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The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ Certifies Eight More Landscapes

SWT Design Campus rain garden
ABOVE: This rain garden separates the two buildings on the SWT Design Campus and provides a quiet contemplative space and excellent views from within the building. Photo by SWT Design

It's common these days to want a sustainable landscape, but hard to know if you're doing the right things to get one. The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) announced today that it has certified eight additional projects under its rating system for the sustainable design, construction and maintenance of built landscapes, bringing the number of certified sustainable landscapes in the nation to 11. These eight represent the second group to apply the guidelines and meet the requirements for certification.

SITES is a partnership of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Wildflower Center and the United States Botanic Garden. It was created in 2005 to fill a critical need for guidelines and a voluntary, national rating system for sustainable landscapes.

The eight projects announced today represent residential and commercial landscapes from small town to big city America. One had a budget of less than $20,000; another more than $7 million. The 150 pilot projects that participated in the SITES two-year pilot program that ended in June are the first in the world to demonstrate the application of SITES' Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009 which includes a four-star rating system that works on a 250-point scale.

The points are assigned to credits that promote such practices as the use of recycled materials, sustainable stormwater management or restoration of native plant communities for wildlife habitat.

The rating system was created by dozens of the country's leading sustainability experts, scientists and design professionals. The pilot study will inform the next version of Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks which will be published in 2013.

According to SITES director Danielle Pieranunzi, what's important is that now landscape professionals – and the people who hire them – have a reference point for what makes a sustainable landscape. The certified projects can serve as models by showing others the components of a certified sustainable landscape.

Here are some of the features of the eight newly certified landscapes that helped earn them recognition.

Pergola in Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden
ABOVE: Pergola in the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden. Photo by Rick Fisher's Photography

Discovery Zone
In Durham, North Carolina, the Charlotte Brody Discovery Garden at Sarah P. Duke Gardens will demonstrate sustainable techniques that can be implemented by homeowners and home gardeners. Visitors can help grow, maintain and harvest fresh food from vegetable beds and a native "Food Forest."

Earthly Redux
In North San Diego County, a popular brewery/restaurant shows that second-hand can make for a first-rate venue, especially where sustainability is concerned. Most of the boulders and rock used in the garden came from the site itself – and reused, salvaged materials such as used brick from demolished buildings downtown were used for the patio.

Urban Core
Can an industrial location in New York City's South Bronx be sustainable? You bet. The project goal was to provide public access to the waterfront at Hunts Point Peninsula, a peninsula defined by the Bronx River, East River and Bronx Kill. The existing site was a dead-end roadway ending in a debris-filled slope at the water's edge. The renovation created a verdant, reconstructed waterfront of intertidal and freshwater pools that has become a public recreation site.

A little goes a long way
Also in New York State, Cornell University's Mann Library Entrance upstate in Ithaca shows that sustainability doesn't always have a hefty price tag. To improve an entrance that had been impacted by prior construction, a team of students improved the soil, removed invasive plants and designed gathering spaces, all with less than $20,000.

Paving the Way
Illinois' Morton Arboretum is known for educating the public about the environment. The arboretum installed permeable pavement, bioswales and extensive wetland plantings that paved the way for sustainable development in the region. This project is recognized for the first large-scale, high-profile, permeable paver installation in the Midwest as well as some of the first bioswales.

Victoria Garden Mews
ABOVE: Victoria Garden Mews thrives with pollinator-happy plantings surrounding the farm table dining and a quiet sitting area. Photo by Holly Lepere Photography

Sustainability in the Rust Belt
Another public garden in the Midwest demonstrates green practices on six acres of display gardens and grounds. Cleveland's Public Garden includes a rain garden to help solve drainage problems along the main visitor pathway and grows food crops onsite offered free to the public. A low-maintenance lawn requires no additional irrigation, fertilization or weekly mowing. Visitors can learn the benefits provided by a green roof, while native plantings enhance a riparian area and two acres of urban woodlands.

In the Right Place
In Santa Barbara, California, three couples that dreamed of "aging in place" collaborated on four living units that share a habitat-friendly open space combining stormwater retention, food production, beauty and a place to gather as friends. Before redevelopment, the nearly 12,000 square foot site held a derelict single-family Victorian-style house and a few outbuildings dating from the 1890's-1920's. Now, 100 percent of energy needs are met on site and are fossil-fuel free. All the lumber comes from sustainably harvested forests, and all concrete is half fly ash mix. All rainwater is retained on site through collection and reuse, bioswales, and infiltrators.

Down Home
In St. Louis, the designers of another SITES-certified pilot project are recognized for their own headquarters. The SWT Design Campus showcases state-of-the-art sustainable design techniques. More than 95 percent of stormwater is managed on-site and 75 percent of the campus' hardscape is pervious. The site was designed so that all sustainable practices are visible and used to inspire employees and educate the community.

*The terms “partner” and “partnership” as used herein to refer to the Sustainable Sites Initiative shall not refer to a legal partnership, joint venture or other transaction or creation of other legal entity, but rather it shall refer to a collaborative effort between independent autonomous legal entities.

© 2016 Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center