Snapshot on Sustainability: Native landscapes can boost your bottom line

Lesly Hall Photography for FormLA Landscaping

People are people. Whether deciding where we want to live, work, or shop, we prefer verdant, natural elements. Recent research demonstrates, more and more, that these preferences are more than aesthetic. They guide us toward spaces that support our resilience, health, and wellness. These spaces aren’t just gift wrapping. They are necessary. Lucky for us, they can also be profitable.

Architects and developers often see landscaping as the wrapping of a present, not part of the gift. This mindset increases the upfront costs of landscaping while minimizing its potential for substantial financial return.

Shifting our perspective transforms landscapes into substantive gifts for communities and for developers. Lush, leafy native landscapes can deliver 15-20 percent bumps in price at sale or lease of commercial spaces, particularly for urban infill developments. High-performance, low impact landscapes also carry lower upfront building costs, and may also deliver access to grants, rebates, and tax incentives.

This reality is so contrary to the familiar tropes about landscaping that I can hear you shouting, “are you serious?” Well, I am and I’ll walk you through the numbers:

ROI at Sale

Lesly Hall Photography for FormLA Landscaping

Verdant landscapes create the highest impacts in high density urban environments – the same spaces in which the impacts of landscape on the ecology, social equity, and health and wellness are greatest. While there needs to be more research on defining the returns on commercial landscapes, there is clear and compelling evidence placed on the return on residential landscaping at 1520 percent. This is particularly true for lush, varied, treeful landscapes and those perceived as low maintenance.

What we know about commercial landscapes is that buyers show a willingness to pay 10-31 percent more for LEED-certified properties, and wise landscapes contribute significantly to each LEED category.

Merchants and businesses are willing to pay 7-22 percent higher rents for offices and business districts for lush, leafy, treeful landscapes. Merchants may still justify higher costs if they understand the substantial operational cost savings and proven impact on sales associated with sustainable landscapes.

For example, the same lush, leafy, treeful landscapes that attract home buyers also increase business district foot traffic by 20-40 percent. Shoppers report a willingness to spend 9-12 percent more in areas with more varied and naturalistic landscapes.

If you are thinking “lush,” “leafy,” “treeful,” and “verdant” are just no longer possible in LA, think again.  This is the description of an authentic LA landscape.

Upfront Costs

Lesly Hall Photography for FormLA Landscaping

Angelenos are lucky. While we are often told we live in a desert, our native foliage is not the spiky, prickly, dry foliage of Phoenix or even Sydney. LA is naturally treeful, lush, leafy, verdant and varied – exactly the aesthetic preferred by home buyers, merchants, employees and shoppers. It is for this reason that the most sought after, value-raising look can be attained at the lowest upfront cost.

A verdant, varied and treeful native landscape, supported by smart irrigation, costs on the low end of $7-8/ft2. This is a full $2 less/ft2 than the common, ho-hum commercial landscape of turf, traditional hedges, and non-native trees.

High-performance native landscapes outcompete the stark yet sometimes architectural gravelscapes popularized via drought-related incentives. Costs for an irrigated, well-designed, desertscape with ample drought tolerant greenery are $9-10/ft2, similar to those of a traditional landscape.

While this may all seem a little too good to be true, it stands to get a whole lot better as developers, particularly green builders, begin to lean into their financial self-interest.

It Gets Better

There are several reasons to believe the gifts landscaping offers developers can be made even more substantial. Consider the changing scenery:

State and local policies are now aligned with smart landscape decisions. Municipalities that once inadvertently incentivized gravelscapes have come to understand the ecological and economic value of native landscapes. The Metropolitan Water District, local water districts, and municipalities all now, wisely encourage native landscapes and discourage the multitude of turf-alternatives that reduce our resilience. Similarly, both California and LA-area communities may soon tax impermeable spaces as a way to fund stormwater management system updates.

Changes to policy have both come as a result of market education and yielded increased understanding. Voters are showing a willingness to pay for park spaces. As we move forward, buyer decision-making may be influenced by improved knowledge of the region’s need for permeability as well as moving tax rates.

Likewise, we can work to educate merchants about the proven impacts of the landscape on both their top and bottom lines to reduce price sensitivity. Landscapes improve retail prices; foot traffic; and employee recruitment, retention, and productivity. Native landscapes will also reduce operational costs – they require 32 percent less maintenance than traditional landscapes, and produce lower climate control costs than gravelscapes.

Another big change on the horizon: As nurseries see greater demand for native foliage, they will increase supply, further lowering upfront costs.

What other benefits of native landscaping are you seeing emerge? I hope you will join the conversation by leaving your thoughts below or contact me directly at cassy@formlainc.com; cc: killiand@mac.com.

About the Author

Cassy AoyagiCassy Aoyagi, a LEED and SITEs accredited practitioner, serves as a board member of the U.S. Green Building Council’s thought-leading Los Angeles chapter. She is the co-founder and president of FormLA Landscaping, a high-end, full-service sustainable landscaping firm.

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