The Sustainable Sites Initiative

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The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) is an interdisciplinary partnership led by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin and the United States Botanic Garden to transform land development and management practices through the nation’s first voluntary guidelines and rating system for sustainable landscapes. These guidelines apply to any type of designed landscape, with or without buildings, including commercial and public sites, parks, campuses, roadsides, residential landscapes, recreation centers and utility corridors.

The Missing Link

According to Mike Cowden, Public Relations and Communications Coordinator for the American Society of Landscape Architects, current green building rating systems (developed by the USGBC and other organizations) offer excellent tools for new and existing buildings, but relatively little beyond a building’s skin. Correctly built landscapes that mimic the natural world will help fill this critical gap.

“Existing design and construction rating systems include little recognition of the benefits of sustainable landscape and site design,” notes Cowden. “While carbon-neutral performance remains the holy grail for green buildings, sustainable landscapes move beyond a do-no-harm approach by sequestering carbon, cleaning the air and water, increasing energy efficiency, restoring habitats and ultimately giving back through significant economic, social and environmental benefits never fully measured until now.”

The U.S. Green Building Council, a stakeholder in the Initiative, anticipates incorporating SITES guidelines and performance benchmarks into future iterations of its LEED Green Building Rating System.

“The USGBC recognizes there is a need within LEED to improve the site components,” says Cowden. “The USGBC supports SITES, is participating in the initiative and is currently incorporating SITES guidelines and performance benchmarks into portions of LEED. The USGBC is a very close partner with us and has been instrumental in helping us develop SITES.”

About the Rating System

Modeled after LEED, the SITES benchmarks include 15 prerequisites and 51 potential credits, which collectively make up a 250-point-scale rating system. Projects can earn one through four stars for obtaining 40%, 50%, 60% or 80% of the total points, respectively.

Prerequisites and credits cover areas such as the use of greenfields, brownfields or greyfields; materials; soils and vegetation; and construction and maintenance. These credits can apply to projects ranging from corporate campuses to transportation corridors, from public parks to single-family residences. The rating system is part of two new reports issued from the Initiative,

The Case for Sustainable Landscapes and Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009. The guidelines and performance benchmarks, as well as the rating system, can be used by anyone in the design, construction and maintenance fields, as well as homeowners, governments and those who maintain existing green building standards.