The SITES project, a US-based initiative which recognises sustainable land use, has certified its 30th project.

The Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) is a joint project of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the United States Botanic Garden, and the Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin.

SITES is a voluntary program focused on sustainable land use was modeled after the LEED green building standard.

The US Green Building Council, an early stakeholder in the project, is expected to incorporate the SITES guidelines into future iterations of LEED, according to the Sustainable Sites Initiative.

The program recently certified four projects, bringing the total to 30. The newly certified projects include:

  • A sustainable landscape renovation at the Pete Domenici United States Courthouse in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Built in 1998, “the underused hardscape plazas, over-watered lawns and faulty water feature of the existing courthouse exemplified resource inefficiency, disconnection from its environment, and distance from the public.” The renovation involved removal of concrete, which was recycled into new terraces, and new rain gardens with native plantings to control stormwater. This project received two of four stars and was designed by Rios Clementi Hale Studios.
  • At Brent Elementary School in Washington, D.C., Sustainable Life Designs earned one star for transforming a greyfield site with asphalt removal, and installation of new play equipment, a rain garden, bio-retention swale, and pollinator gardens.
  • The George Washington University’s Square 80 Plaza project converted a parking lot into an urban park. Native plants and a sculptural water feature tie in with biofiltration planters, an irrigation cistern, permeable paving, hardscape diversion through small channels to retain 100 per cent of stormwater runoff on site. Studio 39 Landscape Architecture earned a One Star designation for the project.
  • The East Bay Public Plaza in Olympia, Washington, transformed a brownfield into a lively urban space. Unique features such as “discovery markers, interactive stream features, a series of interpretive panels” earned the project One Star for Robert W. Droll, Landscape Architect.

“It is exciting to see a growing number of projects across the country that have applied an integrative design process to meet rigorous sustainability guidelines, while finding ways to address urgent environmental and social challenges,” said SITES program director Danielle Pieranunzi. “We are thrilled to certify these four new projects that truly exemplify the breadth of approaches to sustainable site design and development.”

SITES began certifying projects in 2010 as part of their pilot program. Like LEED, SITES awards points for sustainable practices that include:

  • Water management, such as minimizing the use of potable water for irrigation, and managing rainwater for on-site infiltration.
  • Preserving existing trees and vegetation, and using native and appropriate non-native plants to cool the site and lower energy use.
  • Preserving existing healthy soils, and composting and rebuilding degraded soils.
  • Providing natural views and spaces for people to interact, play, and get physical activity, promoting human health and well-being.

The SITES v2 update is scheduled for release later in 2014 and will incorporate input from participants in the pilot program. The update has been delayed by a legal dispute arising after the Ladybird Johnson Center filed to register the trademarks the partners had been using jointly.

“Despite joint development of the trademarks and the parties’ oft-stated joint ownership of all SITES intellectual property, UT took it upon itself to file applications for registration of the trademarks in the name of the University of Texas Board of Regents,” the ASLA website reads.

The Ladybird Johnson Wildflower Center, located at the University of Texas at Austin, released a statement as well.

“UT initially considered registering the trademark jointly with ASLA and the US Botanic Garden, but this was not feasible for a variety of legal reasons,” the statement read. “Instead, UT sought to register the trademark in its name and then license all the rights associated with the trademark to ASLA at no cost and with no restrictions. Our intention was to grant a permanent license to ASLA that would essentially convey rights identical to the rights owned by UT. The U.S. Botanic Garden agreed to this arrangement, ASLA did not.”

Australia’s Green Star incorporates guidelines for “land use and ecology.” The guidelines include use of prime agricultural land, old growth forest, and wetlands designated as having “high ecological value.” In addition, land use guidelines include preservation of topsoil, and reuse of land.