Authored by Erica Christenson, July 1, 2017
The Sustainable Sites Initiative or SITES v2 (SITES) is a relatively new rating system offered by Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), the same institution that offers LEED and WELL. The origination and development of the SITES system was led by the United States Botanic Garden, The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and the American Society of Landscape Architects. After piloting 160 projects starting in 2009, the GBCI has released SITES v2 Rating System as another tool that focuses on the built landscape and ecosystem services. Ecosystem services are the functions of a healthy landscape that benefit biological communities: carbon sequestration, air and water filtering, and climate regulation.
The broader aims of this rating system are to protect natural resources and influence the practice of landscape architecture and the building industry. While it is a point-based system, it measures success through performance rather than prescriptive practices. This is a significant difference from many other building rating systems. Rather than holding all projects to the same standard regardless of context, SITES, is adaptive performance, measuring success based on how the site is improving and existing assets are being protected.
We are looking for an opportunity at LHB to frame a project through the SITES lens –an ambitious endeavor, requiring a comprehensive team from the beginning of a project. A project using SITES v2 as a guideline must meet prerequisites in a number of categories in order to attain baseline certification. One of the more unique aspects of the SITES rating system is the value placed on site context and integrated planning. The decision to certify a project using SITES cannot occur halfway through a design process since seven of the 18 prerequisites are related to understanding/protecting /regenerating the inherent site functions based on a thorough pre-design assessment.
SITES requires an impressive integrated design team, which at a minimum would include experts in: natural systems, design, construction, maintenance, as well as representatives of the community, owners, and intended site users. Our Landscape Architecture group has a proven record in leading community engagement and stakeholder processes, which makes LHB well-suited to leading a SITES v2 project. To comply with SITES, our LHB would only need to add water and soil experts, contractors, and facilities staff to our already inclusive pre-design process; the additions would be a natural step in building community/operator buy-in and long-term resiliency. SITES pushes the design process through stakeholder involvement and feedback loops from pre-design through post-occupancy evaluations.
SITES would bring value not only to the clients, but to LHB and the profession as a whole.
In addition to the unique pre-design and operations bookends, several prerequisites emphasize careful management and selection of soil and vegetation. LHB’s Landscape Architecture studio regularly specifies soil types and quantities, so the more comprehensive soil management plan is also a natural next step. Other categories of the SITES system are more similar to LEED which detail sustainable practices in water, materials, construction, operations, and maintenance.
It will be challenging to find the right set of circumstances to initiate our first SITES project: an ambitious and willing client, appropriate site, and necessary budget are critical. The Performance Services Group is ready to take the next step in measuring the performance of landscape design and looking for a client to offer our SITES AP knowledge and volume of expertise!