Site Commissioning: Proving Triple-Bottom-Line Landscape Performance at a National Scale

Award Of Excellence


Client: US General Services Administration

"The Site Commissioning White Paper issued by the General Services Administration is a groundbreaking project that helps set verifiable landscape performance goals that can be monitored and maintained over time. Its methods will foster a more resilient built environment and help prove to decision makers the environmental, financial, and human value of well-designed landscapes. Developed in a rigorous process led by landscape architects, this highly accessible resource is poised to alter land development decisions well beyond the federal realm."

- 2019 Awards Jury

Project Credits


  • Christian Gabriel, RLA, ASLA -- GSA, National Design Director for Landscape Architecture


  • José Almiñana, PLA, FASLA, SITES AP, LEED AP -- Andropogon Associates, Principal
  • Thomas Amoroso, PLA, ASLA -- Andropogon Associates, Principal
  • Emily McCoy, PLA, ASLA, SITES AP -- Andropogon Associates, Associate Principal + Director of Integrative Research
  • Lauren Mandel, PLA, ASLA -- Andropogon Associates, Landscape Architect + Researcher****
  • Lori Aument -- Andropogon, Marketing Lead***
  • Loretta Desvernine -- Senior Graphic Designer


  • David Insinga, AIA -- GSA, Director, Design Excellence + Chief Architect
  • Don Horn, FAIA, LEED Fellow -- GSA, Deputy Director, Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings
  • Frank Giblin, APA -- GSA, Director, Urban Development
  • Lance Davis, AIA, LEED Fellow -- GSA, Sustainability Architect**
  • Martin Weiland, P.E. -- GSA, Chief of Staff, Facility Management**
  • Maureen Alonso, PMP -- GSA, National Capital Region, Landscape Management + Design Program, Regional Horticulturist Team Lead*
  • Natalie Huber, P.E. -- GSA, Chief Engineer
  • Ray Mims -- US Botanic Garden, Conservation + Sustainability Manager
  • Robert Goo -- EPA, Office of Wetlands, Oceans + Watersheds
  • Rudy Schuster, PhD -- USGS, Branch Chief, Social + Economic Analysis, Ecosystem Service Valuation
  • Sean Garrett, AIA -- GSA Central Office, Enclosures + Envelopes Specialist
  • Steve Hilburger -- USGS, Ecosystems Mission Area Wildlife Program Manager


  • Ravi Maniktala, P.E., LEED AP, CxA, HBDP -- M.E. Group, President / Forte Building Science, Founder*
  • Scott Kelly, AIA, LEED Fellow, CPHC -- ReVision Architecture, Co-Founder + Principal-in-Charge*
  • Thomas King, P.E. -- CCG Facilities Integration Inc., Director of Commissioning*
  • [KEY: White paper section reviewer * / White paper reviewer ** / White paper editor *** / Principal author ****]


  • Brian Vinchesi, LEED AP, EIT, CID, CIC, CLIA, CGIA, CWM-L -- Irrigation Consulting, Inc., President
  • Dave B. Arscott, PhD -- Stroud Water Research Center, Vice President, Executive Director, + Research Scientist
  • Franco Montalto, PhD, P.E. -- Drexel University, Department of Civil, Architectural + Environmental Engineering, Associate Professor / The Sustainable Water Resources Engineering Laboratory at Drexel University, Lab Director
  • Howard Neukrug, P.E., BCEE, Hon.D.WRE -- University of Pennsylvania, Professor of Practice, Water + Environmental Sciences
  • Jane Bacchieri -- City of Portland, Bureau of Environmental Services, Watershed Services Group Manager
  • Michele Adams, P.E., LEED AP -- Meliora Design, President
  • Pam Emerson -- City of Seattle, Office of Sustainability + Environment, Policy Advisor, Green Infrastructure
  • Paul Kephart, ASLA -- Rana Creek, President, CEO, Principal Ecologist + Designer
  • Robert G. Traver, PhD -- Villanova University, Department of Civil + Environmental Engineering, Professor / Villanova Urban Stormwater Partnership, Director
  • Robert Goo -- U.S. EPA, Office of Wetlands, Oceans + Watersheds, Environmental Protection Specialist
  • Russell Clark -- GSA, National Capitol Region, Regional Stormwater Program Manager
  • Stephen Benz, P.E., LEED Fellow, Hon. ASLA -- SITEGreen Solutions, LLC, Founder + Consultant
  • Thomas Price, P.E. -- Conservation Design Forum, Principal Civil Engineer + Hydrologist*


