Too often, landscapes are seen as an afterthought during the design and development process, something to be altered and shaped once elements like buildings and roads are finalized. Rather than be an afterthought, though, how can a site or place inform the design process? And how can humans be more connected with nature, particularly at a time when half of the world’s population live in urban areas, and that number is only expected to rise?
These are questions and concerns that infused the thinking and drove the development of the Sustainable SITES Initiative (SITES). Embracing an interdisciplinary approach, the SITES program set out to develop a voluntary certification system using science and best practices in landscape design, ecological restoration, and related fields. A group of prominent and forward-thinking practitioners, scientists, and policy-makers provided expertise in soil, vegetation, hydrology, materials, and human health and well-being. From the outset, SITES embraced the concept of ecosystem services as its core framework with the ultimate goal of elevating the value of landscapes.
After eight years of research and development, the SITES v2 Rating System was released in 2014. In June 2015, the Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI), the same organization that certifies LEED green building projects, acquired SITES and opened registration for project certification. Current projects pursuing SITES v2 certification span the globe from Hong Kong to Vancouver to numerous projects scattered across the United States. They include waterfront developments, corporate headquarters, academic institutions, and city parks. Just as the LEED green building program has transformed the building industry, SITES has the ability to transform land design and development. The need for SITES was made even more evident in 2016 when the U.S. General Services Administration adopted SITES as the standard for all new capital construction projects.
The SITES Rating System is considered a living product that will evolve over time as research and experience generate more knowledge. Feedback and continued applications in the field are critically important to building upon, and improving SITES so it remains relevant, accessible, rigorous, and ensures the development of beautiful, functional, and resilient sites. With this approach to development, a city or community can cumulatively assemble a network of high performing landscapes that can address local and regional challenges, provide needed access to nature, and optimize additional opportunities for positive change.