Inhabitat: Can you give us a brief overview of Sustainable Sites Initiative?
Nancy: The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) is an interdisciplinary partnership between the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and the U.S. Botanic Garden to create the first sustainability rating system for designed landscapes of all kinds, with or without buildings. We’re currently testing the rating system with more than 150 pilot projects from around the country, plus several international projects located in Canada, Iceland and Spain.
Inhabitat: What are the main areas that are addressed with the standards?
Nancy: The rating system covers nine areas: site selection; pre-design assessment and planning; water; soil and vegetation; materials; human health and well-being; construction; maintenance; and monitoring/innovation. More broadly speaking, the rating system can be applied to sites like brownfields, transportation corridors, corporate campuses, streetscapes, parking lots, and even single family homes.
Inhabitat: How will this certification program improve landscape architecture?
Nancy: We envision SITES as a program that will transform and improve the entire design and construction industry. Sustainability has always been a core value of the landscape architects. But, outside of the profession, there has been very little real understanding of what is required to make a site sustainable. Most people assume that anything that looks green really is “green,” i.e., sustainable. SITES will help the whole design and construction industry, as well as the broader public, understand what is actually involved in making a site sustainable.
Inhabitat: What are the major goals? To reduce water and energy usage, or is it more?
Nancy: While sustainable landscapes can significantly reduce water use, utility bills and maintenance costs, the benefits go well beyond dollars and cents. Landscapes can regenerate polluted brownfields, clean the air and water, restore habitats, sequester carbon, reduce the urban heat island effect and so much more. I would say the larger goal is ultimately to transform the marketplace and how we think about our designed spaces so that we can find an equilibrium between the built and natural environments.