  • Andrew N. Sharpley, PhD -- Soil Science Society of America, President
  • Barrett Kays, PhD, CPSS, LSS, PLA, FASLA -- Landis, PLLC, Soil / Hydrologic / Groundwater / Environmental Scientist + Landscape Architect*
  • Charlie Miller, P.E. -- Roofmeadow, Founding Principal + President
  • Claudia West -- North Creek Nurseries, Ecological Sales Manager
  • David Lindbo, PhD -- USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Director, Soil Science Division / North Carolina State University, Professor
  • Eric Kramer, RLA, ASLA -- Reed Hilderbrand, Principal
  • James Urban, FASLA -- The Office of James Urban, FASLA, Founder / Urban Trees + Soils, Founder
  • Paul Mankiewicz, PhD -- The Gaia Institute, Executive Director
  • Sjoerd Willem Duiker, PhD, CCA -- The Pennsylvania State University, Department of Plant Science, Associate Professor of Soil Management + Applied Soil Physics
  • Terry Stancill -- Stancills Inc., President + Chief of Research for Process + Environmental Product Development
  • Tim Craul, CPSSc -- Craul Land Scientists, President


  • Anne Sharp -- North Creek Nurseries, Manager, Research + Development
  • Anthony S. Aiello -- Morris Arboretum of the University of Pennsylvania, Director of Horticulture
  • Chris Winters, RLA -- ARC Studios Inc., Senior Design Lead, Landscape Architecture
  • Craig Ruppert -- Ruppert Landscape, Founder + Chief Executive Officer
  • Darren Destefano -- GSA, National Capital Region, Regional Horticulturist*
  • Gary Krupnick, PhD -- Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History, Plant Conservation Unit, Plant Conservationist
  • James Sottilo, ISA -- Ecological Landscape Management, President
  • Larry Weaner -- Larry Weaner Landscape Associates, Principal + Founder
  • Lisa Cowan, PLA, ASLA -- StudioVerde, Principal
  • Mark Richardson -- New England Wildflower Society, Director of Horticulture
  • Maureen Alonso, PMP -- GSA, National Capital Region, Landscape Management + Design Program, Regional Horticulturist Team Lead*
  • Nina Bassuk, PhD -- Cornell University, College of Agricultural + Life Sciences, School of Integrative Plant Science, Professor, Horticulture Section
  • Ray Mims -- U.S. Botanic Garden, Conservation + Sustainability Manager
  • Steve Windhager, PhD -- The Santa Barbara Botanic Garden, Executive Director*
  • Thomas Rainer, PLA -- Rhodeside + Harwell, Principal


  • Christopher Anderson, CEA, LEED AP -- Skanska USA Building Inc., Senior Estimator
  • Dana Pomeroy, AIA, DBIA, LEED -- The Whiting-Turner Contracting Company, Vice President + Director of Design-Build
  • David Yocca, FASLA, AICP, LEED AP -- Conservation Design Forum, Principal Landscape Architect + Planner
  • Don Horn, FAIA, LEED Fellow -- GSA, Office of Federal High-Performance Green Buildings, Deputy Director
  • E. Timothy Marshall, FASLA -- ETM Associates, LLC, Principal + Owner
  • H. Jay Enck CxAP, HBDP, BEAP, LEED Fellow -- Commissioning and Green Building Solutions, Inc., Co-founder + Chief Technical Officer
  • Jason Wirick -- Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes, Director of Facilities + Sustainability Management
  • Jeffrey Bruce, FASLA, ASIC, LEED, GRP -- Jeffrey L. Bruce + Company LLC, Principal*
  • Kevin Repasky -- Hanover Architectural Products, Director of Marketing
  • Lamonte John, AIA -- GSA, Office of Design + Construction, Architect + Program Manager
  • Maribeth DeLorenzo -- Urban Sustainability Administration, Department of Energy + Environment, Deputy Director
  • Martin Weiland, P.E. -- GSA, Chief of Staff, Facilities Management
  • Meg Calkins, ASLA, LEED AP -- Ball State University, Department of Landscape Architecture, Associate Professor / Sustainable SITES Handbook, Editor
  • Rob Kistler, AIA, NCARB -- Façade Group, Principal
  • Sean Garrett, AIA -- GSA, Office of Design + Construction, Building Enclosures Specialist


