SITES: A new Standard for Designing Landscapes


By Diana Gutierrez and Nathan Straughan

If you haven’t heard, there is a new sustainable initiative in town! Much like the LEED building rating system, the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) encourages landscape projects to protect and regenerate natural systems and provides a framework to accomplish it. SITES was developed through a partnership between the Lady Bird Wildflower Center, United States Botanical Garden, and the American Society of Landscape Architects to create a measurable program for sustainable landscapes. Other partners include the U.S. Green Building Council. The Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) provides project certification for those visionaries who commit to adopting SITES.

Why should we care about SITES? Here at Straughan, we are committed to a sustainable world. One way to accomplish that is to manage natural resources so that both the planet and people benefit. SITES introduces the concept of ecosystem services; services provided by nature such as air and water cleaning, pollination and providing food. SITES encourages landscape projects to include as many ecosystem services as possible. SITES also developed a set of Guiding Principles to guide developers, owners, landscape architects and others. Finally, where LEED focuses on Buildings that may or may not have landscapes, SITES focuses on landscapes that may or may not have buildings developed on them. You can learn more about SITES here.

Straughan Environmental was the SITES specialist for a SITES pilot project for the Evans Parkway Neighborhood Park in Silver Spring, MD, which achieved a SITES rating at the 3-star level, one of ten projects in the country to achieve 3 stars. This project will serve as a demonstration of the SITES framework for future developments for the owner, the Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission (M-NCPPC). Our Senior Sustainability Specialist, Diana Gutierrez, served as the SITES consultant on this project, and is now one of ten SITES Accredited Professionals in Maryland. Learn more about the N-NCPPC project here.

“SITES is a rating system that measures how sustainable a site is using a unique set of criteria. It aims to decrease the impacts of development by focusing best practices in conserving landscapes and open spaces. It educates people about how a site can do what you want it to do, while at the same time making a positive contribution to the surroundings and the natural world. SITES helps project teams understand that landscapes and green infrastructure can directly protect and regenerate natural ecosystems. It’s all about providing ecosystem services in your project, such as providing habitat, and using native plants to attract pollinators. With SITES, Straughan will be able to help clients who are interested in expanding their sustainable practices beyond the built environment and into the project site. SITES and LEED work together, and this makes it possible for projects to receive two certifications that both contribute to wise use of natural resources. We help our clients create natural settings that can benefit the community and help rejuvenate occupants of a building. In the wake of Hurricane Harvey, frameworks like SITES can help communities build resilient places that better enable them to withstand and recover from extreme weather events.”

– Diana Gutierrez, M.S. Civil Eng., SITES AP

SITES® AP and the related logo is a trademark owned by Green Business Certification Inc.™ and is used with permission. The Sustainable Sites InitiativeTM and SITESTM are trademarks of The University of Texas at Austin.

Photo of Evans Parkway Neighborhood Park by Diana Gutierrez.