USGBC Readies Major Push on SITES

University of Texas at El Paso by Ten Eyck Landscape Architects / Terry Moore
University of Texas at El Paso by Ten Eyck Landscape Architects / Terry Moore

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has been on a rating system shopping spree for the past year. In addition to purchasing the Sustainable SITES Initiative™ (SITES®)*, it has since incorporated ParkSmart, a new rating system for parking garages; PEER, which covers power stations; and, most recently, Envision, a tool for making civic infrastructure more sustainable, developed by the Institute for Sustainable Infrastructure (ISI). At GreenBuild in Los Angeles, representatives from USGBC and its certification arm, Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), explained how their goal is to now identify all synergies across their expanded portfolio of 10 rating systems and then create “cross walks” that enable developers and designers to leverage credits across complex projects and rating systems. They want to streamline the process and reduce the cost and time in pursuing multiple certifications at once. A new online, data-based system called ARC, which will launch in December, is supposed to enable all of this.

In a session, Micah Silvey, director of certification at GBCI, said “with ARC, we can go broader and deeper. We can make integration happen.” But he admitted the next step, which is to align the rating systems’ real “intents and goals” will be a “harder,” more lengthy process. Already, USGBC and GBCI have identified 6 credits that can be shared between LEED v4 and SITES v2. But the mapping of synergies between all the other rating systems can be expected to take years.

Silvey made the case for adding SITES to USGBC’s portfolio of rating systems, arguing it will help raise the profile of landscape architects. “Landscape is no longer an afterthought. SITES can elevate a whole industry and profession,” bringing them to the table earlier on as part of an integrated design team. He also said it will increase the focus on landscape performance: “SITES is a tool to create a collaborative ecology to guide project teams and clients according to a set of performance-based goals.” Like LEED, SITES can also provide landscape project owners with “recognition, third-party verification, and accountability.”

To date, some 100 projects are now exploring certification with SITES v2, and 40 have registered. Two projects have achieved certification: The first out of the gate was the University of Texas at El Paso campus by Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, which received SITES Silver (see image above); and then, just last week, the Chicago Navy Pier by James Corner Field Operations, which received SITES Gold.

Chicago Navy Pier / The Architect's Newspaper
Chicago Navy Pier / The Architect’s Newspaper

Many more SITES certified projects are expected soon, in part because, earlier this year, the General Services Administration (GSA) issued a new policy: starting in fiscal year 2017, all landscape projects moving forward must be SITES certified. For Christian Gabriel, ASLA, national design director for landscape architecture, who championed this policy, “SITES is a way to enforce sustainability goals and get important third party verification,” said David Witek, senior vice president at USGBC, who also sees more governments following GSA’s lead. “Federal, state, and local governments helped launch LEED in the marketplace. They can do the same for SITES.” Already, California’s state government has made an exception to their moratorium on large-scale landscape architecture projects during the drought for SITES-certified projects.

GBCI also recently launched SITES Accredited Professional (AP) for landscape architects and designers who seek to “distinguish themselves in the marketplace.” Like the LEED AP exam, it will include 100 multiple choice questions, explained Khunteang Pa, director of credentialing at GBCI. If landscape architects register for the exam before June 30, 2017, they can take advantage of discount pricing of $300, or $100 off. Registrants can use the rating system, which is free, the reference guide, and the test specifications, which cover 7 knowledge domain areas, to prepare for the exam. Like LEED AP, those with SITES AP will need to maintain their credential by taking 30 hours of continuing education every two years.

USGBC and GBCI have high hopes for SITES: They want 200 SITES AP candidates registered by the end of November, in part to ensure they have enough people to finish their beta testing. “We still have about 50 percent to go with developing the exam,” said Pa.

Long-term, Silvey said, USGBC and GBCI want to see “thousands of SITES accredited professionals, with human resource departments adding SITES AP as a hiring requirement.” He sees SITES itself becoming a household name, with a billion square feet of projects certified. “We just need to scale up now.”

*SITES was developed through a collaborative, interdisciplinary effort of 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.

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