by Emily Langner
Established almost two decades ago, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) has become a well-known green building system, providing “a framework to create healthy, highly efficient and cost-saving green buildings.” More recently, the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) has added another program for evaluating and achieving sustainable design, the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES).
The SITES program is based on the understanding that “land is a crucial component of the built environment and can be planned, designed, developed and maintained to protect and enhance the benefits we derive from healthy functioning landscapes.” SITES includes a rating system used for creating sustainable and resilient land development projects, and demonstrates how “the work of developers, property owners, landscape architects, engineers, planners, architects, and others can protect, restore, and enhance ecosystem services.”
While the LEED certification focuses on buildings, SITES can be applied to projects located on sites “with or without buildings.” According to Christine Wilson, landscape architect with Copley Wolff Design Group, “What’s special about the SITES rating system is that it is site-focused, more holistic, and encompasses everything from early planning stages of a project through the design, construction, and on-going operations and maintenance.”
The SITES rating is achieved through a point-based system, allowing all project types to be able to receive the certification by fulfilling goals related to the specific project. Wilson says this allows for flexibility in how the rating is achieved, but requires all members of a project to come together in the beginning and to be on the same page about the different elements they will incorporate into the project.
In August, the University of Connecticut (UCONN) opened its new Student Recreation Center, a three-story, 191,000sf state-of-the-art facility located at the heart of the university. The center is the first building on campus to establish a goal for both LEED Gold and SITES certified ratings.
Copley Wolff, a landscape architecture and planning firm located in Boston, worked with Ian Dann, landscape architect for UConn’s University Planning, Design and Construction team, along with JCJ Architecture; Langan, civil engineer; and Turner Construction, general contractor; to complete the ambitious project for the university.
Of the project, Sean Sanger, principal at Copley Wolff, says, “The design process was similar to what we typically do, in that it is collaborative, cross-discipline, and engaging in the public process.” To achieve the SITES rating, the team incorporated green infrastructure including bringing in native plants and installing permeable paving in the parking lots to address stormwater issues, and composting the clippings produced from mowing the grass.
Wilson, Sanger, and Becky Rupel, also a landscape architect at Copley Wolff, say the SITES certification is on par with the standards they already use within the company. Both Wilson and Rupel are SITES accredited professionals, which allows them to educate and guide their clients toward certification.
Rupel says, “SITES is a good opportunity for projects that are more landscape or more site-oriented to be rewarded for the contributions they are making.” She says that SITES looks at project sites as part of a bigger system, and allows companies to evaluate the role their projects play in the delicate balance of that ecosystem, and contribute positively in the face of climate change. “It has a lot of potential to really quantify those things that don’t get quantified otherwise; all of the things that we as designers have the potential to impact. SITES captures a lot of those ideas really well.”
Sanger says, “It’s something that needs to be understood and bought in by everybody for it to work. It’s all for the greater good. SITES certification includes many beneficial elements that people don’t often consider, and they’re not difficult to include. It’s just a different mindset from how it’s traditionally been done. It’s a different way of thinking about how we do things in this century with more sensitivity to our environment.” He adds, “A lot of little things added up can make a difference.”
For more information on the SITES rating system and certification process, visit http://www.sustainablesites.org.
Emily Langner is the associate editor and staff writer for High-Profile Monthly.