Every individually owned property parcel is a miniature watershed, points out Pamela Berstler, CEO of the Green Gardens Group (G3) in Los Angeles. “You can manage it to retain at least first flush onsite to build the carbon in the soil to reduce the amount of water and other inputs into that system,” she says. That concept is an eye-opener for those who have never contemplated the importance of rain on their roof or the billions of microbes in soil, but upon education, there is a high adoption rate of the watershed approach to landscaping, says Berstler.
G3 focuses on landscapes as a climate change solution, advocating for a holistic watershed approach starting with building living soil as exemplified by the acronym OWL—oxygen, water, and life. The company adopted the owl as its “spirit creature” to radiate “wisdom and energy” to grow the organization, she says. Berstler has a stack of accolades that affirm her approach. Private property landscapes have historically been regarded as ornamental and not part of the larger solution, “and yet the root zones of plants are the most powerful carbon-sequestering areas we have, and the most important for stormwater management in urban and agricultural settings,” she says. The G3 staff trains water supply professionals to better understand how rainwater can be an augmenting or primary water supply. They train stormwater professionals to understand the role that soil and moisture management play beyond infiltration, and the dynamics of the plant-soil-water relationship in landscapes. Distributed best management practices (BMPs) on private property can contribute significantly and less expensively to stormwater solutions, says Berstler. Trainings draw landscape architects, landscape contractors, civil engineers, policymakers from numerous agencies and municipalities, and Master Gardeners working with land grant universities. Participants complete 16 hours of coursework, conduct a site evaluation, and take an exam. Upon successful completion, they earn the EPA WaterSense Watershed Wise Landscape Professional Certification. They also design public landscapes, create materials promoting the watershed approach to landscaping, and consult with municipalities to develop programs. Additionally, G3 also produces a biannual soil summit.
What She Does Day to Day
Berstler’s typical day entails phone discussions of the watershed approach to landscaping with constituents. She also spends time in the field doing outreach and training professionals on how BMPs could be smaller and more distributed.
What Led Her to This Line of Work
Berstler earned a B.A. degree in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania. A self-described visionary and risk-taking entrepreneur, she worked as an investment banker in New York City, earned an MBA from UCLA, and worked as an entertainment investment banker in Los Angeles. She believed her path had moved her far away from the natural environment in which she was raised in Pennsylvania with a family that had a respect for and history with the land. She became fascinated with landscapes after purchasing her first house and turned to a career as a licensed landscape design/build contractor, an American Rain Water Catchment Systems Association Accredited Professional, a Qualified Water Efficient Landscaper, and a certified irrigation system auditor. She gained national exposure as the designer host of Rally Round the House, a Discovery Channel landscaping program for which she designed and constructed 30 gardens in Atlanta and Los Angeles in 50 weeks. In 2008, G3 was founded by what Berstler calls the seven “Founding Mothers” to address what they saw as a lack of standards in sustainable landscaping and to address the issue through design, consulting, education, and hands-on work.
What She Likes Best About Her Work
Berstler says she loves working with people and with different ideas and experiences. “I like water,” she says. “I love being challenged and growing. It’s satisfying to be part of a community of people who are in that eye of learning.”
Her Greatest Challenge
One of Berstler’s challenges is that landscaping is “so outside of the general understanding of climate change that it’s either ignored or severely discounted” by both water professionals and the general public. “Spreading the word as to why this all matters takes a lot of energy and has many barriers,” she adds. She has learned that some professionals need time to process the concept, but once they do, “it ends up being an incredible dialogue.”