Heal the Landscape and Ourselves

Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoon / MLive
Bronson Hospital in Kalamazoo, Michigan / MLive

“Healing must begin with a discussion about woundedness,” said Todd Degner, Affil. ASLA, in a moving and powerful presentation at the ASLA 2016 Annual Meeting in New Orleans. By sharing both images of himself as a child and the story of his own trauma, Degner recalled the place that was his refuge. The canopy of a spirea hedge became a fortress, a place that called to him and helped him heal himself, and “smelled like hope.” Degner, along with Naomi Sachs, ASLA, founder of the Therapeutic Landscapes Network; Jerry Smith, FASLA, Smith/GreenHealth Consulting; and Virginia Burt, FASLA, Virginia Burt Designs, provided research, guidelines, and emotional anecdotes to inspire landscape architects and designers to heal ourselves and our landscapes.

As designers, “stories of the wounded fall in our lap without resolution,” said Degner. While we cannot know the outcome of these stories, they entreat designers to be mindful – to be merciful and healing. Through a simple landscape devise, landscape architects and designers can transfer deeper truths and offer paths to healing.

Many among us have sought out landscapes for solace for our own traumas or personal struggles, including Sachs, as she shared with the audience. She also shared research to help designers who may be met with resistance to their “best intentions,” as elements are cut through value engineering or tight budgets.

For example, a 5-minute-a-day walk in a natural environment can lead to decreased levels of depression and stress. For children with ADHD, 20-minutes in a park can result in fewer symptoms with results similar to a dose of Ritalin.

Even if a person is unwilling or unable to be active in a natural setting, studies prove just living near nature and trees can have such effects as better test scores for girls and decreased instances of domestic violence. Access to nature simply makes people exhibit “more pro-social behavior.”

Healing Garden / Edgerton Hospital and Health Services
Healing Garden / Edgerton Hospital and Health Services

But, as Smith reminds us, it isn’t just the individual that needs healing, but also our landscapes. Working through a process of “evidence based design,” landscape architects can convince clients “there is a reason we want to do these things, it’s not just a matter of taste.”

There has been a paradigm shift in how we talk about our landscapes. It is no longer enough to conserve, but we have to regenerate the land through performative landscapes in order to start healing. There are a number of initiatives to help us get there. The Sustainable SITES Initiative™ (SITES®) has taken “deep dive into sustainability,” and added to the list of the usual considerations of a place like water, soil, and plants, goals like the health and well-being of humanity.

Humans play a role in healing the landscape, and, in turn, it can heal us. If we are to accept this mutual responsibility, we must approach our designs holistically, and, as Burt said, with “intention.” Designs must acknowledge the emotional response that so often comes from plants. Smell can be a deep trigger for memory. For Burt, this pursuit of intention is spiritual and leads her design process: “where intention goes, energy flows.”

For the University Hospital Schneider Healing Garden adjacent to the Seidman Cancer Center (SCC) in downtown Cleveland, she created a healing garden at its front door. Starting with input from staff and inspiration from poetry, she arrived at a garden where the transformative process of healing can begin. The garden offers patients and staff places of quiet and contemplation, and sensory experiences that elevate and transport.

Schneider Healing Garden / Brad Feinknopf
Schneider Healing Garden / Brad Feinknopf

As Degner mentioned, healing is a process, and there is no quick fix. A therapeutic garden, no matter how perfectly designed, will not immediately solve all our woes.

“Healing begins with hospitality,” from our family, friends, and the professionals who help us heal. Designers can offer hospitality, too – a place that “covers, protects, and is in a setting abounding with life.” Degner offered this benediction: “say ‘yes’ to the call to help wounded people and wounded landscapes.” It is the calling of landscape architecture.

First SITES v2 Certified Landscapes Create Real Impact

University of Texas at El Paso / Ten Eyck Landscape Architects
University of Texas at El Paso / Ten Eyck Landscape Architects

Certifying your landscape project with the Sustainable SITES Initiative™ (SITES®)* can seem like an expensive, onerous process. So why bother? For Jamie Statter, vice president at the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), SITES gives landscape architects the “opportunity to do it right” and have an impact in the fight against climate change. In a session at GreenBuild in Los Angeles, she and two SITES consultants working with landscape architects on the first SITES v2 certified projects explained why it’s worth the extra effort.

