Sustainable Sites Initiative


Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) promotes land development and management practices that are sustainable through generating less waste, minimizing impact on the landscape, and by using less energy, water, and natural resources. SITES is developing a national, voluntary rating system for sustainable landscapes and thus defining and quantifying sustainability for “those who design, construct, operate and maintain landscapes.”1

Sustainable Sites Initiative began in 2005 as a project of the Sustainable Design and Development Professional Practice Network of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin. That year they hosted the Sustainable Sites Summit in Austin, Texas.2

The following year, in 2006, they were joined by the United States Botanical Garden (USBG) and a Steering Committee was selected. Technical Subcommittees were formed to develop sustainability benchmarks concerning soils, vegetation, hydrology, materials selections, and human health and well-being. Their findings were reported in the Preliminary Report in late 2007,3 which led to the Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks – Draft 2008.4

To further Sustainable Sites Initiative's work, Landscape Structures, Inc. became a major funding partner when they donated $200,000 in 2008. Landscape Structures introduced the concept of continuous play in 1971 and since then has become a major playground equipment innovator and play space designer.5 Another major funder of SITES is The Meadows Foundation, a Texas organization dedicated to improving the quality of life for themselves and future generations, which includes protecting the environment.6

After input from the public, organizations, and experts in the fields of sustainability and design, Sustainable Sites Initiative published Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009 and its companion The Case for Sustainable Landscapes.7 The SITES sustainability rating system, a 250 point scale, was introduced in the Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009. Points are awarded for issues, such as site selection, restoration of soils and vegetation, the use of materials, and construction and maintenance practices.8

These points are similar in concept to the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System, with the major difference that LEED is concerned with just the building's structure while the Sustainable Sites Initiative focuses on the broader site components whether there are buildings or not. U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), who formatted LEED, is involved in the SITES development and will eventually include the final sustainable landscape benchmark standards in the LEED system.9

The SITES rating system marks a new approach to determining sustainability - moving from a passive “do-no-harm” to an active approach for “sequestering carbon, cleaning the air and water, increasing energy efficiency, restoring habitats, and ultimately giving back through significant economic, social, and environmental benefits.”10

The Case for Sustainable Landscapes covers the science that developed the rating system, case studies of sustainability, arguments for sustainable land policies, and the principles of SITES.11 Some of the reasons for sustainability include reducing greenhouse gas emissions, decreasing water waste and pollution, minimizing yard waste through recycling, cooling the urban climate, lowering energy consumption for heating and cooling, eradicating invasive plant species, and increasing the health and well-being of people of all ages. The link with nature has been shown to create safer and closer communities as well as improve concentration, calm anxiety feelings, and reduce aggression.12 Advocating for sustainable natural environments offers opportunities for children’s nature play and encourages future conservationists.13

SITES' two-year Pilot Program began in June of 2010 and involves over 150 diverse projects that are being tested and will lead to refining the rating system. Feedback from the Pilot Program will also assist in compiling the Reference Guide, a technical reference manual due to be published in 2013.14

  • 1. “About Us.” Sustainable Sites Initiative. < > 3 Nov. 2011.
  • 2. “History.” Sustainable Sites Initiative. < > 3 Nov. 2011.
  • 3. Ibid.
  • 4. “Report.” Sustainable Sites Initiative. < > 3 Nov. 2011.
  • 5. “Landscape Structures Commits $200,000 to Sustainable Sites Initiative.” Sustainable Sites Initiative. June 17, 2008. < > 3 Nov. 2011.
  • 6. “Funders.” Sustainable Sites Initiative. < > 3 Nov. 2011.
  • 7. “Frequently Asked Questions.” Sustainable Sites Initiative. < > 3 Nov. 2011.
  • 8. “Overview.” Sustainable Sites Initiative. < > 3 Nov. 2011.
  • 9. Op.cit., “Frequently Asked Questions.”
  • 10. “About the Sustainable Sites Initiative.” American Society of Landscape Architects. < > 3 Nov. 2011.
  • 11. Op.cit., “Overview.”
  • 12. “Why Sustainable Sites?” Sustainable Sites Initiative. < > 3 Nov. 2011.
  • 13. “Design Principles for Nature Play Spaces in Nature Centers and Other Natural Areas.” Green Hearts Institute for Nature in Childhood. < > 23 Aug. 2010.
  • 14. “Pilot Program.” Sustainable Sites Initiative. < > 3 Nov. 2011.