LEED for Landscape: Metrics in Landscape Architecture

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Most people are familiar with, or have at least heard of the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating system. Started by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) in 2000, LEED has become the key metric for measuring the cost-efficiency, energy-efficiency and sustainability of buildings in the US (with global aspirations). While LEED might not be a perfect system, it has successfully built up a notable brand that is affecting positive change in the building industry.

In 2006 the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) began work on their own version of LEED, called the Sustainable Sites Initiative or SITES. They have been collaborating with the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, the University of Texas and the United States Botanical Garden (USBG) on the framework. Together their goal was to create, “voluntary national guidelines and performance benchmarks for sustainable land design, construction and maintenance practices.”

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The key areas of measurement for SITES are in the following areas:

  1. Site Selection
  2. Pre-Design Assessment and Planning
  3. Site Design – Water
  4. Site Design – Soil and Vegetation
  5. Site Design – Material Selection
  6. Site Design – Human Health and Well-Being
  7. Construction
  8. Operations and Maintenance
  9. Monitoring and Innovation

The secondary goal is to get SITES incorporated into the LEED framework and ASLA has been in dialogue with U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). Unfortunately, in the fall of 2013, there was a dispute amongst the parties involved in SITES and a lawsuit has been filed related to the SITES trademark.

A November 2013 article on the ASLA blog, Landscape Architects and Their Clients Tackle SITES, addresses some of the challenges and benefits of using the 200-point rating system. One interesting issue is that it can be difficult to find sources for sustainable landscape materials.  While the rating system may have started off fairly complex, the ASLA has done a fairly good job at promoting and marketing the system within the profession. (see brochure, “Landscapes Give Back”) It will need further exposure beyond landscape architects in order for it to reach its full potential.  Influential metrics need to be widely adopted for maximum benefit.  Becoming a part of LEED will be vital, but it will not be enough on its own.

I am hopeful that the lawsuit gets resolved and that the acceptance and usage of SITES continues to become more widespread. By establishing this important metric for comparing different projects, landscape architects have another tool to enhance the positive impacts (or ecosystem services) of their projects and minimize the negative effects. As an aspiring landscape architect, helping to provide ecosystem services that actually improve our built environment is one of the most rewarding components of the profession.

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3 thoughts on “LEED for Landscape: Metrics in Landscape Architecture

  1. Great article Mike. I too hope to see the SITES initiative move past the legal issues and re-focus their attention on gaining ground in becoming a mainstay in landscape architecture project guidelines/standards. USGBC has done a great job making LEED a household name, I don’t see why ASLA can’t acheive the same with SITES.

    Looking forward to hearing more from you on this topic.

    –Steve B.

  2. Good Read. The legal issues and changes are really bogging down what’s next, and is taking up too much of the focus. Number 7 in the key ares of measurement for SITES will really take up this year, there has already been so much growth in new construction products .

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