In the face of sprawl, which is helping to speed climate change, “we must better value land as a resource. Sprawl is not about buildings; it’s about the landscape,” argued Statter. In too many places, sprawl happens because “land and water resources are undervalued.” With SITES, she said, “we can value the elements of the landscape that provide benefits that haven’t been monetized.” Through incorporating an ecosystem services-based approach, land owners can save crucial natural resources, reduce carbon emissions, and even make money.

Under SITES, landscape architects and designers can create broader impact through a range of projects: playgrounds, parks, university campuses, water reclamation projects, transportation systems, military facilities, and others. The site just must be a minimum of 2,000 square feet and must be new construction or a major renovation. The rating system tops out at 200 points, but it only takes 135 to reach platinum. SITES enables many kinds of approaches that fit local climates.

With the recent launch of SITES Approved Professional (AP), landscape architects now have “the chance to get ahead and further differentiate themselves,” she added.

The First SITES v2 Certified Project: The University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP)

Heather Venhaus, an environmental designer and author of Designing the Sustainable Site: Integrated Design Strategies for Small-Scale Sites and Residential Landscapes, was a consultant on the campus redesign project led by Christine Ten Eyck, FASLA, at Ten Eyck Landscape Architects, which was the first SITES v2 certified project, achieving a Silver rating. As Venhaus explained, UTEP is among the top rated campuses for upward mobility, meaning many of its students are the first among their families to attend university, so this project is also about social equity.

For the university’s centennial celebration, they revamped their 11-acre, greyfield campus covered in parking lots, spending some $14 million to transform it into a landscape that not only reflects the beauty of the native Chihuahuan desert ecosystem, but also rebuilds the ancient arroyos (rivers) that were once covered over by parking lots. Due to all that asphalt, the campus had major flooding problems. After those arroyos were restored, the water collected and infiltrated through the campus, managing water from up to a 95th percentile storm event. Any excess now flows out to the Rio Grande River instead of inundating the campus.

University of Texas at El Paso arroyos / Ten Eyck Landscape Architects
University of Texas at El Paso arroyos / Ten Eyck Landscape Architects

Before, the campus was filled with parking lots; now, it has outdoor seating for 1,800. “Spaces for mental respite went up 64 percent.” At night, many of these social spaces have gas fire pits, so students can hold events outside under the starry desert sky. “The campus now helps students’ cognitive abilities, creating spaces for healing nature.”

University of Texas at El Paso / Ten Eyck Landscape Architects
University of Texas at El Paso / Ten Eyck Landscape Architects

The transformation led to a 61 percent reduction in water use, with a 60 percent increase in vegetation, and a 98 percent increase in the native plant palette. Some 90 percent of demolition materials were diverted from the landfill and recycled on site. Venhaus said, “let no one tell you it’s hard to recycle asphalt. It’s the easiest thing to do.”

According to Venhaus, they lost points with SITES because they weren’t able to incorporate much recycled local materials. “We just couldn’t get recycled content, because the local market in El Paso didn’t have it.”

But the process was ultimately worth it, and the costs were relatively low. She said it’s possible to “use SITES and stay within budget if you start with the rating system from the beginning, using the pre-design assessment. You may have spend more on materials and documentation, but it’s typically less than 3 percent of the overall budget. About 1-3 percent.”

In an email, Ten Eyck wrote: “We are glad that we mentioned going after the certification at the beginning of the project to Diana Natalicio, the president of UTEP.  She was all for it and gave us the back up for pursuing the certification, so we were able to incorporate the SITES strategies from the beginning of the design process. We learned that it can be difficult in remote areas, such as El Paso, to meet all of the criteria, because it is so far away from many manufacturers. The campus is thrilled to have received the certification, and the project is helping to convey to the El Paso region and beyond the importance of connecting people with each other and the beauty of their unique desert regions, away from cars. Campuses of the southwest do not have to copy British or ivy league approaches. Instead, we can celebrate the beauty of the people and the places of the southwest in our own special way.”

The Second SITES v2 Certified Project: Chicago Navy Pier

Bryan Astheimer, an architect and sustainability consultant at Re:Vision Architecture, worked with James Corner Field Operations to achieve SITES Gold certification for the transformation of the Chicago Navy Pier. For its bicentennial the Chicago Navy Pier put out an international design competition to reimagine the pier landscape, which Corner’s firm won.

The pier is the only one of the five Chicago architect and planner David Burnham envisioned as part of the 1919 comprehensive plan for Chicago to actually have been built. For decades it was used by the Navy, and then, in 1995 it was revamped as a “festival pier,” with a convention center, children’s museum, Shakespeare theater, restaurants, and amusement park. For decades, it has been the “number-one tourist destination in the Midwest,” Astheimer said. But the city found that the pier had begun to look “tired, not contemporary.” For many Chicagoans, it’s really a place only for tourists.

