Take a walk on campus at Stony Brook and you’ll have plenty to look at, especially in warmer months. Flowers, trees and ornamental landscaping elements are strategically placed to catch your eye.
It takes hard work to keep all 1,039 acres of campus looking beautiful, but Stony Brook is committed to making choices that are not only aesthetically pleasing, but sustainable, cost effective and safe for the environment.
“Sustainable landscaping is important to us on many levels, not the least of which is our responsibility to make a contribution to the larger context of the need for sustainability,” said Dallas Bauman III, assistant vice president for Campus Residences. “In particular, the landscaping around the residences is supported by what students pay to live on campus, and our efforts to make these enhancements sustainable is not only good practice, but also has the potential to save students money now and in the future.”
While sustainable landscaping may sound like a modern practice that’s gained popularity with an increased global focus on “green” living, it’s really been around as long as the landscaping profession itself, says Richard Gibney, a registered landscape architect (RLA) who has provided consulting services to the university for more than 20 years.
“Sustainability is a wide-reaching concept. It’s about respect for the land, your environment and future generations,” says Gibney. “The Native Americans were and still are famous for it. We have discovered over the past 30 years (with ample evidence) that past practices degrade the earth, water and air quality. ‘New’ practices — some more than a 100 years old — not only support the concept of sustainable design, but make practical sense: recycle more, discard less; use more renewable energy and fewer fossil fuels; choose green products more and plastics less, and so on.”
Stony Brook President Samuel L. Stanley Jr. fully supports a sustainable campus.
“Care for the environment has never been more important, and we have a unique opportunity as a university to hand that message on to the next generation,” President Stanley said. “When we ensure our landscaping choices are sustainable, we set a precedent for environmental awareness and conscientiousness in our Stony Brook community and for other universities.”
The Office of Sustainability works to ensure we minimize waste, use energy wisely and develop an overall culture of sustainability on campus. In academics, an interdisciplinary field of Sustainability Studies is offered through the School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, which includes five majors, six minors and a graduate certificate.
As part of Stony Brook’s continued commitment to sustainability, each of the residence hall quads is on a six-year renovation cycle to ensure proper upkeep. Landscaping is usually reviewed and altered as needed during that time.
Here’s how it works: Gibney and his team draw up a base plan for the area, and it goes back to the university for suggestions and changes. Once the plan is finalized, contractors hired by the university do the actual landscaping with Gibney’s supervision.
“Landscape architects have been doing sustainable design forever,” Gibney said. “I always strive to make choices that favor drought tolerance and insect resistance. For example, the Canadian Hemlock attracts a lot of insects, which requires spraying, so it’s not sustainable. We’re going to want to plant something else instead.”
In general, he’s looking for tough plants that can withstand intense climates while requiring minimal upkeep. Perennials, ornamental grasses and plants that won’t outgrow their space are the best fits, he said.
Campus walkways also play an important role in Stony Brook’s overall sustainability. Gibney explained that he takes note of where students are walking or creating footpaths and works to provide wide bluestone paths in those locations, such as the inner courtyard of Kelly Quad. This way, the plants won’t be trampled and need replacing, especially when hundreds of students are leaving classes at once.
Recently, as the local deer population has begun to make its way onto campus, deer-friendly plants such as hostas needed to be replaced with ones that aren’t appealing to them, including ferns, yew and andromeda.
While the landscape team does much of the heavy lifting to ensure the campus stays green in the future, Gibney said there’s one simple thing students and staff can do to help: Don’t litter, and pick up trash if you see it.
“It’s incredibly rewarding to work with a landscape architect, as well as the contractors who execute the plan to beautify the settings around campus residences,” Bauman said. “Landscaping enhancements have been one of the most rewarding and enduring aspects of working to improve the experience here at Stony Brook.”
— Melissa Arnold