What LEED Did for Buildings, Sustainable SITES Will Do for Landscapes—and Not a Moment Too Soon

To determine if a site qualifies, Statter says anywhere a major retrofit is taking place where the land is being completely redeveloped, the SITES program is applicable. However, early engagement with the program is crucial, she says, because there are prerequisites centered in the pre-design and site-assessment areas that are best addressed by an integrated design team at the onset of the process.

Nearly 30 percent of materials used at Navy Pier were made from recycled content.

Nearly 30 percent of materials used at Navy Pier were made from recycled content. PHOTO: Sahar Coston-Hardy for Navy Pier Inc. and James Corner Field Operations

“Right now, SITES actually is only available for new construction or major redevelopment because the program itself looks at the design and construction areas,” Statter notes. “That’s where the credits are focused—around design considerations and the construction practices, as well as some of the pre-design work.”

The SITES v2 rating system accommodates regional differences and various types of sites from urban to rural and previously developed or undeveloped, including open spaces (local, state and national parks; botanic gardens; arboretums); streetscapes and plazas; commercial (retail and office areas, corporate campuses); residential (neighborhoods or individual yards); educational/institutional (public and private campuses, museums, hospitals); infrastructure; government; military; and industrial.

Counting the Costs

Beyond its environmental impact, the SITES rating system encourages practices that have been shown to save building owners and facility managers money over time in terms of reducing energy costs from urban heat-island effect, water usage, and maintenance and operational costs. Additionally, Statter says GBCI has seen evidence the number of hours a landscaping team needs to maintain a site are much fewer in sustainable versus traditional landscapes.

In fact, a number of studies have demonstrated building sites where sustainable landscaping strategies have been implemented result in quantifiable savings over time. Consider the following:

  • Adoption of widespread green infrastructure practices could save more than 1.2 million megawatt-hours of electricity per year in California, according to the National Resources Defense Council, New York.
  • A Washington-based U.S. Forest Service report found trees properly placed around buildings can reduce air-conditioning needs by 30 percent and can save 20 to 50 percent in energy used for heating.
  • Using cool roofs, urban shade trees and high-albedo pavements to mitigate urban heat islands can potentially reduce U.S. energy use for air conditioning by 20 percent, saving more than $4 billion per year in energy use, according to a study published in Solar Energy.
  • A study conducted at the University of Central Florida, Orlando, found the maximum average day temperatures for a conventional roof surface was 130 F while the maximum average for a green roof was 91 F, directly translating into lower energy bills for interior heating and cooling.
  • Sustainable landscape practices at the University of Texas at El Paso include vegetated arroyo and acequia bioswales that mimic the function of natural desert riparian corridors and the replacement of asphalt with a diverse native plant palette. PHOTO: Adam Barbe

    Sustainable landscape practices at the University of Texas at El Paso include vegetated arroyo and acequia bioswales that mimic the function of natural desert riparian corridors and the replacement of asphalt with a diverse native plant palette. PHOTO: Adam Barbe

Of course, there are costs associated with pursuing SITES certification, including registration and certification fees, which can be bundled or paid separately. For USGBC and ASLA members, the registration fee is $2,500 ($3,000 for non-members) and $6,500 for certification ($9,000 for non-members). Given the value sustainable landscapes bring to existing properties—and the fact that the fees can be recouped from the savings—the decision to pursue SITES may be much easier for buildings executives.

At the end of the day, it’s important to remember that, unlike buildings, sustain- able landscapes appreciate over time. As Statter points out: “As plants and trees grow, soils improve and then habitats develop and land management can significantly improve the value of a building or the entire property as a whole.”

Case Study: Navy Pier

In 2012, Chicago’s historic Navy Pier held an international design competition to reimagine the site in anticipation of its centennial celebration. The design team at James Corner Field Operations (JCFO), Philadelphia, won the bid and set out to restore the landmark to its status as “The People’s Pier,” as originally envisioned by Daniel Burnham in his 1909 plan for the Windy City, rather than simply a kitschy tourist destination.

About the Author

Robert Nieminen
Robert Nieminen is a freelance writer; the former editor of Interiors & Sources magazine; and retrofit’s editor at large, specializing in interiors. Under his direction, Interiors & Sources was the recipient of several publishing awards, as well as a pioneer of sustainability reporting.

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