The first phase of the pierscape project, some 9 acres, redesigned the entry — the Polk Brothers Park and Headhouse Plaza — and the south dock, the long spine that connects the various rooms of the pier. Field Operations more fully integrated the entry plaza into existing transit systems, adding bike racks, bike share stations.

Chicago Navy Pier entry plaza / Sahar Coston-Hardy
Chicago Navy Pier entry plaza / Sahar Coston-Hardy

The spine itself is a marvel of landscape engineering. Before, stormwater would simply run right off into Lake Michigan. Now, expansive tree tanks cut right into the pier with giant saws are large enough so they can store any excess water that falls on the pier. “Water is stored in the tanks where it’s used to irrigate the landscape. Any excess is filtered and then discharged.”

Chicago Navy Pier / Sahar Coston-Hardy
Chicago Navy Pier / Sahar Coston-Hardy

The number-one cost item on the project were the thousands and thousands of herringbone-patterned pavers needed to cover the pier. “We ended up custom specifying a paver with UniLock, but they couldn’t meet the SITES specification for 40 percent recycled content. They ended up creating a paver with 30 percent copper slag. It’s now on their website as part of their eco product line.” What began as a limitation ultimately resulted in market transformation.

Chicago Navy Pier / Sahar Coston-Hardy
Chicago Navy Pier / Sahar Coston-Hardy

Astheimer said “SITES makes you think through the site before you begin design. It forces you to use a quantifiable framework that creates learning opportunities” for all the designers and contractors involved. All the challenges that came out of this new process “were all opportunities for learning. Challenges create growth and ultimately value.” He believes that “SITES will drive the industry to become more sustainable and transparent.”

Sarah Weidner Astheimer, ASLA, principal, James Corner Field Operations, wrote in: “We are excited to celebrate the gold SITES certification of Navy Pier’s South Dock, the first phase in its complete renovation. SITES informed much of our design process, from access and circulation studies to plant and material specifications. It was an important tool that kept our client, our contractor, and design team accountable to a high standard of best practices and resulted in an unprecedented project—the transformation of Chicago’s Navy Pier into an authentic and green destination reflective of the city’s identity.”

*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.

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.


Green Business Certification Inc.
Green Business Certification Inc.

Green Business Certification Inc.™ (GBCI) announces a new credential for landscape architects and sustainability professionals launching Oct. 1, 2016. The Sustainable SITES Initiative™ (SITES®) Accredited Professional (AP) establishes a common framework to define the profession of sustainable landscape design and development and provides landscape professionals with the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge, expertise and commitment to the profession.

The SITES rating system is a comprehensive program for developing sustainable landscapes that aligns land development and management with innovative sustainable design. SITES defines what a sustainable site is and, ultimately, elevates the value of landscapes in the built environment.

“As LEED® has undeniably transformed the built environment, SITES has the power to transform land development and use to help reduce water demand and improve air quality and human health while also connecting people to nature,” said Mahesh Ramanujam, president, GBCI and chief operating officer, USGBC®.

“The introduction of the new SITES credential signifies the growing understanding that a sustainable built environment is not just what is inside the four walls of our homes or offices, but also includes a holistic approach to site selection and landscape development. The SITES AP will designate the leaders in sustainable landscape design and will be an important tool for professionals looking to grow their careers and impact the direction of land development and management.”

SITES provides a metrics-based approach to important concepts like ecosystem services and green infrastructure so that developers and owners can make informed decisions about their land use. Used by landscape architects, engineers, architects, developers, policy makers and others, SITES aims to transform the landscape development and management practices by enabling the creation of regenerative systems and fostering resiliency, ensuring future resource supply and helping mitigate climate change through careful land planning and development practices.

The rating system can be applied to development projects located on sites with or without buildings and draws on the experience gained from a two-year pilot program involving more than 100 projects. Today, 47 projects have achieved SITES certification under the pilot, including landscape projects at corporate headquarters, national and city parks, academic campuses and private homes.

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.

The first sponsored testing opportunity for the SITES AP exam will be held on Oct. 3, 2016, during the annual Greenbuild International Conference and Expo at a testing center in Culver City, California. The exam is open to both Greenbuild attendees and those who are not attending the conference. Register for the SITES AP exam.

An additional testing opportunity will be held on Oct. 25, 2016, during the 2016 ASLA Annual Meeting and Expo in New Orleans. Register for the SITES AP exam at ASLA and see other SITES-related education at the ASLA Annual Meeting.



