Rating the Regenerative Landscape
A new “green” rating system aims to evaluate landscapes—with
or without buildings.
By Theodore Eisenman
A new green rating system that will have direct implications
for landscape architects is under way. Titled the Sustainable Sites Initiative,
the program will be the first of its kind to specifically address the
sustainable design and construction of sites. This is important news for
landscape architects, and it may have impacts that go beyond the profession itself.
Current green building rating systems such as the U.S. Green
Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program
have concentrated primarily on mitigating the environmental impacts of
buildings. This is important and understandable: Buildings account for
one-sixth of the world’s freshwater withdrawals, one-quarter of its wood
harvest, and two-fifths of its material energy flows. Buildings also contribute
roughly 40 percent of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions. By creating a national
standard where none existed before, LEED has succeeded in making green building
understandable, and even sexy, to the general public. Yet while LEED does
include criteria for site development, its general focus has been on technical
solutions within the building envelope.
The Sustainable Sites rating system, on the other hand, will
establish a rating system for sites with or without buildings. By establishing
benchmarks based on the goods and services that sustain humans and other
organisms—known as ecosystem services—Sustainable Sites seeks to protect and
enhance the capacity of landscapes to actually regenerate natural resources.
This rating system has the potential to go beyond mere
citing of environmental impacts.
“We can no longer aim for doing the least harm. We need to
create ecological value. We need to be regenerative,” says Jose Alminana,
ASLA’s representative on the Sustainable Sites Product Development Committee
and a principal at Andropogon Associates. He hastens to add, “And we realize
that’s a fairly tall order.”
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