WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Sustainable Sites Initiative released the nation’s first rating system for the design, construction, and maintenance of sustainable landscapes, with or without buildings. A partnership of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and the U.S. Botanic Garden, the Initiative’s rating system represents four years of work by dozens of the country’s leading sustainability experts, scientists, and design professionals, as well as public input from hundreds of individuals and dozens of organizations to create this essential missing link in green design.
“While carbon-neutral performance remains the holy grail for green buildings, sustainable landscapes move beyond a do-no-harm approach,” said Nancy Somerville, executive vice president and CEO of ASLA. “Landscapes sequester carbon, clean the air and water, increase energy efficiency, restore habitats, and ultimately give back through significant economic, social, and environmental benefits never fully measured until now.”
“We are facing unprecedented environmental challenges such as water scarcity and climate change that require fundamental changes in the way that we interact with the land,” said Susan Rieff, executive director of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin. “This voluntary rating system and guidelines covers all aspects of working with outdoor spaces of all sizes, and provides information for designing landscapes that go beyond beauty to actually improving ecosystem health and the health of communities for generations to come.”
“Landscapes can give back,” said Holly H. Shimizu, executive director of the U.S. Botanic Garden. “We believe that as these guidelines become widely used, not only will they be as transformative to the landscape industry as LEED was to buildings, but more than that, they will allow built landscapes to be regenerative like natural landscapes, and assist in mitigating some of the most pressing environmental issues we face today. We need to acknowledge our landscapes’ value, treasure them, and cultivate them sustainably and responsibly. The need is urgent, the time is now and these guidelines, when used correctly, are the tools.”
The rating system works on a 250-point scale, with levels of achievement for obtaining 40, 50, 60, or 80 percent of available points, recognized with one through four stars, respectively. If prerequisites are met, points are awarded through the 51 credits covering areas such as the use of greenfields, brownfields, or greyfields; materials; soils and vegetation; construction; and maintenance. These credits can apply to projects ranging from corporate campuses, transportation corridors, public parks, and single-family residences. The rating system is part of two new reports issued from the Initiative — “The Case for Sustainable Landscapes and Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009” — both available for download at www.sustainablesites.org.
To test the rating system, the Sustainable Sites Initiative opened a call for pilot projects in conjunction with the release of the rating system. Any type of designed landscape is eligible, so long as the project size is at least 2,000 square feet. The call will remain open until Feb. 15, 2010, and the initiative will work with and oversee the projects during the two-year process.