and carbon impacts of our projects

What is Climate Positive Design?


Climate positive design projects provide net positive climate outcomes. They also provide environmental, social, cultural, and economic co-benefits. Over a cradle to cradle, design life assessment, they sequester more greenhouse gases than they emit.


Climate Positive design seeks to sequester more greenhouse gases (GHG) than projects emit over their lifetime. This is where we are pulling heat trapping CO2 from sources other than our project out of the atmosphere thereby providing a positive climate outcome.

A large proportion of our GHG are embodied in up front carbon during construction. The primary objective is to firstly reduce upfront embodied GHG emissions, and then address operational GHG emissions.

The trees that we plant sequester carbon dioxide as they grow thereby drawing down the emissions embodied during construction and operations. 


Understanding lifecycle emissions and our largest emission sources

When assessing our climate impacts we need to consider the cumulative greenhouse gas impacts cradle to cradle - through the entire design, construction, and demolition / re-use cycle. Download our lifecycle assessment summary.

Emissions from landscape architectural projects come from a number of sources.  Download our summary of our highest emissions.


The Climate Positive pathfinder

You can’t change what you don’t measure or know.

AILA recommends using the Climate Positive Pathfinder app to measure your projects greenhouse gas budget on a 50year life-cycle assessment period. 

This is a free web based software application. It allows you to test out design alternatives for your projects and learn about low carbon options. 

The app was designed by Landscape Architect Pamela Conrad for landscape architects. Ongoing app development, improvements and bug fixes are managed by Pamela and a small IT team in Melbourne. She relies on donations and crowd funding, so please make a payment based on fair use of the application here.

You can watch our 5 minute pathfinder introduction:

You can watch our one hour training session video to the app here:



Understanding project lifecycle greenhouse gas footprint

Download our 3 page guide to the assumptions that underpin the pathfinder app.

Pathfinder definitions cheat sheet

Download our cheat sheet providing Australian definitions for the Pathfinder app.

Q&A: Video training sessions

Download the Questions and Answers to our video training session pdf.

Managing and mitigating climate impacts through good planning and design

Reducing emissions is the critical first step


Anthropogenic greenhouse gas emissions primarily from land-use change and the burning of fossil fuels that release of million year old gases is heating up the planet. 

The number one priority step is to drastically reduce emissions.  


AILA is calling on Australian landscape architects projects to be climate positive by 2030.  We are setting a 2030 emissions reduction target of 75%, with a climate positive outcome through soil and plant based sequestration. 

Our 2040 target is to have zero embodied emissions.

Here are 10 things you can do to minimise your projects greenhouse gas emissions:

  1. Minimise unnecessary soil disturbance to could lead to losses of soil carbon 
  2. Retain as many existing trees on site as possible, particularly larger trees
  3. Reduce the extent of high carbon elements such as concrete, steel, aluminium and kiln dried timber 
  4. Specify low carbon alternatives where you cannot design these out. Replace grey infrastructure with green
  5. Prioritise high-quality ground preparation, and maximise soil volumes and root plate area for tree planting pits so our trees have the best possible foundation for growth. Carefully match any manufactured soil to specific species mix requirements
  6. Incorporate water sensitive urban design ideas, such as sponge cities, passive irrigation and on-site capture and re-use.  
  7. Find space for as many large trees as possible on your sites for long term adaptation benefits and sequestration
  8. Use a biodiverse species mix to provide habitat and ecological values, to encourage pollinators and provide high carbon outcomes
  9. Specify biodynamic / pro-biotic fertilisers that don’t release nitrous oxide like chemical based ammonium nitrate fertilizers
  10. Specify that all maintenance on the project is carried out with electric powered equipment. Raise awareness with local councils, land managers and landscape contractors 


Why good soil and healthy trees are so important to climate positive design?

The only greenhouse gas we can pull out of the atmosphere is carbon dioxide (CO2).

Nature based solutions are part of the everyday toolkit used by landscape architects.

Responses to climate are often placed into two key areas. Firstly Mitigation measures that directly reduce green house gases that are heating up the planet. And secondly adaptation, which is about responding to changes anticipated with rising temperatures and climate change.  

In reality the work of Landscape architects integrates both, along with other co-benefits such as biodiversity, health and well being.  

