According to the recent American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) Business Quarterly Survey, demand for landscape architecture and design is on an upswing. While negative indicators persist, the positives have now outstripped them for three quarters running.

Nearly 66 percent of firm leaders reported steady or increased billable hours in the third quarter of 2010, and nearly 70 percent reported steady or higher inquiries for new projects. However, the ASLA notes that these positive conditions have not resulted in increased employment in the industry. Only about 15 percent of firms say they are planning to hire in the upcoming quarter; but this is still a healthy improvement over the same period last year, when only 11.8 percent were planning to hire during the fourth quarter.

Landscape architecture firms likely will need to see steadier signs of improvement in the economy as a whole before they begin hiring again. Like architecture firms, landscape architecture firms are still facing a difficult road ahead as clients' access to credit remains limited and competition for projects is high, noted ASLA executive vice president and CEO Nancy Somerville, Hon. ASLA, in a statement.

To gain a competitive advantage in a challenging market, 54 percent of landscape architecture firm leaders report they sometimes market sustainability as part of their efforts to acquire new business, while nearly 15 percent say they use sustainability to gain an edge most or all of the time. Levels of interest and actual knowledge of sustainability among clients is somewhat disconnected, according to the ASLA survey. Interest is high, firm leaders report, but 35 percent say their clientele is not very knowledgeable. Still, another 48 percent say their clients are somewhat knowledgeable, and 9.6 percent say their clients are very knowledgeable. 

Government regulations, codes, and other construction standards are the primary drivers of clients' interest in sustainable design, report 50 percent of firms. Reducing utility or maintenance costs is the second most common reason clients ask for sustainable landscape design, according to 43 percent of firms. Adding marketing cachet (38.7 percent) and reducing environmental impact (38 percent) also are motivating clients, firms say, as is qualifying for government incentives such as tax breaks or quicker approvals (28 percent).