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A Site to Behold

SWT Design campus St. Louis Missouri
The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) is a partnership among the American Society of Landscape Architects, U.S. Botanic Garden and the Wildflower Center. SITES™ principles were recently used to create guidance for federal agencies about how to create sustainable landscapes.

Sustainable Sites Initiative™ guides federal agencies in sustainable practices

The Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES™) — the nation's first-ever rating system for sustainable landscapes developed by the Wildflower Center, the U.S. Botanic Garden and American Society of Landscape Architects — may now transform the way federal government agencies look at sustainability.

On October 31, the White House Council on Environmental Quality released guidance for federal agencies on Sustainable Practices for Built Landscapes to help agencies meet their goals under Executive Order 13514, which directs federal agencies in sustainable practices.

The U.S. Botanic Garden led a federal working group to produce the 32-page guidance on Sustainable Practices for Built Landscapes — basing it on the SITES™ guidelines and performance benchmarks for sustainable land design, construction and maintenance practices. The new federal guidance pertains to the built environment outside of a building's walls. Like the SITES™ guidelines and performance benchmarks, the federal guidance recommends ways to create more sustainable landscapes by focusing on specifics like healthy soil, native vegetation or hydrology.

Wildflower Center Executive Director Susan Rieff says the new guidance has the potential to fundamentally shift landscape design and maintenance toward greater sustainability. The federal government controls or owns more than 429,000 buildings comprising 3.34 billion square feet of space that directly impact more than 41 million acres of federal land.

"By applying the SITES-based guidance, the federal government will make an enormous, positive impact on the ground, not just by improving the ecological and economic health of its own properties, but also by setting the national example for sustainable landscape design," she said.

Holly H. Shimizu, Executive Director of the U.S. Botanic Garden, said, "We need positive change in the way that we design and care for our outdoor spaces. The federal government will now be a critical part of modeling this change as agencies more fully embrace the benefits of sustainable landscape design and maintenance."

Federal agencies are strongly encouraged to develop and maintain a comprehensive sustainable landscape plan that encompasses the following elements: site selection and planning, soils, water, vegetation, materials selection, human health and well-being, existing/historic facilities and cultural landscapes construction, operations and management.


More than 150 pilot projects participate in a study to test the SITES™ rating system for sustainable landscapes. SWT Design Campus in St. Louis, Missouri, is one of these projects. SWT Design is a design, planning and landscape architecture firm.

The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ is a partnership between ASLA, the Wildflower Center and USBG created in 2005 to promote sustainable land development and management practices that can apply to sites with and without buildings.

Under the initiative, professionals of diverse backgrounds from throughout the country helped develop sustainable benchmarks for soils, hydrology, vegetation, human health and well-being and materials selection. The Sustainable Sites Initiative: Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009 is the result of their work. Many of these professionals represented the federal government and were asked to help create the guidance for federal agencies released in October.

With the 2009 publication, a rating system was established to reward projects that protect and restore ecosystem services — benefits provided by natural ecosystems like cleaner air and water. In 2010, more than 150 pilot projects were selected to participate in a program to test the rating system. This spring the first of these projects will be certified. An updated Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks will be released in 2013, when the rating system will be open to public enrollment.

"Given the strong interest in SITES shown by the White House as well as the landscape profession and general public, we're looking forward to its widespread adoption in the near future," Rieff said.

By Christina Procopiou

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