  • Ari Novy, PhD -- U.S. Botanic Garden, Executive Director
  • Donald J. Leopold, PhD -- SUNY-ESF, Department of Environmental + Forest Biology, Distinguished Teaching Professor + Chair
  • Jared Rosenbaum -- Wild Ridge Plants, Co-Owner
  • John Hart Asher -- Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, Environmental Designer / The University of Texas at Austin, School of Architecture, Lecturer
  • Keith Bowers, FASLA, RLA, PWS -- Biohabitats, President*
  • Keith Russell -- Audubon Pennsylvania, Program Manager for Urban Conservation
  • Laurie Davies Adams -- Pollinator Partnership, Executive Director
  • Leslie Sauer -- Andropogon Associates, Co-Founding Principal (emeritus)
  • Lisa Alexander -- Audubon Naturalist Society, Executive Director
  • Steven D. Frank, PhD -- North Carolina State University, Entomology Program, Associate Professor
  • Steve Hilburger -- U.S. Geologic Survey, Ecosystems Mission Area Wildlife Program Manager
  • Steven Apfelbaum, M.S. -- Applied Ecological Services, Senior Ecologist, Founder + Chairman
  • Steven Hendel, PhD -- Rutgers University, School of Environmental + Biological Sciences, Distinguished Professor of Ecology / Harvard University,
  • Graduate School of Design, Visiting Professor / Ecological Restoration, Editor


  • Adrian Benepe -- The Trust for Public Lands, Senior Vice President + Director of City Park Development*
  • Alicia Coleman, PhD Student -- University of Massachusetts, Amherst, Department of Regional Planning
  • Barbara Deutsch, FASLA -- Landscape Architecture Foundation, Executive Director
  • Beth Ziebarth -- Smithsonian Institution, Accessibility Program, Director
  • Claire Latané, ASLA -- Mia Lehrer + Associates, Senior Associate
  • Dan Guilbeault -- Department of Energy + Environment, Sustainability + Equity Branch, Branch Chief
  • Deborah Marton -- New York Restoration Project, Executive Director
  • Frank Giblin, APA -- GSA, Office of Design + Construction, Director of Urban Development
  • Lisanne Brown, PhD, MPH -- Louisiana Public Health Institute, Director, Evaluation + Research
  • Leann Andrews, RLA, ASLA, SEED -- University of Washington, Department of Landscape Architecture, Lecturer + PhD Candidate
  • Mario Cambardella, PLA -- City of Atlanta, Mayors Office of Sustainability, Urban Agriculture Director
  • Robin Moore, Hon. ASLA -- Natural Learning Initiative, Director / North Carolina State University, Department of Landscape Architecture, Professor


  • Alex Felson, PhD -- Yale University, School of Forestry + Environmental Studies, Associate Professor / Yale University, School of Architecture, Associate Professor / Urban Ecology + Design Laboratory, Director + Principal Investigator
  • A.R. Ann Kosmal, FAIA, LEED AP, BD+C, CPHC, PDC -- GSA, Office of Government Wide Policy, Federal High Performance Buildings, Architect
  • Bill Updike -- Department of Energy + Environment, Green Building + Climate Branch, Branch Chief
  • Debra Guenther, FASLA, LEED AP, BD+C -- Mithn, Partner*
  • Ignacio Bunster-Ossa, FASLA -- AECOM, Vice President, Landscape Architecture + Practice Leader for the Americas
  • Jairo H. Garcia, PhD -- City of Atlanta, Mayors Office of Sustainability, Director Climate Policies + Renewables / City of Atlanta, Deputy Chief Resilience Officer
  • Lara J. Hansen, PhD -- EcoAdapt, Chief Scientist + Executive Director Liz Guthrie, ASLA, LEED Green Assoc. -- 100 Resilient Cities, Associate Director, Resilience Practice
  • Parker Liautaud -- U.S. Department of Energy, Advanced Research Projects Agency - Energy, Earth Systems Advisor
  • Richard Pouyat -- USDA Forest Service, National Program Leader Bioclimatology + Air Quality Research
  • Rudy Schuster, PhD -- U.S. Geologic Survey, Branch Chief, Social + Economic Analysis, Ecosystem Services Valuation *
  • [KEY: White paper section reviewer * / White paper reviewer ** / White paper editor *** / Principal author ****]