When we plant a street tree it is providing both mitigation and adaptation outcomes. It mitigates by pulling C02 out of the atmosphere helping to cool the planet.  It provides adaptation from its shade which stops pavements heating up and contributing to urban heat island effect.  It captures urban storm water and filters pollutants out of the atmosphere. The tree also has multiple co-benefits. It is attractive to look at, in a park it provides health and well being benefits, along with nesting and food for insects and birds.

Advocate and educate for climate positive design

Advocating for climate positive design and practice is critical to AILA’s core values. 

Practices can make lasting, far reaching change through advocacy. This reaches both within and outside of the landscape architecture profession. 

Drive change in your organisation through education and proritise sustainable, climate positive design. Find your office climate positive design champion. Give them the authority, training and tools to start making a difference. Provide internal training and encourage knowledge sharing. 

Talk with your clients about climate positive outcomes. Bring them on the journey. Establish what goals they want to achieve at the beginning of your projects. 

Talk to your consultant colleagues about the co-benefits of climate positive design. Educate yourself to feel comfortable enough to speak up. Question why are we embedding 30 years of fossil gas into this new housing estate?

Talk with your favourite landscape contractors or local council to shift their maintenance equipment to all electric. 

Advocate through good design and plan to showcase your projects through the AILA awards programme. 

Examine your supply chains for climate and environmental risks. Ask your sub-consultants to become at the very least climate neutral. 

Educate yourself about low carbon materials and alternatives. Talk to manufacturers about low carbon products. Encourage them to supply these products and ask for environmental product disclosures (EPD's). Give them time to help you with longer tendering periods. 

If you are an educator, look to see how you can embed climate positive design thinking into your studios and projects. Equip your students with the tools and knowledge to deliver climate positive design. 

If you are a landscape architect in a government role, you often have the role of client. This affords great opportunities to embed climate positive design within design briefs. Work with your sustainability team to bring management and other departments along with you. 

If you are a policy maker, you can enable far reaching change by embedding climate positive design in policy. Strengthen connections with other departments and encourage change. 

Climate scientist and communicator, Katharine Hayhoe sums it up. "The most important thing you can do about climate change is talk about it". Watch the Katharine Hayhoe TED talk.

Another great resource is the American Society of Landscape Architects "Climate Act Now". This is a clear guide to climate advocacy for landscape architects.

Educating may be a slow process, but even a long journey always starts with a single step. 

Resource Library

Other international associations climate policies and strategies


The UK Landscape institute: Climate and biodiversity action plan

This focuses on action to tackle the intertwined climate and biodiversity emergencies.  It provides framework around four pillars: 1. Guidance and training to equip the profession. 2 Regulation and oversight to encourage best practice. 3. Policy and advocacy to elevate the voice of landscape architects and 4, Reducing the Landscape Institutes carbon footprint . 


The UK Landscape institute: Landscape for 2030

Landscape for 2030 provides an outline of climate mitigation and adaptation strategies where landscape can make a difference.

It places these in context of critical climate risks facing the United Kingdom. 

It provides 11 project case studies of how these have been applied

The Canadian Society of Landscape Architects: Professional best practice for low carbon resilience

This study looks at the need to plan for both climate mitigation in reducing greenhouse gases and to also adapt to a changing world.  It addresses mitigation and adaptation as an integrated system described as low carbon resilience (LCR) measures. 

It reviews the trends, opportunities and challenges in developing low carbon resilience

The Canadian Society of Landscape Architects: Nature based solutions by design

This describes landscape architecture as the bridge between the natural and built environment. It focuses upon nature based climate solutions linked back to the United Nations Sustainable Development goals.

The American Society of Landscape Architects: Smart Policies for a Changing Climate

This establishes policies aimed at providing multiple benefits including racial justice and social equity issues. It frames outcomes around; Natural systems, community development, vulnerable communities, transport and agriculture.

The American Society of Landscape Architects: Climate Action Now
This is a guide for using our skills as landscape architects to make an impact and drive climate action. We can be strong voices for action, with our clients, in our practices, within our communities and influencing government policy.

It focuses on:
> What you can do as an individual
> What your firm or organisation can do
> What you can do with your community.