Suomalainen peltomaisema, jonka taustalla punakattoisia taloja vasten sinistä taivasta.
English Gradusta asiaa

How does the landscaping industry communicate about sustainability?

This text was written as an assignment for the course Communication & Sustainable Development, which was offered at University of Helsinki. More information about the course can be found here.

Studying at the master’s degree of Urban Studies and Planning, concepts such as sustainability, climate change mitigation and adaptation and biodiversity pop up frequently. We learn how e.g. green area planning can contribute to ecological sustainability within cities. But how is this knowledge transferred into the working life? I’m working in the field of landscape design, and I’ve had the experience that the concepts that we learn at school rarely come up in work projects. This is why I am interested in studying how sustainability is communicated among the professionals in the field and how the landscape industry sees itself in the context of ecological sustainability.

To be able to study the communication within the landscaping field I chose to study a magazine called Viherympäristö, published by the Finnish Association of Landscape Industries (finn. Viherympäristöliitto ry). The magazine is targeted to all of the professionals in the landscaping industry and published six times a year. This analysis is focusing on one issue, 4/2020 dealing with sustainable environmental construction – sustainable choices in produce and materials. In this text, I focus mainly on the concept of ecological sustainability.

The pieces that construct environmental communication

Through environmental communication we learn about the environment as well as environmental issues and we are helped and persuaded to solve these issues. Thus, the communication is pragmatic. On the other hand, environmental communication also gives us different perspectives to look and understand the environment. This means that communication is constitutive. (Cox, 2010). So not only do we learn about the environment but we learn how to perceive the environment. To analyze environmental communication is also done by looking at the framing of the text. I’m following the standpoint of framing by Robert M. Entman (1993) which consists of framing as selection and salience, defining problems, diagnosing causes, making moral judgements and suggesting remedies. With certain framing the communicator is able to highlight selected issues, and with that construct an argument of a problem and bring forward a solution. The communicator and the text has power to guide the direction of conversation, who is to blame, why and where is the solution in this context. This is why framing plays an important role in what is communicated.

In this case the theme of the magazine directs the environmental conversation towards sustainable environmental construction. It gives us the pragmatic understanding of issues and solutions about sustainability in environmental construction. My goal is to look at the way the articles are framing the landscaping industry around sustainable development: what is seen as being sustainable or unsustainable, who are the causal agents, how is sustainability reached and by whom? In addition, I want to see what is the constitutive perspective in the magazine and how is the environment perceived in the articles.

We can do both, unsustainable and sustainable choices

Out of the twenty main articles (excluding small columns and announcements) eight are directly related to sustainable development. Four articles handle topics around sustainability and biodiversity but don’t consider the cause and effect surrounding the topic. These articles talk about the durability of Finnish larch as a construction material, grazing as a means to maintain landscapes, rooftop parks and urban farming in Paris and plant species suitable for pollinators. All of these topics are related to ecological sustainability and increasing biodiversity but the articles don’t use such concepts. The articles about parks and other functional green areas are not looked through sustainability, but the viewpoint is human-oriented; the focus is on functionality, aesthetics and user experience.

Some of the articles related to sustainable development recognize multiple actors or processes that are not yet sustainable. Three articles see that the landscaping industry is making a negative impact on land use, utilize untouched natural materials in construction and produce a lot of waste. Thus, the industry is not sustainable and with the current means they contribute to climate change. An article talking about natural cycles in the green structures from a singular tree to the whole green network sees that all the materials present in the green structure of a city should be a part of a circular economy. Especially soil should be recycled either within the site itself as a closed loop or transferred to another site because currently healthy and rich soils are lost in the process of creating outdoor environments. With these measures there is less of a need to use untouched rocks or produce new growing medium and thus emissions can also be reduced.

