The Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES®) is a program based on the understanding that land is a crucial component of the built environment and can be planned, designed, developed, and maintained to protect and enhance the benefits we derive from healthy functioning landscapes. Sustainable landscapes create ecologically resilient communities better able to withstand and recover from episodic floods, droughts, wildfires, and other catastrophic events. They benefit the environment, property owners, and local and regional communities and economies.
The SITES program provides tools for those who influence land development and management practices and can address increasingly urgent global concerns such as climate change, loss of biodiversity, and resource depletion. They can be used by those who design, construct, operate, and maintain landscapes, including but not limited to planners, landscape architects, engineers, developers, builders, maintenance crews, horticulturists, governments, land stewards, and organizations offering building standards.
The SITES program offers a systematic, comprehensive rating system designed to define sustainable sites, measure their performance, and ultimately elevate the value of landscapes. The SITES Rating System can apply to development projects located on sites with or without buildings, 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
Since 2006, the United States Botanic Garden, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin, and the American Society of Landscape Architects have led the development of the SITES program, which also involved numerous other organizations and individuals. Development of the SITES Rating System has been a collaborative, interdisciplinary effort made possible by the input of more than 70 dedicated contributors, including technical advisors, practitioners, and representatives of professional, advocacy, and educational organizations.
Since 2007, SITES has published three reports containing draft guidelines and performance benchmarks followed by extensive reviews of public comments. Following the release of the Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009 (version 1), this SITES Rating System was field-tested through a two-year pilot program that involved more than 160 projects. Information and knowledge gained from participating pilot projects informed the development of the SITES v2 Rating System and Reference Guide. The SITES Rating System is intended to be a living product that will evolve over time as research and experience generate more knowledge.
The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has been a long-time supporter and stakeholder in the Sustainable Sites Initiative. USGBC has incorporated certain SITES credit content into iterations of the LEED ® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System™. Likewise, SITES has adapted LEED credits as part of its SITES v2 Rating System, when relevant and appropriate. Negotiations are currently underway with the Green Building Certification Institute to provide project certification to the requirements of the SITES v2 Rating System and a related professional credentialing program.