SITES is a sustainable landscape rating system.

SITES is modeled after the LEED green building rating system. And while it is a standalone tool for measuring landscape sustainability, in June 2015, Green Business Certification Inc., the USGBC associated certification body for LEED, announced it had acquired the exclusive rights to the SITES rating system, its publications and trademarks.

The well regarded material on which the SITES v2 rating system (there actually was no version 1, but there was a multi-year pilot) is based was developed by 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.

Of course development of SITES was a collaborative effort by the developers beginning in 2006 except for when in 2013, in an all-out brawl ASLA filed a lawsuit over the ownership of the trademark for the SITES against the Lady Bird Johnson Wildlife Center. The litigation was ultimately resolved and was in the end little more than a distraction that delayed the release of version 2.

While the lawsuit revealed the founding organizations did not have a written agreement among themselves to protect their valuable intellectual property, they have had a multi-year written agreement and close working relationship with USGBC.

Almost half of the prerequisites and credits in SITES are based in part on credits in LEED NC or LEED ND, and some of the SITES Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009 have been incorporated into LEED v4. GBCI will have to find a consensus based process for updating the now somewhat dated SITES v2.

SITES v2 is a voluntary set of guidelines and performance benchmarks to assess the planning, design, construction, and maintenance of sustainable landscapes. SITES has lofty goals including creating regenerative systems and fostering resiliency, and it is ensuring future resource supply and mitigating climate change that sound good, but are concerning in terms of its broader goal of market transformation when only 46 projects have achieved SITES certification since 2006.

Actually reading the SITES v2 scorecard and accompanying rating system is an ideal way to understand why the system’s methodology is so well thought if by design professionals.

SITES v2 provides four certification levels. Projects that receive SITES Certification through GBCI have achieved the requirements within the 10 sections containing 18 prerequisites and accumulated a certain number of points, out of a total of 200 potential points offered by the 48 credits. All credits are optional but not all will apply to every project.

Certification is open for all project types located on sites with or without buildings, including “open spaces and parks, commercial and residential sites, campuses, infrastructure projects, and industrial sites” for new development and major redevelopment, but arguably only on sites that have significant area for landscaping, thus excluding most urban sites. Given these projects (.. maybe not the ‘open spaces’) could be LEED certified, is a project owner pursuing SITES a bug in search of a windshield?

SITES will likely get a boost because on April 13, 2016, the U.S. General Services Administration announced its 2016 version of the Facilities Standards provides,

Through integrative design and application of sustainable design principles, all new construction projects and substantial renovations with adequate scope must achieve, at a minimum, a SITES silver rating through the Green Building Rating System of the U.S. Green Building Council. GSA’s use of the SITES framework allows our land-based projects to better protect ecosystems and enhance the mosaic of benefits they continuously provide our communities, such as climate regulation, carbon storage and flood mitigation.

The larger influence will be that SITES credits are now being incorporated into and influencing the next version of the ASHRAE 189.1 green building standard that is the announced precursor to the next version of the International Green Construction Code, all that will provide the technical basis of the next version of LEED.

So, while it is unlikely you will find yourself working on a SITES project (.. there are simply too few of them), because of the deep and widespread influence SITES will have on the next generation of green building standards, codes and rating systems, you should familiarize yourself with the scorecard and accompanying version of the rating system.