The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES) is a far-reaching effort by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and the United States Botanic Garden to create a rating system and methodologies for truly sustainable sites. Like LEED, SITES is a voluntary effort, and therefore will need some serious traction to gain momentum. In researching the progress of various initiatives, I was pleasantly surprised to see who was leading the way.
In addition to our work on sustainable outdoor spaces for organizations’ and institutions’ campuses, Studioverde teams on federal projects. When President Obama signed Executive Order (EO) 15314 in October 2009 to establish sustainability goals for Federal agencies, I was pretty excited. The federal government system is usually not recognized for innovation and cost savings, but with this action and the resulting projects underway, it just might be the biggest boost to the SITES model.
Just take a look at the Sustainable Sites Initiative website – in addition to the Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009 (PDF download) you can access the Guidance for Federal Agencies on Sustainable Practices for Designed Landscapes (Federal SITES Guidelines) (PDF download) that is based in part on the SITES credit system.
I decided to reach out to people involved in the Federal Guidelines and SITES to gauge progress on some of their projects. Ray Mims, Conservation and Sustainability Manager, US Botanic Garden (USBG), helped lead the working group that developed the Federal Guidelines and was very engaged in working with federal agencies on implementation. Ray helped me contact agency people on the Core Federal SITES Committee, who shared ideas on implementation and the evolution of sustainable site development methodologies in their work.
The African American History and Cultural Museum courtesy of the Smithsonian
• Bill Donnelly, ASLA, Smithsonian, acknowledged that SITES and the Federal Guidelines are definitely changing their approach on project planning and design. The African American History and Cultural Museum on the Mall is due to open in 2015, and is a SITES Pilot Project.
• The Development plan for the Department of Homeland Security’s St. Elizabeth’s Campus, a National Historic Landmark, included a “Landscape Integration Plan” that used SITES criteria.
• Darren DeStefano, Horticulturist, GSA Public Building Service had good things to say about the US Tax Court in downtown DC (a SITES Pilot Project), “The plaza now functions as a biological system, converting stormwater and carbon (from vehicular emissions) into cellulose, oxygen and habitat.”
US Tax Court green roof – courtesy of GSA
As of November, 2013 there are 23 SITES Certified Pilot Projects – ranging from residential to commercial and academic institutions. These, combined with the efforts being made at the federal level, demonstrate that the Sustainable Sites Rating System has the capacity to change how outdoor spaces will be planned, designed, maintained, and experienced.
by Lisa Cowan, PLA, ASLA, Principal, Studioverde
This post originally appeared in modified form at “The Field, The Professional Landscape Architect’s Network”, an online publication authored by members of the American Society of Landscape Architects’ Sustainable Design and Development Professional Practice Networks.