Although a high percentage of Americans believe in global climate change (see for example these studies from the Yale Program on Climate Communication and Gallup), there are still many people who either don’t believe that climate change is occurring or else do not accept that it is caused by human activities. It is important to understand which types of clients are most likely to be receptive to climate-wise design options and how to work with those who are either more skeptical of climate change science or else do not believe it should be a priority in the design process.
Results from our 2016 survey of landscape architects indicate that most landscape architects believe that public clients, such as state and local governments, are more likely to be receptive when considering climate change, commenting they may be more likely to afford new construction approaches. There was not general agreement on the likelihood of private clients being receptive to climate change considerations in projects. Comments regarding private clients included financial considerations, such as a concern that clients will not budget for additional services or costs related to a climate-wise design unless there is a return on investment, and the probability of clients having a greater concern for short term impacts on projects rather than potential long term changes. The survey respondents agreed that clients living in coastal areas are more likely to be impacted by climate change in Florida, and that those with greater investments will experience greater loss.
It goes without saying that landscape architects need to think carefully about if, how, and when best to raise the question of climate-wise design with clients. Some respondents to our survey felt that rather than creating a new focus on climate-wise design, that advancing current best practices such as Florida-Friendly Landscaping, and sustainable certification programs such as Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) or SITES should be landscape architects’ focus given the acceptance they already have within the profession and their success in many projects. These programs certainly represent lower hanging fruit, but it is possible that there are additional considerations related to climate change that these programs don’t address. There is also evidence that a less direct but still effective approach towards addressing climate change issues among climate skeptics may be yield better results than taking the issue head-on. The link here to the Columbia University Earth Institute blog provides an interesting overview of information related to communicating about climate change.