The Sustainable Sites Initiative


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On Friday, July 9th, the Central Texas American Planning Association (APA) learned by the Sustainable Sites Initiative from the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center's own Dr. Steve Windhager.

The goal of Sustainable Sites Initiative is to do for landscape design what LEED certification has done for building design. Under the Sustainable Sites Initiative, sites qualify for certification (1 star, 2 star, 3 star, and 4 star) based on a 250 point scale. As of June 2010, 174 pilot projects were started under the Sustainable Site Initiative.

This quick summary doesn't do Dr. Windhager's presentation justice, so check out his presentation complete with interesting facts about the ROI of urban forests and how New York street trees provide climate moderating benefits to the tune of $27.8 million.

Get more information about sustainable sites here:

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The Sustainable Sites Initiative

  1. 1. SUCCESS of GREEN BUILDING The construction market accounts for 13.4% of the U.S. GDP. Source: Department of Commerce (2008). Annual Value of Construction Put in Place. The value of green building construction is projected to increase to $60 billion by 2010 and over $100 billion by 2013. Source: McGraw-Hill Construction (2008). Key Trends in the European and U.S. Construction Marketplace: SmartMarket Report. Since 2000, USGBC’s membership has more than quadrupled. Source: U.S. Green Building Council, 2009
  2. 2. Jefferson Green Oregon Health & Science Center Genzyme Center
  3. 3. 6 CO2 + 6 H2O → C6H12O6 + 6 O2
  5. 5. LINKING LANDSCAPES TO SUSTAINABILITY… 25 to 50% of electricity used by US cities is consumed by municipal water and wastewater treatment. Waterand Energy Technology Team at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (2007) Water shortages & drought increasing across US. NASA Earth Observatory (2008) © 2009 Sustainable Sites Initiative
  6. 6. LINKING LANDSCAPES TO SUSTAINABILITY… 30% to 65% of water used daily by a family of four is for landscape irrigation. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “ Outdoor Water Use in the United States”, 2007 Combine sewer overflows result in sewage and large volumes of storm water containing pathogens, solids, debris and toxic pollutants being discharged into surface water. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, “ Report to Congress on Impacts and Control of Combines Sewer Overflows and Sanitary Sewer Overflows”, 2004
  7. 7. LINKING LANDSCAPES TO SUSTAINABILITY… 78 million households in the U.S. use home and garden pesticides. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2004. Pesticides Industry Sales and Usage: 2000 and 2001 Market Estimates. EPA-733-R-04-001 Soils that are compacted during site preparation and construction lose the ability to absorb storm water and supply plant roots with air and water Breland and Hansen, 1996 Source: James Urban
  8. 8. LINKING LANDSCAPES TO SUSTAINABILITY… Disposing of organic materials in Texas landfills costs more than $150 million a year and consumes more than 15 million cubic yards of space. TCEQ Yardwise - Green Guide to Yard Care Yard and landscape trimmings contribute approximately 32 million tons to the municipal waste stream, representing over 13 percent of total municipal waste in the U.S. U.S. EPA, "Municipal Solid Waste Generation, Recycling, and Disposal in the United States: Facts and Figures for 2005
  9. 9. LINKING LANDSCAPES TO SUSTAINABILITY… Scientists estimate that strategically planting vegetation reduces cooling energy consumption by up to 25%. U.S. EPA – Heat Island Effect A study of street trees in New York City found that the climate moderating benefits provided by trees resulted in annual energy savings of $27.8 million, or $47.63 per tree. Peper, P.J., McPherson, E.G., Simpson, J.R. et al., "New York City, New York: Municipal Forest Resource Analysis," Technical Report, USDA Forest Service Center for Urban Forest Research, Pacific Southwest Research Station (2007).
  10. 10. LINKING LANDSCAPES TO SUSTAINABILITY… Minneapolis showed savings of $6.8 million in energy costs and $9.1 million in stormwater treatment and increased property values by $7.1 million as a result of street trees. McPherson 2006 Return On Investment from urban forests: •New York, NY: $5.60/$1 spent •Fort Collins, CO: $2.18/$1 spent •Glendale, AZ: $2.41/$1 spent •Charlotte, NC: $3.25/$1 spent Peper et al 2007