The U.S. General Services Administration (GSA) has decided to adopt the Sustainable Sites Initiative™(SITES®) certification program for GSA’s capital construction program. The GSA determined the incorporation of SITES — which provides a focus on ecological services and sustainability beyond a building’s envelope and also possesses the ability to be applied independently or coupled with LEED certification — offers a highly effective and efficient way to compel environmental performance.

This decision has been memorialized in the 2016 version of our Facilities Standards for the Public Buildings Service (P-100) document, which establishes design standards and criteria for new buildings, infrastructural projects, major and minor alterations, and work in historic structures for the Public Buildings Service (PBS) of the GSA. This document contains both policy and technical criteria used in the programming, design, and documentation of GSA buildings and facilities.

The GSA is an independent agency of the U.S. government whose mission is to deliver the best value in real estate, acquisition, and technology services to government and the American people. The agency’s Public Buildings Service is one of the largest and most diversified public real estate organizations in the world. Its portfolio consists of 376.9 million rentable square feet in 8,721 active assets across the United States, in all 50 states, 6 U.S. territories, and the District of Columbia.

This guest post is by Christian Gabriel, ASLA, national design director for landscape architecture, U.S. General Services Administration.

GBCI Now Developing SITES AP


In a recent Green Business Certifications Inc. (GBCI) survey, 80 percent of respondents said they planned on implementing SITES® in their organization or practice, and 89 percent indicated interest in earning a professional credential, such as SITES Accredited Professional, or “SITES AP.” As a result, the development of SITES AP is currently under way at GBCI.

The new SITES AP credential will not only establish a common framework to define the profession of sustainable land design and construction, it will also provide landscape professionals with the opportunity to demonstrate their knowledge, expertise, and commitment to the profession and will help scale up the market for SITES.

What is involved in the process of creating the SITES AP?

1. Conception: GBCI will bring together leading experts in the fields of sustainable landscape design to form a Job Analysis Committee. This committee will include landscape architects, planners, consultants, horticulturalists and water, soil, and human health specialists from the public, private, and nonprofit sectors. The committee will be responsible for creating content areas that lay the groundwork for building the SITES AP exam.

2. Validation: GBCI will enlist the help of a wider group of subject matter experts, who will review the content areas and their relative importance through the SITES AP Job Analysis Survey. The survey will give experts in the sustainable landscape community an opportunity to contribute to the SITES AP credential. GBCI will then gather and analyze results to create an exam blueprint, which will outline weight distribution for exam questions by content area.

3. Development: Once the blueprint is finalized, GBCI will enlist subject matter experts to write and review questions to appear on the SITES AP exam. With expert consensus, a well-rounded exam will be created and launched for the SITES AP credential. The exam will be finalized and placed into the testing platform for aspiring SITES AP candidates.

The SITES AP exam will be an important tool for all professionals practicing sustainable landscape design who are looking to grow their careers and impact the direction of land development and management.

If you would like to contribute as a subject matter expert and help write or review test questions that will shape the first generation of SITES APs, please fill out our call for volunteers survey to get involved.

We are also conducting an online job analysis survey to seek industry feedback on what a professional should know and do to perform competently as a SITES AP. Take the SITES AP Job Analysis Survey.

GBCI will begin offering testing for the SITES AP in October 2016.

For more information about the Sustainable Sites Initiative™, visit sustainablesites.org.

SITES Offers ASLA Members Early Adopter Discount for Certification


Traditional land development and land-use decisions often underestimate or ignore healthy ecosystems. Sustainable land development is cost-effective, better for the environment and fosters resiliency. Last year, GBCI expanded on its vision of speed to market transformation for the built environment to cover nearly every facet of sustainability, including sustainable landscape design and management. GBCI now administers the Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES®), the most comprehensive program for designing sustainable landscapes. To recognize those who have made significant contributions to sustainable landscape design, GBCI is excited to announce new pricing that rewards the early adopters. From March 1 to May 31, GBCI is offering a $1,500 reduction in paid registration and registration/certification bundle fees.

SITES-certified projects provide ecosystem services and create ecologically resilient communities, help reduce water demand, filter and reduce stormwater runoff, involve no or limited pesticide use, conserve or restore natural resources, and provide wildlife habitat. They also offset development impacts, reduce energy consumption, help sequester carbon, improve air quality and human health, and provide essential benefits that humans and other organisms depend on for survival.

