News & Updates

November 7, 2019

Getting to Know You: Sarah Sutton


Today we are getting to know Sarah Sutton. Those of you who have been involved in the Bay-Friendly Landscaping & Gardening Coalition and EcoLandscape California know that Sarah has been involved in ReScape California (ReScape) for many years. An interest in becoming an illustrator was the door that opened to Sarah’s career as a landscape architect. It brought all of Sarah’s’ interests together, including biology, dimensional design, her love of nature. Sarah has worked for landscape design firms and in the public sector. While a student at UC Berkeley, California was in the midst of a drought; from the beginning her training and emphasis was on landscape architects as stewards of the land in climate unique to California. LEED certification was in its infancy; and her design projects ranged from ecosystems design and river restoration. In her last position as Principle at PlaceWorks, Sarah was hired to build a landscape architect practice concentrated on design, community and the environment for public sector projects: to create a sense of place. Her team worked on projects for parks, green streets, habitat restoration, trails, creek restoration, streetscapes, and urban plazas.

In 2004 StopWaste hired Sarah’s firm to develop materials for trainings and the Rater Program. It was ground-breaking at the time: it remains the only one of its kind that rates landscape design, install and maintenance using a scorecard system that supports compliance with permitting, ordinances, and local and state sustainability laws. The Rating system assures a regenerative approach to landscape design. Sarah took all that information, the ReScape Principles and ecological design, and wrote an award- winning book, The New American Front Yard: Kiss Your Grass Goodbye!  Sarah recently resigned from her position as ReScape California Board of Directors President after an almost five-year tenure.  In her role, she helped lead the evolution from Bay-Friendly Landscaping & Gardening Coalition to ReScape California as we expanded beyond the Bay Area. She also led the merger with ReScape of Sacramento nonprofit EcoLandscape California, about whom Sarah was familiar and had long admired. ReScape California is grateful for her leadership and wishes Sarah well. We look forward to exploring Sarah’s continued engagement with us.

  • What do you want to people to learn/do in your work with them? To understand the critical importance of a whole system approach using our 8 Principles as a nontoxic way of addressing landscapes. I want them to step up and take responsibility for tackling the climate crisis; we each have a part.
  • Name one thing you have learned over the years. To always question the “given,” and that “it’s always been this way.” It’s important to think out of the box for the solution, and not get stopped by what appears to be the rule.
  • A big failure that (you) turned into a positive. When I was married my husband and I decided to establish a scuba-diving store that also had classes. It lasted five years only; I knew I had to move on. It took courage to start it and it took courage to let go. I experienced and learned so much- about people, about the underwater environment, about ecosystems.
  • What is most precious to you? My family- and my friends. My precious one-year old grandson. Witnessing his innate curiosity gives me hope for the future, and completely galvanizes my work in this climate crisis.
  • What do you most value in your colleagues? They have a reverence for the planet, and the people who live on the planet. Our work makes a positive difference- environmentally and socially.
  • Who is/are your hero(es)? There are too many to name them all! Teresa Eade and Cynthia Havstad at Stopwaste. They created the Bay-Friendly programs that we are moving forward now. And Greta Thunberg! She won’t get stopped by old way thinking or the structure.
  • What is your greatest achievement? Establishing an award-winning landscape architect practice concentrated on design, community and the environment in our Berkeley office. I had a great team of very committed, talented staff.
  • What is the thing for which you want to be remembered? That I showed up and cared. That I made a difference for my friends and family. For my relationships. That I left the world a better place.
  • One thing/activity you are actively doing to address climate change and why? Now that I am semi-retired, and not on the Board, I want to find another way to get involved – on the Climate Change Consortium, in education, in motivating others to meaningful action.
  • What would you tell your younger self? Ask for help; you are not alone in the world. You don’t have to do it all yourself.
  • The one thing you have not done/achieved/experienced and want to do before you die. I can’t think of anything! I have lived such a rich life. I have lived on a boat, exhibited my art, written an award-winning book, had a career where I can see tangible positive effects, walked across Spain in 2017 (the Camino de Santiago). No- not one thing!
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