In the two-year pilot project phase underway for the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES), pre-design and design prerequisites assume a very high profile. In fact, site selection, pre-design assessment and site design account for 75% of the total points available under SITES.
But that doesn’t mean the rating and credit system is set in stone. In fact, one of the goals of the two-year pilot and accompanying projects is to test its efficacy, according to American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) spokesperson Jim Lapides. “Depending on the type and diversity of projects submitted, we may have upwards of 200 from all different parts of the country. The information we gather will help determine how real-to-life the SITES rating and credit system is.
“Ultimately the credits are supposed to accomplish something in a reasonable and cost-effective way,” Lapides continues. “But maybe planning costs would be prohibitive for achieving some credits, or reducing water consumption by 50% would be unobtainable in some areas of the country. That’s what the pilot program is designed to tell us.” Lapides explains that once the program has been completed and data gathered and analyzed, SITES will publish another report that updates the rating and credit system, replete with case study results. The report can then be used by landscape contractors as a more definitive source of ways to design, install and maintain sustainable projects.
Landscape contractors, though, need not wait for the final report to test and even hone their “green” skills. The SITES pilot project—the result of nearly five years of benchmarking, public comment and case study review—provides a good initial roadmap for offering customers sustainable solutions.
Preserve and Repair Existing Resources
The SITES guidelines call for the design team to select building sites with a view toward preserving existing resources and repairing damaged systems, and otherwise planning for sustainability from the onset of the project. Dean DeSantis, president of DeSantis Landscapes in Salem, OR, says that a team approach, or integrative design, works best for designing sustainability into the early stages of a project. He tells how a multi-disciplinary team comprised of, for example, the building architect, property owner, mechanical engineer and landscape designer, can add value by looking at a project in a holistic manner as opposed to the single dimension of each discipline.
“We’ve participated in brainstorming sessions where participants tossed around ideas about how to make the site as sustainable and efficient as possible,” DeSantis tells. “Among considerations, a team looks at the solar orientation of the home, drainage patterns (where the water naturally flows), and the native flora and fauna of the site. Understanding grades and the natural lay of the land is critical. What you don’t want, for example, is to construct a driveway that slopes toward the home, or destroy key habitat for local fauna. Ideally you would like to treat all the stormwater while on-site by slowing it down and filtering it before it leaves the site.”
Protecting existing plants and trees may also be a high priority in the early stages of project design, according to DeSantis. If certain species cannot be spared, then possibly transplanting them to another site would be feasible.
Richard Heller, president of Greener by Design in Pelham, NY, agrees. He believes that people should spare trees that are older than themselves. “But at the same time, we’re not the ones paying for design and construction. We have to educate property owners who ultimately must decide if being sustainable is cost-effective for them.
“Our company doesn’t sell sustainability up front,” Heller adds. “Instead, we look at the initial design from a purely aesthetic perspective, and then present the property owner with several different options. Then, when pulling out a contract, we talk about sustainable options.”