In June 2015, GBCI launched project certification for v2 of SITES. Already, SITES v2 has seen projects registering across the world, from New York to Los Angeles, from Vancouver to Hong Kong. SITES certification is available for development projects located on sites with or without buildings, ranging from national parks to corporate campuses, from streetscapes to gardens. SITES is being used by landscape architects, designers, engineers, architects, developers, policy makers, and others to align land development and management with innovative sustainable design.

Take advantage of this special pricing opportunity by registering your project today with SITES.

Just as LEED undeniably transformed the built environment, SITES has the ability to transform land development and use under the administration of GBCI. The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES®) is produced by the Green Business Certification Inc., which owns exclusive rights to the SITES rating system, its publications, and its trademarks. The material on which the SITES rating system is based was developed through a collaborative, interdisciplinary effort of the American Society of Landscape Architects, The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden.

GBCI Launches SITES, its Newly Acquired Rating System for Sustainable Landscapes

Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes, 4-star SITES Certified project / Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES)

The Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) has launched its newly acquired Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES®) rating system, the most comprehensive program and toolkit for developing sustainable landscapes.

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. The rating system can be applied to development projects located on sites with or without buildings – ranging from national parks to corporate campuses, streetscapes and homes, and much more.

“Landscapes knit together the fabric of our communities,” said Rick Fedrizzi, CEO, GBCI. “And sustainable landscapes are critical in their ability 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. SITES is an important addition to our toolkit, and GBCI appreciates this opportunity to support this additional contribution to healthy, thriving communities and neighborhoods.”

“It is exciting to see years of work developing and field testing SITES culminate with the availability of this rating system,” said Fritz Steiner, FASLA, dean of the School of Architecture at The University of Texas at Austin. “The depth and breadth of approaches that were implemented by pilot projects demonstrates how valuable SITES can become for revolutionizing our relationships with built landscapes.”

“Landscape architects and members of all the related design and planning fields know that the issues addressed in SITES are increasingly important to creating livable and resilient communities,” said Nancy C. Somerville, executive vice president and CEO of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA). “GBCI will take SITES to the next level and ensure its future growth and influence, and ASLA is pleased to provide continued education and communications support.”

“SITES is a powerful tool for enhancing built landscapes precisely because it puts ecosystem services, the benefits humans derive from functional ecosystems, front and center,” said Ari Novy, executive director of the United States Botanic Garden. “This approach will help maximize our collective ability to create sustainable and healthy communities. Making SITES available through GBCI will be a great boon for the quality and resilience of our built landscapes.”

The SITES rating system uses progressive industry standards for landscape design and incorporates additional recommendations from technical experts in the fields of soil science, botany and horticulture, hydrology, materials, and human health and well-being. Some of the credits for sustainable landscape performance have been developed in alignment with similar credits in the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system, the world’s most widely used green building program.

SITES, originally modeled after LEED, includes best practices in landscape architecture, ecological restoration and related fields as well as knowledge gained through peer-reviewed literature, case-study precedents and projects registered in the SITES pilot program.

“Adding SITES to GBCI’s rapidly growing list of certification systems and credentials it supports not only expands GBCI’s capabilities, but it also helps us to further our mission to enact global sustainable change,” said Mahesh Ramanujam, president, GBCI.

SITES draws on the experience gained from a two-year pilot program involving more than 100 projects. Forty-six of these pilot projects have achieved certification, including landscape projects at corporate headquarters, national and city parks, academic campuses and private homes.

Interested project teams can visit sustainablesites.org for more information and to register their projects and access the SITES v2: Rating System For Sustainable Land Design and Development, a guide that provides best practices, performance benchmarks, and tools for creating ecologically resilient landscapes and rewards successful projects through certification.

The Wildflower Center and ASLA will help GBCI create and implement SITES credentialing and certification offerings such as training project reviewers and will provide educational opportunities for pursuing SITES certification.

SITES Certifies 12 More Landscapes

U.S. Federal Office Building, Two Stars, U.S. GSA with Atkins Global, Miramar, Florida / SITES

The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) has certified a dozen sustainable landscapes across the country for meeting rigorous standards for environmental design and performance, bringing the total number of certified projects to 46. These 12 landscapes include a historic Maryland house, a pocket park in San Francisco’s Tenderloin neighborhood, and a public children’s garden in Austin, Texas.

“Americans can directly address major environmental challenges we face today – diminishing water supplies, climate change, pollution and loss of wildlife habitat – by how they design and manage landscapes where they live, work and play,” said Susan Rieff, executive director of The University of Texas at Austin’s Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center. “The SITES program approach, now increasingly adopted by landscape architects, designers and others, provides a practical blueprint for creating healthy landscapes, and recognizes exemplary projects to inspire others.”

