Simmons Receives Environmental Award

by | May 1, 2013 | Pressroom

Dr. Mark Simmons, director of research and consulting at The University of Texas at Austin’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, has been recognized for his significant impact on environmental awareness and policy by the state chapter of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

Simmons oversees the center’s Ecosystem Design Group (EDG), which conducts research to improve urban green infrastructure and consults on sustainable approaches to developing landscapes. He will be honored at a noon awards luncheon Thursday, May 2, at the Palmer Event Center in Austin during the chapter’s annual meeting.

As the center’s research director, Simmons has led a comprehensive study of the features of manufactured vegetated (green) roofs that identified native plants that function well on them in subtropical climates. The 2008 study also revealed successes and shortfalls in current green roofs’ ability to provide environmental benefits such as retaining and purifying storm water. The EDG has consulted on the design of  green roofs in Austin, and has received funding from the City of Austin and Huntsman Inc. to study ways to enhance the capabilities of these roofs for use in the South.

In addition, Simmons oversees research on a native lawn option that needs less watering, mowing, and herbicide than traditional turf grasses in the South. This lawn alternative, called Habiturf™, is composed of native grasses and has been installed at the Wildflower Center and on the George W. Bush Presidential Center campus, which opens today at Southern Methodist University.

EDG also supplied general design guidance for the campus’ 23 acres to reap the benefits that native plant communities provide.  Working as a consultant to Michael Van Valkenburgh Associates Inc. the center staff suggested ways to use wildflowers and other native species as part of features such as six-plus acres of prairie, one acre of meadows and nine acres of Habiturf™.

Among other clients the EDG has worked with have been the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer on the 8-mile San Antonio Mission Reach project; Advanced Micro Devices and their all-native Lone Star campus; the National Park Service in Colorado, Oklahoma and Texas; and Catellus Development on the 711-acre Mueller development in Austin.  Many of these projects have brought back native prairie that has been decimated in the Midwest by development, but serves as a major sink for the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide.

Simmons has directed research at the Wildflower Center since 2000 and became EDG director in 2010. He also has studied ecological restoration through the use of prescribed fire and other approaches, as well as ways to control invasive species and soil erosion and to manage storm water. He teaches university and professional courses on ecological landscape design and sits on several technical committees, including one for the national Sustainable Sites Initiative™.