Exploring Sustainability in the AEC Industry: Insights from Karl Soderholm, Vice President of Landscape Architecture at ETM  

In the realm of urban development, sustainability has emerged as a pivotal consideration across the Architecture, Engineering, and Construction (AEC) industry. In a recent interview with ETM’s Karl Soderholm, Vice President of Landscape Architecture, we gained valuable insights into common sustainability methods and their significance in the field. 

Water Conservation and Stormwater Management 

Soderholm emphasizes the significance of water conservation in the AEC industry. As sustainability methods continue to gain traction, water conservation efforts remain at their forefront – starting with how water is treated. Stormwater management systems play a critical role in the success of infrastructure and development projects by effectively managing the flow of rainwater and mitigating its environmental impact. Without proper treatment, water runoff can carry pollutants, sediment, and contaminants into water bodies, jeopardizing water quality and ecosystem health.  

As proper stormwater treatment systems continue to greatly improve water conservation efforts, an unpredictable variable remains – the end user. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, as much as 50 percent of irrigation water is lost due to wind, evaporation, and runoff caused by inefficient systems. In fact, a household with an automatic landscape irrigation system that is not properly maintained and operated can waste up to 25,000 gallons of water annually. Soderholm believes that a key conservation effort being utilized in the industry is smart irrigation technology. This technology uses weather data and/or soil moisture data to determine the irrigation need of the landscape, preventing water misuse.  

Nature Preservation 

While public and private agencies do what they can to preserve the natural environment during human development, Soderholm stresses that a one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t apply. He underscores the importance of site-dependent strategies, ranging from conserving natural channels and vegetation where possible to mitigate the heat island effect and enhance community character.  

In the AEC industry, civil engineers play a large role in designing and implementing infrastructure and technologies that coexist harmoniously with nature. This involves considering the lifecycle of projects, from planning to construction, with a strong emphasis on sustainable practices. Nature-friendly engineering encompasses various strategies, such as reducing carbon emissions, minimizing waste generation, and utilizing renewable energy sources. 

Governmental Regulations 

Soderholm sheds light on the existing regulations promoting sustainability. In most areas, it is up to the municipalities to determine which sustainable practices take precedence. These practices are set in place through each municipality’s unique comprehensive plans and goals. These plans encompass various aspects, such as percentage conservation, water use reduction, and the use of native landscapes. By implementing sustainable policies, municipalities contribute to reduced carbon footprints, improved air and water quality, and enhanced overall quality of life for residents.  

The Growing Importance of Sustainability 

Addressing the question of why sustainability has gained prominence, Soderholm emphasizes the cultural shift and heightened awareness surrounding the environment. He further reiterated the additional benefits of a sustainable approach, including market appeal, cost savings, and smoother regulatory processes. 

Looking ahead, Soderholm foresees a shift in focus from a broad use of the term “sustainability” to a more targeted emphasis on resilience. He believes that this shift is especially pertinent in regions like Florida, where concerns about rising water levels and climate change need resilient engineering solutions.  

Sustainability in Practice at ETM 

At ETM, sustainability practices are a core element of our projects. Soderholm highlights ETM’s involvement in LEED-certified projects guided by client-driven performance criteria. He emphasizes their collaboration with sustainability consultants to ensure the integration of eco-friendly strategies. “We work to put a lot of thought into the systems in our communities,” Soderholm notes. This involves holistic stormwater management, the use of native and Florida-friendly plant materials, efficient irrigation systems, and innovative reuse of water resources. 

Continued Commitment to Sustainability 

In closing, Soderholm underscores the alignment between development and regulatory communities in pursuing sustainability goals. He observes a growing trend where the marketplace seeks out sustainable solutions. Soderholm’s insights provide a comprehensive view of sustainable landscape architecture’s multifaceted approach, offering a blueprint for a more harmonious coexistence between human development and the natural world. 

About Karl Soderholm, PLA, AICP, LEED AP 

Karl Soderholm

Mr. Soderholm has built a strong reputation as a designer of public spaces and communities. His 25 years of landscape architecture experience has included the development of parks and recreational facilities, bicycle and pedestrian facilities, transit planning, trail development, and private developments of all scales.

As Vice President of Landscape Architecture at ETM, Mr. Soderholm has overseen and guided many large-scale landscape and planning projects. His specialties include site planning, transit planning, bicycle and pedestrian design, trail design, landscape design, hardscape design, wayfinding plans, graphics, and project sustainability.  

About England-Thims & Miller, Inc. 

England-Thims & Miller, Inc. (ETM), founded in 1977, is a Florida-based planning, civil engineering, surveying, and Construction, Engineering & Inspection (CEI) consultant, providing services to both public and private sector clients throughout North and Central Florida. ETM’s team members are focused on their diverse specialties, whether that be development consulting, program management, geospatial technologies, transportation, construction management (CEI), or surveying.  

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