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SITES rating system for sustainable landscapes

Sustainability has become an increasingly important factor for new and existing buildings, and th...

Sustainability has become an increasingly important factor for new and existing buildings, and the people who inhabit them, in recent years. The Sustainable SITES Initiative and rating system is looking to create the same awareness when it comes to developing sustainable landscapes.

Sustainable SITES Initiative“SITES is a great vehicle not only for landscape architects but architects to further sustainability outside the building’s skin,” said landscape architect and LEED accredited professional CeCe Haydock during a June 8 presentation at the Canada Green Building Council’s “Building Lasting Change 2016” conference at Toronto’s Allstream Centre.

The SITES program was developed through collaboration by the American Society of Landscape Architects, The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin and United States Botanic Garden. It’s an interdisciplinary effort to create voluntary guidelines and a rating system for sustainable land design, construction and maintenance practices for landscapes of all types, with or without buildings.

“Instead of just conserving landscapes, it helps rehabilitate and remake landscapes that have been degraded by development,” said Haydock. “Sustainable landscapes can help with ameliorating pollution as well as the heat island effect in cities.”

What SITES covers

SITES focuses on water, soils, vegetation, materials, human health and well-being. The rating system has different sections that cover: context; pre-design assessment and planning; water; soil and vegetation; materials selection; human health and well-being; construction; operations and maintenance; education and performance monitoring.

Sustainable landscapes provide ecosystem services and create ecologically resilient communities that are better able to withstand and recover from floods, droughts, wildfires and other catastrophic events. SITES-certified landscapes also help to reduce water demand, filter and reduce storm water runoff, provide wildlife habitat, reduce energy consumption, improve air quality, improve human health and increase outdoor recreation opportunities.

The U.S. Green Building Council is a stakeholder in the Sustainable SITES Initiative and has incorporated certain SITES credit content into iterations of the LEED green building rating system. Likewise, SITES has adapted LEED credits as part of its SITES v2 rating system when relevant and appropriate. Green Business Certification Inc. provides project certification and administration.

SITES uses a 200-point rating system and projects must meet a minimum of 70 points to achieve certification. There are four levels of achievement: SITES Certified; SITES Silver; SITES Gold; and SITES Platinum. There are 18 prerequisites within the rating system and the certification process allows projects to benchmark against performance criteria.

Recommendations from technical experts

SITES uses progressive industry standards for landscape design and incorporates additional recommendations from technical experts in the fields of social science, botany and horticulture, hydrology, materials and human health and well-being.

Development projects must have been built within the last two years and be at least 2,000 square feet in order to apply for a SITES certification. Eligible sites include: open spaces such as parks; botanic gardens; arboretums; streetscapes and plazas; parking lots; retail and office areas; corporate campuses; residential neighbourhoods or individual yards; public and private school campuses; museums; hospitals; infrastructure projects; government buildings; military installations; industrial parks; golf courses; and cemeteries.

The SITES rating system is being used by landscape architects, designers, engineers, architects, developers, policymakers and others.

SITES pilot program

A SITES pilot program included 150 projects in the United States from 2010 to 2015 and, of those, 47 were certified.

Haydock worked on a SITES-certified, 19-acre site at Hempstead Plains in Long Island, N.Y. that hosts the only prairie east of the Appalachian Mountains. It includes a visitor centre/classroom constructed from old shipping containers that incorporates a green roof, as well as an area with photovoltaic panels. A children’s play area is planned, but funding hasn’t yet been received for it.

“It’s a highly protected and valued area,” said Haydock. “This is an oasis in a developed part of Long Island.”

Haydock cited other SITES projects during her presentation, many of which can be viewed here.

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