Climate Positive Design: Pathfinder 2.0

by Pamela Conrad, ASLA, PLA, LEED AP, and Paulina Tran, Affiliate ASLA

image: CMG Landscape Architecture

Climate change is front and center as the world is experiencing unprecedented natural disasters, wreaking devastating, visible impacts on our society and the planet.

CMG Landscape Architecture Principal Pamela Conrad and her team of landscape architects, environmental designers, data scientists, and tech gurus continues to advance Climate Positive Design—a movement to improve the carbon impact of the built environment through collective action. Since its launch in the fall of 2019, Climate Positive Design provides accessible tools, guidance, and resources to have a positive impact on climate change.

Pathfinder 2.0

Available on, the Pathfinder is a free web-based app that provides project-specific guidance on reducing carbon footprints while increasing carbon sequestration. Users receive instant carbon feedback and a Climate Positive Scorecard with detailed statistics that can be plugged directly into Life Cycle Assessments (LCAs) and design suggestions to improve carbon impacts.

Pathfinder 2.0 was released August 2020 with new features and improvements since the initial launch on September 30, 2019 that include:

  • Metric units
  • Addition of custom material, plant, and operational inputs
  • Comparison of design alternatives
  • Analysis of existing conditions
  • Understanding site impacts
  • Grading impacts
  • Existing tree impacts (cutting down trees, mulching, converting into timber and site furnishings or biochar)
  • Soil amendment or import

To learn more about Climate Positive Design’s Pathfinder 2.0, register now to join us on September 30.

The app also includes new updates to better estimate and understand the carbon impacts of projects and overall impact of the profession, including:

  • Project completion date
  • Project Type—Test/Academic study or Project to be built
  • Accounting for material replacement over time
  • Planting emissions
  • Information icons for easy access to assumptions behind calculations
  • New Expanded Data Report provides more transparency into the metrics, data sources, calculations and assumptions

For a full update on Pathfinder and Climate Positive Design, keep reading here.

image: CMG Landscape Architecture

The Challenge’s Global Reach and Impact

Since its launch in September 2019, Climate Positive Design has expanded its reach all over the globe, making significant initial carbon impacts. In the first six months, 621 contributors signed up for the Challenge from 46 countries. 858 projects logged in Pathfinder resulted in 558,286 trees being planted, equivalent to 302,432 cars taken off the road in 10 years. The firms contributing the most projects to the Challenge are:

CMG Landscape Architecture continues to advance Climate Positive Design in its projects including the development of the Vision Plan for Alameda Point DePave Park. / image: CMG Landscape Architecture
Existing conditions at Alameda Point. / image: CMG Landscape Architecture

Design in Action: Alameda DePave Park

CMG Landscape Architecture continues to advance Climate Positive Design in its projects including the development of the Vision Plan for Alameda Point DePave Park. The design team utilized the Pathfinder app to improve the project’s carbon impact. The existing site will take 331 years to offset its carbon footprint. The new design will take four years to offset its carbon emission and will remediate the previous land use in 23 years.

Climate Positive Design Takes a Team

The Climate Positive Design team continues to educate designers, municipalities and the everyday gardener about the carbon impacts of the landscape through lectures, webinars, and conferences globally.

Pamela will be speaking at reVISION ASLA 2020, ASLA San Diego, Greenbuild, and Temple University. Eustacia Brossart, Associate at CMG Landscape Architecture, is bringing Climate Positive Design to Greenbuild 2020 with her session “The Missing Pieces: The Next Frontier of Zero Carbon.” Kate Lenahan, Designer at CMG Landscape Architecture, recently spoke at East Bay Municipal Utility District and Santa Clara Valley Water District’s Landscape Summit. Watch Kate’s presentation on Climate Positive Design here. Climate Positive Design Research Assistant Deanna Lynn, Student ASLA’s MLA research project from the University of Oregon applies recent science in soil carbon sequestration to landscape architecture through a lens of complex adaptive systems. Read her full thesis here.

For a full list of designers, advisors, and collaborators, visit

image: CMG Landscape Architecture

Recent Awards and Accomplishments

In recent months, Climate Positive Design and Pathfinder have been recognized for their contribution to the landscape profession and the profession’s impact on the climate.

The Pathfinder was honored with R+D Award by Architect Magazine. According to one R+D Award juror, “This feels like a tool that gets designers engaged with material choices and material impacts very early in the design process.”

Climate Positive Design was also awarded a 2020 Professional Honor Award in Research by the American Society of Landscape Architects. According to the ASLA Professional Awards jury: “The benefits of landscape architecture to air quality have long been touted, but ways of quantifying how a design can be carbon-positive have eluded the profession. Through analysis of 20 case studies, a team of landscape architects has developed a design toolkit illustrating more than 80 carbon positive landscape intervention strategies. A companion application allows instant calculation of carbon impact based on quantity and variety of plants input in users’ designs, to enable better understanding of efforts toward reducing emissions and increasing sequestration across a project. These kinds of real-time feedback will be crucial for the profession, and for the world, to avoid the irreversible climate damage we will encounter without meaningful reductions in emissions.”

What’s Next

Climate Positive Design is collaborating with the USGBC to develop pilot credits for LEED and SITES to recognize projects that are incorporating site carbon reductions and increasing carbon sequestration.

Pathfinder is also expanding its product library and incorporating manufactured products. Vestre is the first product sponsor to join, and all are welcome to contribute.

A huge thank you to our supporters—CMG Landscape Architecture, ACLA, and Atelier Ten—whose generous donations supported the advancement of Pathfinder and continuation of empowerment and education of designers to take climate action. Donations greatly expand the reach of the initiative and are much appreciated.

image: CMG Landscape Architecture

All are encouraged to be part of the solution—join Climate Positive Design by taking action through your work.

Pamela Conrad, ASLA, PLA, LEED AP, is a Principal and Paulina Tran, Affiliate ASLA, is Communications Manager at CMG Landscape Architecture.

Leave a Reply