These 12 projects are the last to be certified using a 2009 pilot version of the SITES Rating System. They join 34 others that have achieved certification for voluntarily applying the SITES system to incorporate sustainability into their planning, design, construction and maintenance. Each project received a rating from one to four stars. SITES, which is a collaboration of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), The Wildflower Center, and the United States Botanic Garden, has now certified projects in 20 states.

The pilot program has informed the June 2014 release of the SITES v2 Rating System and Reference Guide. Negotiations are underway with the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) to provide project certification to the requirements of the SITES v2 Rating System and a related professional credentialing program.

The 12 most recently certified projects include:

Anacostia Watershed Society Headquarters, Three Stars, Anacostia Watershed Society, Bladensburg, Maryland. This landscape on .35 acres surrounds the historic George Washington House (circa 1752). The building now serves as headquarters for the Anacostia Watershed Society, which developed a public demonstration of practical, aesthetic ways to address the flow, collection, and management of stormwater runoff from the site. Year of adjacent road realignments that raised the grades of surrounding land had created poor drainage patterns throughout the site. With the help of volunteers, interns, staff, and local business donations, the society was able to install permeable paving, a rainwater cistern, brick and dry-stream channels, and rain gardens. The project demonstrates how sustainable stormwater management can be successfully incorporated within historic sites challenged with a limited budget and very restrictive site constraints.

Evans Parkway Neighborhood Park, Three Stars, OCULUS – Landscape Architecture, Silver Spring, Maryland. The expansion of this neighborhood park with the addition of a vacant lot provided the impetus for developing a more natural treatment of park surfaces and restoring a 300 linear foot section of a concrete-lined stream channel. This rehabilitated stream is a model for future naturalization efforts within Montgomery County. The renovated park also includes an informal play field and lawn areas, playground, a picnic area and shade structure, loop walking trails, a pedestrian bridge with riparian overlook area, contemplative seating areas, interactive public artwork, interpretive displays, connections to regional bikeway and public transit systems, natural meadow areas, and shady woodland areas.

Boeddeker Park, Two Stars, The Trust for Public Land, San Francisco, California. This one-acre park developed by The Trust for Public Land and San Francisco Recreation and Parks provides the largest open space in San Francisco’s poorest, most dense and diverse neighborhood. What had been an undesirable, unsafe area for 50,000 nearby residents has become an inviting space that is open daily. The pocket park includes a state-of-the-art clubhouse, walking path, adult fitness equipment, children’s play area, lawn and plazas for community gatherings and a garden. Sustainable systems were prioritized from the start and are integrated throughout the site. Project partners conducted extensive community outreach at nearby senior and youth centers and elsewhere, and worked closely with local community partners to ensure a safe park that provides programs and activities for all ages. Key design and programming decisions were made through these community forums. The result is a model of civic engagement, inspiration, resource conservation, and adaptability.

Hempstead Plains Interpretive Center, Two Stars, RGR Landscape Architecture & Architecture PLLC, Garden City, New York. This is the only naturally occurring prairie east of the Allegheny Mountains. The design and development of HPIC – a low-impact building and site – in a heavily developed suburban area, secures the integrity of the parcel as a natural preserve and historic landmark. In addition, the Plains are located on the Nassau Community College campus and near several universities, providing classes with a learning lab about native prairie habitats and sustainable techniques and an experience for general visitors interested in experiencing prairie life. An entrance through native plantings leads to the new visitor’s center topped with a green roof; open and closed classrooms are provided. Handicapped-accessible and stabilized-soil trails lead to the natural paths in the native prairie. A cistern helps reduce the need for potable water. Solar energy provides power and the building is completely “off the grid.”

Luci and Ian Family Garden at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Two Stars, W. G. Smith Design, Austin, Texas. This garden showcases Texas native plants and landscapes while offering a unique, beautiful space for children and families to appreciate nature through exploration and to learn about plants, wildlife and water, and sustainable landscape design elements. The 4.5-acre space features more than 180 native Texas plant species and interactive features such as a nectar garden, a wildlife blind and pond, a “stumpery” made for tree climbing, and an area for building structures from natural materials. Sustainable practices are part of the fabric of the garden, and include plants that were salvaged pre-construction and replanted, and a rainwater harvesting system and rain gardens to demonstrate water conservation. Locally-sourced pecan shells and crushed recycled glass are among the mulches. Stone harvested on site is used in features such as two caves, and non-potable water feeds a waterfall flowing into a recirculating creek with fish and tadpoles.

