University releases new landscape rating system


Photo Credit: Albert Lee | Daily Texan Staff

The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the College of Natural Sciences are working toward their goal of landscape sustainability with the use of a new landscape construction rating system that prioritizes the environment.

SITES v2, developed by the Sustainable Sites Initiative, is a collaboration between the center, the United States Botanical Garden and the American Society of Landscape Architects for implementation in building projects that allows engineers, architects and landscapers to work efficiently without sacrificing the sustainability of the environment.

The program is completely voluntary, and so far more than 100 sites across the nation have taken up the initiative, 30 of which have qualified for a rating, including a site at UT Arlington.

“If projects follow and implement SITES v2, these built landscapes create ecologically resilient communities better able to withstand and recover from episodic floods, droughts, wildfires and other catastrophic events,” said Danielle Pieranunzi, Sustainable Sites Initiative program director. “They benefit the environment, property owners, and local and regional communities and economies.”

SITES offers a reference guide, which provides information about environmentally friendly building practices, to project developers who wish to qualify for a SITES rating. The provided guide includes tips on water resources, soil and vegetation, building materials and human health.

SITES consulted technical experts in fields such as hydrology, botany, engineering and landscaping to design the v2 rating system, said Susan Rieff, Wildflower Center executive director.

Modeled after LEED, a rating system used for the construction of environmentally safe buildings, SITES v2 is intended to ensure that landscapes — in places such as natural parks, corporate campuses, residences and waterways — are environmentally sound as well.  This is done by first evaluating the natural ecosystem of a particular site, to check for the presence of local flora and fauna, sources of naturally occurring water and possible soil erosion, Rieff said.

“[After evaluating the site,] you can design, so nature’s working with you and not against you,” Rieff said.

Under the SITES v2 system, projects receive points based on the sustainability and ability to protect and restore ecosystems, Pieranunzi said. If the project reaches the minimum number of points and meets specific prerequisites, SITES will give it a “Certified,” “Silver,” “Gold” or “Platinum” certification based on the number of points received. The Sustainability Sites Initiative is currently negotiating with the Green Building Certification Institute to provide SITES v2 certifications.

Aesthetic form and beauty are no longer the only criteria that are considered in the construction of landscapes, said architecture professor Steven Moore.  Environmental and social conditions have played an increasingly important role for architects and landscape designers in recent years as well, according to Moore.

“SITES v2 is enormously important in helping our ‘building culture’ to transform design and construction practices that do harm to those that might actually contribute to the urban ecosystem,” Moore said in an email.