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2024 Deb Mitchell Research Grant Awarded



The Landscape Architecture Foundation (LAF) is pleased to announce the 2024 recipient of our $25,000 research grant.

The LAF Research Grant in Honor of Deb Mitchell is given annually to support a research project that is relevant and impactful for the professional practice of landscape architecture.

This year's winning proposal is Ethically Sourcing: Specifying Forced-Labor Free Materials in Landscape Architecture.

An estimated 28 million people worldwide are ensnared in forced labor today. While the United States Customs and Border Protection bans products made with forced labor, the lack of supply chain transparency and the disaggregated nature of the building material industry allow for products made with forced labor to inadvertently infiltrate the US market. The architecture, engineering, and construction (AEC) industry is one of the most at risk of unwittingly supporting forced labor practices in this way.

How can the field of landscape architecture evaluate its exposure risk to materials produced through forced labor? Can more conscientious sourcing of construction materials address this important question of social equity? Over the next year, a team at MNLA led by Noriko Maeda, RLA, ASLA and an academic partner, Franca Trubiano, PhD will explore these questions and more, researching how landscape architects can use project specifications and procurement processes to address these critical issues and help to advance fair labor practices. 

The research team’s main objective is to develop improved specification language samples for landscape architecture that integrate a social life cycle assessment. They also plan to develop a framework for scalable landscape materials research with the goal of propelling market transformation toward more equitable labor practices.

Work is already ongoing in the AEC industry to address forced labor. Inspired by and building on the Design for Freedom movement initiated by Grace Farms, the research team will seek to trace the risk for forced labor in the design and construction of landscape architecture projects. By investigating commonly specified products in landscape architecture such as synthetic turf, rubber safety surface, geotextile filter fabric, and recycled plastic lumber the group will develop analytical methods for evaluating the forced labor risk for these products. 

The research is expected to start in July and run for 12 months. As this project progresses, LAF will share research updates from the team, including a final report and webinar at the conclusion of the project. 

“This research project is unique in how directly it speaks to the practice of landscape architecture on a critical and timely issue,” said Emily McCoy, FASLA, a member of the LAF Board of Directors and Research Committee, Principal at Design Workshop, and Associate Professor of Practice at North Carolina State University. “It leverages a strong partnership between academia and practice—the essence of the Deb Mitchell Research Grant—while also having the potential to propel the profession forward.” 

LAF is pleased to support this important work and its potential to inform landscape architects about ethical sourcing in their work.


Principal Investigators

Noriko Maeda, RLA, ASLA is a Senior Associate at MNLA. With over 30 years of experience in practice, she is an advocate for fostering design stewardship to advance social equity and quality of life. 

Franca Trubiano, PhD is an Associate Professor of Architecture and Graduate Group Chair of the PhD Program in Architecture at the University of Pennsylvania’s Weitzman School of Design. Her research focuses on building materials including forced labor.


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LAF is grateful to the many individuals and organizations that provide financial support towards fulfilling our mission to support the preservation, improvement, and enhancement of the environment.

Much of what LAF is able to accomplish would not be possible without the thought leadership and financial investment of our major supporters, including ASLA, which provides over $125,000 of in-kind support annually.