U.S. Federal Office Building, Two Stars, U.S. GSA with Atkins Global, Miramar, Florida. This new building houses a key federal agency on a secure campus that includes a parking garage with a green wall and solar panels, pond and other sustainable features on a site that minimizes impacts and harmonizes the landscape with the nearby Florida Everglades. The site design incorporates wetlands throughout the project and in interior and exterior courtyards. These wetlands are visible from within the building. A jogging path occurs around the reconstructed wetlands and there are locations for gathering and relaxation. Structures are made of locally sourced materials with high-recycled content and FSC-certified wood. Native and adaptive plant species occur site wide, creating a sustainable native plant community on aesthetically appealing grounds. The grounds also provide water-quality treatment for the project area.

Environmental Laboratory for Sustainability and Ecological Education, One Star, Alrie Middlebrook, San Jose, California. This former concrete parking lot in downtown San Jose has become a shared garden space used for educational purposes. The tenants include a sustainable landscaping company, The California Native Garden Foundation and its nursery, and an on-site aquaponics farm. The Environmental Laboratory is used to teach schools how to build a sustainable garden education program and showcases a healthy land-use model. The site demonstrates urban food technologies such as vertical food towers, pallet gardens, composting, and gardening with perennial food plants. Drought-tolerant native plants reduce water use and provide wildlife habitat, restore soils and more. Drip irrigation is used for plantings, and water is reused through greywater systems. Many landscape components are made with recycled or reused material. The goal of ELSEE is to have this type of garden model adopted by 10,000 California schools by 2020.

HELIX Environmental Planning Inc. Headquarters, One Star, HELIX Environmental Planning Inc., La Mesa, California. Landscape conversion of the environmental planning firm’s headquarters entailed the conversion of the landscape to a more regionally appropriate one. The project reduced potable water use for irrigation through rainwater harvesting and the use of native plants, and created a more usable outdoor space for employees, which has increased social interaction and supported healthy activities. The project is unique because it used the expertise of HELIX’s own employees in designing and implementing water-conserving and low-maintenance landscapes.

New Orleans Festival and Recreation Complex, One Star, Torre Design Consortium, New Orleans, Louisiana. A 55-acre abandoned golf course in New Orleans City Park was re-purposed to provide a public space, in conjunction with a Community Development Block Grant. Community input led to opportunities for exercise and outdoor play, and gathering spaces for families, schools, and formal events. The project includes four multi-sport fields, a one-mile walking/biking path, a workout area with adult and child exercise equipment, a large constructed wetland area with meditation paths and a boardwalk, a playground, and a large “Reunion Pavilion” for seating, eating, and socializing. Many oak and cypress trees were retained for shade and enjoyment.

Perot Museum of Nature and Science, One Star, Talley Associates, Dallas, Texas. This 4.7-acre site on a former industrial brownfield is just north of downtown Dallas and west of the Arts District. An elevated freeway determines the site’s southern boundary and is among nearby constraints. The project dovetails with the museum’s primary mission of working to “Inspire minds through nature and science.” To achieve this, the site design was conceived as an abstraction of several native Texas landscape environments that are seamlessly integrated with the building’s architecture that covers much of the space. Starting at the southeast corner of the site, the podium structure of the building was planned to incorporate a vegetated roof system. The roof features plantings that depict different regions of Texas’ ecology: West Texas Caliche, Upland Prairie, Blackland Prairie and East Texas Forests/Wetlands.

Swaner EcoCenter, One Star, CRSA, Park City, Utah. The EcoCenter provides visitors a starting point to experience the 1,200-acre Swaner Preserve, both of which are overseen by Utah State University. The preserve and building serve as places for teaching environmental science. Visitors also hike, bird watch and pursue other nature activities on site. The EcoCenter building demonstrates sustainable features such as solar panels and a cistern for rainwater collection that eliminates potable water use for irrigation and for flushing toilets. Visitors can also learn about an innovative boardwalk that minimized disturbance to land around the piers. Rather than using metal helical piers that produce such damage, these are made from salvaged trestle wood preserved by sitting in the Great Salt Lake for decades. Other approaches included selecting sustainable materials for outdoor seating, bike racks, and pathway pavers.