  11. 11. LINKING LANDSCAPES TO SUSTAINABILITY… Low Impact Development (LID) approaches to stormwater results in improved water quality as well as capital cost reduction between 15 and 80 percent. Environmental Protection Agency, “Reducing Stormwater Costs through Low Impact Development (LID) Strategies and Practices,” EPA 841-F- 07-006 (2007),
  12. 12. LINKING LANDSCAPES TO SUSTAINABILITY… Beyond cost reductions, these communities also experienced “real and significant” benefits, including aesthetic amenities, improved quality of life, improved habitat, and enhanced property values. Environmental Protection Agency, “Reducing Stormwater Costs through Low Impact Development (LID) Strategies and Practices,” EPA 841-F- 07-006 (2007),
  13. 13. WHAT IS SUSTAINABILITY? Healthy individuals participating in stable institutions Maintaining and Profitable, enhancing competitive ecosystem and enduring services businesses Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs. Brundtland Report, Our Common Future, 1987
  14. 14. ECOSYSTEM SERVICES Benefits natural systems provide that support our lives and are often considered “free” and not a part of conventional accounting methods. $16 - $54 trillion per/yr. Twice the Global GNP Costanza et al. 1997
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  17. 17. ECOSYSTEM SERVICES • Regulate global and local climate • Detoxify and cleanse air, soil and water • Regulate water supply • Control erosion and retain sediment • Provide refuge and nursery habitat/ pollination services • Decompose, treat, and re-use waste • Provide human health and well-being benefits • Provide food and non-food products • Provide cultural, educational and aesthetic values • Mitigate potential hazards
  18. 18. SUSTAINABILITY? Increasing Population Expanding “Greenfield” Development Need for regenerative landscapes
  19. 19. VISION All site related design construction, operations and maintenance practices link natural and built systems to achieve balanced environmental, social and economic outcomes to improve the quality of life and long term health of communities and the environment
  20. 20. POTENTIAL PROJECTS TYPES • parks, trails, campgrounds • botanical gardens • industrial and office parks • university campuses • govt. & medical complexes • residential sites • conservation easements • streetscapes & plazas
  21. 21. Free download at
  22. 22. Guidelines & Performance Rating System Benchmarks 2009 • 250 point scale • 4 levels of certification • 40% - One Star • 50% - Two Stars • 60% - Three Stars • 80% - Four Stars Multiple point levels for many credits
  23. 23. Guidelines & Performance CREDIT CATEGORIES Benchmarks 2009 • Site Selection • Pre-Design Assessment • Site Design – Water • Site Design – Soil & Vegetation • Site Design – Materials • Site Design – Human Health & Well Being • Construction • Operations and Maintenance • Monitoring and Innovation
  24. 24. PARADIGM CHANGE Water Energy Habitat Materials 1. Conserve 1. Reduce 1. Preserve 1. Reduce 2. Reuse 2. Renew 2. Protect 2. Reuse 3. Balance 3. Offset 3. Restore 3. Recycle = Regenerate = Produce = Regenerate = Upcycle from CONSERVATION to REGENERATION through PERFORMATIVE LANDSCAPES
  25. 25. CURRENT STATUS • Preliminary Draft Standards and Guidelines released November 2007 (at • Sustainable Sites Initiative Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks Draft 2008 released November 2008 • Final Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009 released November 5, 2009 • 174 Pilot Projects begun in June 2010
  26. 26. PILOT PROGRAM PROJECT TYPES 25% Open space - Park 20% Institutional/Educational 15% Commercial 13% Residential 9% Transportation /Streetscape 8% Open space – Public Garden 6% Government Complex 3% Mixed-use 1% Industrial EXISTING LAND USE 65% Greyfield PROJECT SIZE 20% Greenfield 25% Less than one acre 15% Brownfield 26% 1-5 acres PROJECT LOCATIONS 40% 6-100 acres Projects in 34 U.S. States 8% 101-500 acres 3% of projects outside U.S. in 1% Greater than 500 acres Canada, Iceland and Spain
  27. 27. PROJECT TIMELINE Open Enrolment Pilot Projects Guidelines & Reference Benchmarks Guide Form Partnerships & Collaborations