Understanding the Sustainable Sites Initiative and the SITES Rating System


Today, hundreds of thousands of structures across the country comply with key green-building standards such as LEED, Green Globes, Energy Star, the Living Building Challenge and others. This movement has also spilled over into the landscaping arena, largely as a result of the Sustainable Sites Initiative.

Sustainable Sites Initiative and the SITES Rating System Course

SITES is a sustainability-focused framework that aids landscape architects, designers, engineers, developers, policy-makers and others in protecting ecosystems and enhancing climate regulation, carbon storage and flood mitigation in our communities. SITES is the culmination of years of research and development by leading professionals in the fields of soil, water, vegetation, materials and human health to align land development and management with innovative sustainable design.

The first iteration of the SITES Rating System guide debuted in November 2009 and an updated version was released in June 2015. The resource establishes design and development benchmarks for sustainability-minded landscape architects. It address 10 separate variables, including site context, pre-design assessment and planning, construction, and operations and maintenance. Users can net as many as 200 SITES rating points, which correlate to the four available certification levels: certified, gold, silver and platinum.

Landscape architects can find guidance on a variety of subjects, including foliage selection, floodplain management and aquatic environment development. The SITES ratings also address more niche areas like conserving and supporting indigenous plant- and wildlife. Approximately 49 large-scale projects in the U.S. are currently SITES-certified. This includes major structures such as the Navy Pier in Chicago and Washington Canal Park in Washington, D.C.

The growing popularity of sustainable design and development has incentivized firms to create structures and spaces that not only accommodate the people who populate them but also help the environment. The SITES ratings offer structure to builders and landscapers looking to take advantage of this trend.





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