Throughout the nation and here on Auburn’s campus, developers are beginning to focus more on creating buildings and landscapes that are both beautiful and sustainable. Charlene LeBleu, Associate Professor of Landscape Architecture, is one of the people working towards turning this idea into reality.
Growing up in Saint Augustine, Florida, Charlene developed an interest in horticulture early before going on to win 4-H competitions in that category at the state and national level. Her interest later turned to ecology and conservation ethics, leading her to earn a Bachelor’s degree in Forest Resources and Conservation from the University of Florida.
Charlene’s interest in sustainability was piqued when, while working as a conservationist in Lee County, Georgia, she designed and installed one of the first agricultural stormwater wetlands to provide water quality protection to a local stream. In 1986, she established her own horticulture based design-build firm, collaborating with landscape architects, architects, and engineers throughout the country to restore and maintain landscapes.
After completing a major flood restoration project in Albany, Georgia, Charlene’s colleagues encouraged her to pursue professional degrees in landscape architecture and planning. She graduated Magna Cum Laude from Auburn in 2003 with a Master of Landscape Architecture and a Master of Community Planning.
As a student, she earned several awards for her designs and writing. Upon graduation she agreed to stay and teach for a year, and never left. Now, Charlene’s classes provide her students with service-learning opportunities using real-world projects, and over the past decade she and her students have assisted more than fifteen underserved Alabama communities through their work in planning, design, and grant assistance.
Charlene is a lifetime member and the current national president of Sigma Lambda Alpha, the international landscape architecture honor society. In this position she works to promote excellence of scholarship and service to students studying the profession. She is committed to teaching her students to value the health, safety, and welfare of humanity, and to understand that their work can make the world a better place.
Additionally, she has advanced the public’s knowledge of landscape architecture through her work. With the help of her partners, Charlene has provided scientific information for use in research in subject areas such as rain gardens, permeable concrete, constructed wetlands, stream restoration, and green roofs. For her efforts, Charlene was awarded the national designation of Fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects, and also received an Auburn University Spirit of Sustainability Award.
What Charlene enjoys most is watching her students become competent professionals who value sustainable design and embrace the ethic of making the world a better place. For her, the most important thing for students to learn is that, although just one sustainable element in a design is an achievement, a chain of these elements creates a system with benefits extending far beyond that one project.
Many people think that innovative, more sustainable designs are more costly and time-consuming than conventional ones, but this is not the case. When they’re planned for from the inception of a project, they actually have lower costs and require no more or even less time to complete.
To counteract these common misconceptions, Charlene suggests creating educational programs for decision-makers that focus on planning, design, cost, and implementation of sustainable design projects. Once decision-makers understand the environmental aesthetic, and financial benefits of sustainable design, their decision about what kind of a project to build becomes easy.
For anyone interested in green design or any other aspect of sustainability, Charlene recommends joining an organization that values sustainability, or volunteering with a group that’s working toward related goals either on campus or in the greater community.
Charlene reminds us that the way we do things makes a big difference in what kind of impact we have on people and the planet, positive or negative. Informed, sustainable approaches enable us to tread more lightly on the Earth, creating more positive conditions for the generations to come.
Post contributed by Alicia Valenti, Office of Sustainability Intern
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“Sustainable” often is equated with “low energy” consumption and a certain building standard whereby the walls don’t “collapse” after the mortgage is paid up, so to speak. However, as Tainter has pointed out, societies throughout history collapsed once they went above and beyond their “sustainable” degree of COMPLEXITY, not necessarily resource depletion etc. (though that plays a role too of course). Taking this yardstick, a lot of so-called “sustainable building” is anything but: smartmeters, smart grids, photovoltaic panels with a life span of maybe only two decades and an efficiency one third of a tenth as complex and expensive thermal solar panels, forced closed-loop heating and ventilation and many active elements that should best be controlled via a smartphone while crossing the Atlantic in a plane 30,000 feet high, all these added complexities come to an utter standstill and render these “houses” (machines would be a better word) totally uninhabitable, e.g. if a solar flare or EMP event took out the grid etc.