Not all of the articles are looking for a cause of the issues they bring forward. One article sees that urbanization is a reason for decreasing green elements in a city but doesn’t search for more specific responsible actors around the topic. Four of the articles don’t directly accuse anyone of creating environmental challenges. One article states that climate change causes flooding and then jumps right into the solution palette to prevent flooding damage. Compared to the article about natural cycles, here the writer doesn’t search for actual causal agents behind the flooding. After reading the previous articles, the reader understands that climate change may increase the reoccurrence and magnitude of floods, but the problem itself is risen when the natural cycles of water are disturbed. In this article the writer however didn’t want to criticize anyone but to focus on the solutions that are possible to make with nature-based solutions.

The field can positively influence cities to become more ecologically sustainable but only if the practices within the field are sustainable.

All of the articles regarding sustainability see that the solutions can be found within the field. Others are calling for decision makers, designers and customers to focus on domestic natural products and to the benefits they create for the Finnish economy. For the most part, the writers and interviewees see cooperation as a way to tackle the issues. Dialogue is needed between the residents, management groups, constructors, designers, cities and decision makers. Solutions can be found in designing individual sites as well as in city planning. Some articles focus on smaller entities such as material choices and others to the whole process of landscaping. The article about urban indoor food ecosystems takes an even broader approach and is telling how Metropolia University of Applied Sciences has produced a development platform for startups, research institutes, cities, organizations and experts together with students to create new global innovations for sustainable indoor food production.

Who’s environment?

The theme of the issue, sustainable environmental construction is present throughout the articles that focus on sustainability. That is the main message in this issue. The reader is presented with issues that the environmental construction currently has and also the solutions how these could be avoided in the future. Whether talking about sustainability or not, the magazine is presenting an idea of the environment that is created for humans. Most of the sites introduced are located in the built environment and are targeted for humans or are built so that the environment doesn’t disturb the human activities. Nature is something outside the cities but that could be mimicked also in the built environment. On the other hand, the environment is something that we can exploit as a construction material.

The only two articles that don’t directly consider humans are about pasturages and pollinators. What can we do to provide habitats and nutrition for animals and insects and at the same time contribute to biodiversity, rather than what can the environment provide for us, humans? Humans do of course benefit from higher biodiversity but these articles don’t concentrate on people, but on other species.

There is still a lot to be done

By reading this magazine, the reader is aware of the role which the landscape industry plays in causing sustainability crises and climate change but also in solving them as half of the articles are related to sustainability.. This issue makes a clear choice of framing and makes the reader see his/her professional role in the process of creating sustainable green areas. The magazine acknowledges that the landscaping industry is a causal actor but also a problem solver when talking about sustainability. The field can positively influence cities to become more ecologically sustainable but only if the practices within the field are sustainable. Even if the green structure of a city is important, the strongest message in this issue is that the construction phase of green areas is not yet fully sustainable.

I was glad to see that the magazine was considering different parts of green structures’ life cycle. Both in our studies as well as in professional life, we easily concentrate only on the end results. However, the field itself is still creating many environmental issues with poor decision making, planning, designing and managing of projects which are then later solved with new designs and plans. It’s not enough to consider sustainability in some projects when it should be the starting point in all of them. I also think that it is important to acknowledge that the green structure is not only done for humans but should be seen as an entity that includes processes that humans can then enjoy as well. Now the focus of the magazine is very human-oriented. All in all, I think the magazine manages to highlight that if we want to reach ecological sustainability, the focus must be in the whole process of creating green areas and we as researchers, planners, designers, decision makers and developers need to work together to reach this goal.

EMMI TURKKI

Otsikkokuva: Emmi Turkki

References

Cox, R. (2010). Environmental communication and the public sphere. 2nd ed. Thousand Oaks, Calif: Sage Publications.

Entman R. M. (1993). Framing: Toward Clarification of a Fractured Paradigm. Journal of Communication, 43(4), pp. 51–58.

Viherympäristö 4/2020. Viherympäristöliitto ry.

Emmi Turkin kasvokuva
Emmi Turkki

Emmi Turkki is a master student in Urban Studies and Planning at the University of Helsinki. She has done her bachelor studies in landscape design and is a Bachelor of Natural Resources. She has worked as a landscape designer for four years.