The right landscape materials can reduce energy consumption, air and water pollution and waste that ends up in a landfill. Image credit: Margo Taylor

Landscape materials can cause environmental damage even before they are installed in a garden. Harvesting and transport consume energy and generate pollution, and the problems continue even when the materials are dismantled if they are discarded in a landfill instead of reused or recycled.

Luckily, there are now many materials available that are locally produced and certified green. Read the labels, request products that are local and non-toxic and look for marks such as the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification on wood products.

How They Compare

Unsustainable Landscape Sustainable Landscape What Can I Do?
The life cycle of materials is a linear process that begins with extraction and ends with disposal. Materials move through the cycle once and then become a waste product. The life cycle of materials is a circular process where materials and products are reused or recycled to avoid the extraction of virgin feedstock and minimize energy and resource inputs. Reduce, Reuse, and Recycle
Materials are not local and therefore do not support community businesses or the regional economy. Materials represent the regional identity of the area and support the local economy. Use certified woods

Purchase local or indigenous materials

Little is known about the human health and environmental costs of the material. When selecting materials, consideration is given to the costs of human health and environmental impacts. Limit your use of VOC products


It’s best to start with the old adage “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” as a rule of thumb. Think how you can downsize a landscaping project to reduce the amount of materials.   The next best solution is to reuse materials already in your yard, perhaps in a new and novel way.

If you are buying new, opt for natural, untreated, least toxic, and recyclable products made locally.  But even a seemingly benign material like wood raises questions: Does it come from a species threatened by the timber trade? Where was it harvested, and how much energy was required to transport it to your area?

A growing number of “certified green” products are becoming available, simplifying things for consumers. And you can promote recycling by buying products with recycled content.