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Frequently Asked Questions

What is the Sustainable Sites Initiative?
The Sustainable Sites Initiative™ (SITES™) program is a collaboration between the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin and the United States Botanic Garden in conjunction with a diverse group of stakeholder organizations to transform land development and management practices with the first national rating system for sustainable landscapes. These guidelines apply to any type of designed landscape, with or without buildings, ranging from shopping malls, streetscapes, subdivisions, corporate and academic campuses, transportation corridors, parks and recreation areas, all the way to single family homes.

What is a sustainable site?
A “site” is a built landscape that encompasses all land in a designated space. Like green buildings, sustainable sites use less energy, water and natural resources; generate less waste; and minimize the impact on the land compared to traditional design, construction and maintenance techniques. Unlike buildings, sustainable sites can even give back by cleaning the air and water, reversing climate change, restoring habitat and biodiversity – all while providing significant social and economic benefits as well to the immediate site and surrounding region.

Why do we need a site-specific rating system?
Green building rating systems developed by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and other organizations offer excellent tools for new and existing buildings but relatively little beyond a building’s skin. Correctly built landscapes that mimic the natural world will help fill this critical gap.

Healthy landscapes have the capacity to enhance and regenerate natural resources and ecosystem health.

What is the USGBC's position on the Sustainable Sites Initiative?
USGBC recognizes that there is a need within LEED® to improve the site components and supports the Sustainable Sites Initiative program. The SITES program is an active participant in LEED development and continues to provide feedback on select credits within LEED® v4.

What types of projects does the Sustainable Sites Initiative program address?
The SITES program seeks to apply sustainability principles to any site, with or without buildings, which will be protected, developed or redeveloped for public or private purposes.  The Sustainable Sites Initiative Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks can apply to all landscapes including commercial and public sites, parks, campuses, roadsides, residential landscapes, recreation centers and utility corridors.

What are the Sustainable Sites Initiative program's products designed to achieve?

How was the Rating System created?
The Sustainable Sites Initiative Rating System encompasses four years of work from dozens of the country’s leading sustainability experts, design professionals and scientists, as well public input from hundreds of individuals and dozens of organizations during two open-comment periods. Download the latest reports released in November 2009: The Case for Sustainable Landscapes and Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009. The next report is slated for release in 2014.

Who can use the Rating System?
The Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009, which includes the Rating System, can be used anyone in the design, construction and maintenance fields, as well as homeowners, governments and those who maintain existing green building standards.

Will compliance with this Rating System be mandatory?
The Sustainable Sites Initiative program's products are designed to be voluntary.

What are the next steps for the Sustainable Sites Initiative?
The Sustainable Sites Initiative: Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009 and its companion document, The Case for Sustainable Landscapes, were released on November 5, 2009. Selected pilot projects tested the rating system over a two-year period from June 2010-June 2012. Refinements are currently being incorporated and the formal release of the rating system to the marketplace will occur in 2014.

When can a project get certified?
Open enrollment for project certification will occur with the release of the SITES v2 Reference Guide, which is anticipated for release in 2014.

How can I stay up to date or get involved with the Sustainable Sites Initiative?
Feel free to contact the SITES program at info@sustainablesites.org to learn more about getting involved or to ask questions. You can also sign up for email updates with news and other timely information here.

What are pilot projects?
Pilot projects tested various aspects of the Sustainable Sites Initiative Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009 using a cross-section of project types, sizes and geographic locations throughout the design, construction and maintenance stages. The Pilot Program began in June 2010 and ended June 2012. Feedback from the pilot projects is being used to revise the final rating system and inform the technical reference guide, which will provide future SITES program project candidates with suggestions on how the pilot projects earned specific credits. Click here to learn more about the Pilot Program.

Where can I find the rating system that the pilot projects are testing?
The Sustainable Sites Initiative: Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009 can be downloaded here.