Tuthill Corporate Headquarters Campus, One Star, Conservation Design Forum, Burr Ridge, Illinois.  The campus provides a workplace environment that honors the human psyche and improves the environment. The building was established on a minimal footprint and oriented to allow employees to easily access a pond/wetland and view it while indoors. Rainwater is collected and directed from the roof to the landscape. The entire site, except for the building footprint, pavement and small Buffalo grass turf edge, has been restored to hardy, native plant species obtained locally wherever possible. Locally sourced limestone was used in a terrace and patio that creates an authentic connection of the building to the local landscape. Invasive species have been removed, allowing the restoration of native grassland prairie and wetland fringe. The restored or recreated on-site landscaping and other elements virtually eliminate surface stormwater runoff and localized flooding.

SITES Certifies New Set of Landscapes

Kirke Park / Sustainable Sites Initiative

The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) program has certified four new landscapes. These include: Kirke Park, a pocket park in Seattle (two stars); 38 Dolores, a grocery store and housing complex in San Francisco (two stars); West Point Foundry Preserve, a historic Civil War-era preserve in New York (one star); and the office of Perkins + Will, a design firm, in Atlanta (one star). The four projects join 30 other pilot projects certified by the SITES program, the nation’s most comprehensive rating system for sustainable land design and development. All 34 certified landscape pilot projects met the 2009 Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks, developed by the SITES program in collaboration with dozens of sustainability experts, scientists, and design professionals from across the nation.

The four newly certified pilot projects incorporate sustainable features that were evaluated using a rating system with certification levels of one to four stars:

Kirke Park, Two Stars, Site Workshop, Seattle, Washington (see image above). This pocket park was designed to reflect the site’s past, incorporating structural elements that were remnants from a church that previously occupied the site, while enhancing the neighborhood. A community garden recalls the site’s history of producing food while a secret garden offers a quiet space inside the preserved walls of the historic church. A gathering plaza contains other park relics and is connected to an open lawn, providing structure for community events and informal play. A playground and an “adventure trail” that uses logs and boulders promote an active, natural play environment.

38 Dolores, Two Stars, April Philips Design Works, San Francisco, California. This greyfield project in the diverse Upper Market community in San Francisco has become a mixed-use development with 81 residential units and a Whole Foods Market on the ground floor. The LEED® Gold certified project improves the use of city systems and reduces its carbon footprint. To achieve SITES recognition, the developer added sustainable features including rainwater harvesting, alternative energy technologies, and green roofs that provide habitat for the endangered mission blue butterfly and a haven for city visitors. In addition, the site has edible and rain gardens and features such as education components to promote eco-awareness.

38 Dolores / Sustainable Sites Initiative

West Point Foundry Preserve, One Star, Scenic Hudson Inc., Cold Spring, New York. The preserve is at a former turn-of-the-century manufacturing facility, which later was declared an EPA Superfund cleanup site. The work of a community advisory group, informed by years of archaeological studies, helped inform the transformation of 87 acres into a publicly accessible outdoor museum and heritage destination with interpretation and restored habitat. The site’s existing artifacts and previous history manufacturing Parrott guns credited with winning the Civil War, steam engines and mill equipment were incorporated into the design. The preserve includes a restored tidal marsh that supports wildlife habitat. Salvaged materials found on site such as brick fragments and stone were used in the project. Uniquely, the project included an archaeological monitoring plan to address unexpected features found during construction. The preserve is the second SITES-certified project of Scenic Hudson Inc. along the Hudson River and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a Preserve America site.

West Point Foundry Preserve / Sustainable Sites Initiative

Perkins+Will Office, One Star, Perkins+Will, Atlanta, Georgia. This design firm’s new home is a living model for small urban sites that emphasize sustainability. Essentially “upcycling” an outdated office building on Atlanta’s signature boulevard, the site now showcases elegant stormwater solutions and innovative use of materials on a highly constrained urban location. Where a parking deck and driveway once focused on auto access at the front of the building, a new civic plaza was created as an open-air living room for tenants and the community that reconnects the building to the street. The site provides walkable transit access for employees and clients, creates tenant space for civic uses and additional outdoor spaces for social engagement. The newly renovated building is also certified LEED® Platinum with the highest score in the Northern Hemisphere at the time of certification.

Perkins + Will office / Sustainable Sites Initiative

The SITES program is a collaboration of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center of The University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden.

Based on the experiences of the 100-plus pilot projects that field-tested the 2009 rating system and input from hundreds of organizations and thousands of individuals, a refined set of guidelines and rating system was released in June 2014. Known as SITES v2, it was developed over seven years and is now available for use by anyone who works in land design and development. The SITES v2 Rating System and scorecard are available for free.