National Sustainability Rating System Certifies Eight New Landscape Projects

fm-alert-logo29Posted by Heidi Schwartz

The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) has announced eight new projects that have achieved certification under the nation’s most comprehensive rating system for the sustainable design, construction, and maintenance of built landscapes. These projects, as part of a group of 150 projects participating in an extensive, two-year pilot program, have applied the 2009 SITES guidelines and met the requirements for pilot certification.

SITES is a partnership of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center of The University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden. SITES was created to fill a critical need for guidelines and recognition of sustainable landscapes based on their planning, design, construction, and maintenance. The voluntary, national rating system and set of performance benchmarks apply to sites with or without buildings.

“The effort and time these projects have spent to field test SITES 2009 guidelines and ensure their site is sustainable is commendable and has been a tremendous resource for informing the development of the SITES v2 Rating System, which will be released later this fall,” said SITES Director Danielle Pieranunzi.

Since June 2010, pilot projects have been testing the 2009 rating system created by dozens of the country’s leading sustainability experts, scientists and design professionals. The diverse projects represent various types, sizes, locations, and budgets. There are now a total of 23 certified pilot projects with more projects continuing to pursue pilot certification until the end of 2014.

A new rating system, SITES v2, will be published this fall, using information gained through the pilot project certification process. The projects certified up to that point will have qualified under the 2009 rating system. It includes 15 prerequisites and 51 additional, flexible credits that add up to 250 points. The credits address areas such as soil restoration, use of recycled materials, and land maintenance approaches. Projects can achieve one through four stars by amassing 40%, 50%, 60%, or 80% of the 250 points.

The eight newly certified projects each incorporate sustainable features and practices and have received ratings listed below:

  • Blue Hole Regional Park, Wimberley, TX (One Star): A beloved local swimming hole degraded by overuse was transformed into an environmentally sustainable regional park in the Texas Hill Country. The park seeks to strike a balance between preservation of the site and recreational and educational opportunities for users. Sustainable landscape strategies include managing storm water through the use of rain gardens and cisterns, irrigating recreational fields with treated effluent, minimizing impervious surfaces, protecting trees and endangered species habitat, and restoring shoreline. New vegetation is primarily native plantings, and the park features on-site composting.
  • Harris County Water Conservation and Improvement District (WCID) 132’s Water Conservation and Demonstration Center, Houston, TX (One Star): As Texas struggles with water shortages, WCID 132 created a community outreach project dedicated to showing alternative methods for reducing storm water runoff and demand for potable water. This project transformed an under used public campus into a series of gardens that educate residents on sustainable water use and landscape strategies. Features illustrate efficient water conservation, storm water management, and soil-centered practices. Paths and planting areas were built with locally salvaged and reused materials.
  • American University School for International Service, Washington, DC (Two Stars): This entrance plaza is a gathering place for students and faculty that is integrated with a LEED® Gold building to manage 100% of storm water on the site and, as a result, needs no irrigation. The site features a Korean garden with adapted plants, an edible herb garden, an apiary, and regional materials. The university has a zero-waste policy that includes recycling and composting landscape clippings and debris and coffee grounds from the student-run coffee shop inside.
  • Bat Cave Draw and Visitor’s Center, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, NM (Two Stars): After finding contaminants from parking lot runoff, including motor oil and antifreeze, in cavern pools, Carlsbad Caverns National Park removed the existing parking area and rehabilitated it to a natural state using vegetation native to the park. All native plants used for the project were grown nearby from locally genetic stock, and additional work was done to collect and treat runoff from the new parking areas. The park near Carlsbad, NM, was one of several parks that participated in a National Park Service pilot program to develop monitoring standards for re-vegetation.
  • Mesa Verde Visitor and Research Center, Mesa Verde National Park, CO (Two Stars): The site-sensitive landscape design surrounding the center reflects the national park’s mission to educate the public about the archeological, biological, and physical resources of the park and their interconnectivity. Storm water from the site is directed through vegetated swales and retention ponds, and the area was re-vegetated with a mix of native and drought-tolerant species, meanwhile addressing concerns about wildfires. The site produces 95% of its energy from on-site renewable energy sources and uses locally quarried stone. The building has earned a LEED® Platinum certification.
  • George “Doc” Cavalliere Park, Scottsdale, AZ (Three Stars): A primary strategy for the park, located on 34 acres of rugged desert terrain, was the preservation and restoration of natural resources. The design uses 100% native plants, and all existing native trees, cacti, and plant communities were preserved in place or salvaged and re-used onsite to restore desert upland and riparian plant communities. The park also incorporates a regional on-site storm water management system. Other strategies include rainwater collection, permeable paving in parking areas and driveways, high-efficiency LED lighting, net-zero energy consumption using a grid-tied 24 kilowatt solar photovoltaic system, and exclusive use of high-content recycled steel without industrial finishes.
  • National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL) Research Support Facility, Golden, CO (Three Stars): This federal research laboratory, a former National Guard training facility, consists of a 327-acre government research campus. The Research Support Facility, one of the newest campus additions, has achieved LEED Platinum certification for its innovative building design. The landscape framework for this net-zero energy facility includes establishing natural drainage for storm water, minimizing impacts on local habitats, protecting habitat through conservation easements, providing hiking trails for staff and community members, using porous paving surfaces, restoring existing prairie and arroyo site features, using on-site materials for the construction of retaining walls, and installing energy efficient lighting. Regional materials and high recycled content were emphasized in the selection of site materials and furnishings.
  • Scenic Hudson Long Dock Park, Beacon, NY (Three Stars): This project transformed a 14-acre property on the Hudson River from a degraded, post-industrial brownfield into a major waterfront park that realizes themes of recovery, remediation, reuse, and re-engagement. The project returned public access to the river, remediated contaminated soils, rehabilitated degraded wetlands, re-used found materials in innovative ways, and restored ecological diversity to upland, wetland, and intertidal zones. Features include decks and docks popular with anglers; ADA-accessible paths; areas for picnicking, river gazing, dog-walking, and Frisbee tossing; a kayak pavilion; and an outdoor classroom.