Project Statement

Site commissioning—the process of establishing and then field-verifying performance goals—is a mechanism for proving that investment in constructed landscapes is environmentally, socially, and financially worthwhile. The Site Commissioning White Paper, published in 2017 by the U.S. General Services Administration (GSA), proposes an agency-wide, site-commissioning process for GSA's future land development projects. This process has the potential to advance the effectiveness of the site design, construction, and management industries within one of the world's largest public real estate organizations, which in turn could positively impact landscape performance at a national scale. The white paper was developed through a unique collaboration between policy-makers, landscape architects, and 89 industry leaders. While written as a policy tool, the white paper's tone and graphic quality make it equally accessible to practitioners. The Site Commissioning White Paper uniquely demonstrates how landscape architects can help shape policy, thereby advocating for a more resilient built environment.

Project Narrative


Achieving resilience in the built environment requires a land development paradigm shift. Currently, at best, conventional development practice presupposes that built sites function as intended—from managing stormwater to increasing employee retention—rather than testing and confirming that performance goals are met. This lack of verification within the built environment can perpetuate ineffective and inefficient design, construction, and management practices. As one of the world’s largest, public real-estate organizations, the U.S. General Services Administration’s (GSA) office buildings, land ports of entry, courthouses, laboratories, post offices, and data centers are particularly at risk of deficient practices, which can result in liabilities overshadowing landscapes’ potential benefits to the public good.

Site commissioning is the process of establishing performance goals and then field-verifying that systems within the built environment perform as intended. Since the 1990s, commissioning has developed as a professional practice for verifying that building systems are performing as intended. Now, as a proven leader in sustainability, GSA aims to apply commissioning to the landscape. The resulting land development model enables practitioners to confirm landscape performance, thereby proving landscapes’ triple-bottom-line value and identifying system issues before they expand into liabilities.


The Site Commissioning White Paper—written by landscape architects and published by GSA—investigates whether investment in constructed landscapes is environmentally, socially, and financially worthwhile. Through a rigorous research process, the white paper: 1) Evaluates the feasibility of applying site commissioning to all of GSA’s future land development projects (as a compliment to the agency’s existing Total Building Commissioning and SITES-Certification practices); and 2) Details an agency-wide strategy for GSA’s adoption of the process.


GSA developed the white paper in partnership with landscape architects and integrative researchers within the private sector. Initial research methods consisted of a:

1) Literature review of related subject matter (including building commissioning, site monitoring, and sustainability rating systems);
2) Market and industry analyses (to assess the current commissioning gap, performance trends, and GSA’s Total Building Commissioning program); and
3) Case study analyses.

Upon completing this initial investigation, insufficient evidence existed to assess site commissioning’s feasibility. The research team therefore engaged 141 industry thought leaders—representing governmental organizations, non-governmental organizations, academia, and the private sector—to join seven, subject-matter working groups: Water, Soil, Vegetation, Materials, Habitat, Human Health and Well-Being, and Climate. Eighty-nine participants (63% of those initially invited) joined the working groups, which each contained 11-15 cross-sector members. The research team then developed and administered an online survey specific to each working group, which was completed by all 89 members (100% participation). After analyzing the survey data, the research team conducted group interviews with each working group, totaling 58 participants (65% participation). The white paper’s resulting recommendations are directly informed by these experts’ critical insight, and further enhanced by the input of three commissioning advisors, three white paper reviewers, and a literature review-driven cost-benefit analysis. According to Christian Gabriel, PLA, ASLA—GSA’s National Design Director for Landscape Architecture—“the team conducted themselves to the highest standards from both an administrative and research perspective, producing an outstanding, world-class research report by any professional standard.”


The survey and interview results revealed statistically significant, cross-disciplinary support for GSA’s adoption of site commissioning. Furthermore, the majority of working group members (n=89) believed that site commissioning would positively impact a facility’s triple-bottom-line performance. One potential bias in these findings is that 30% of participants represented governmental organizations, however, only 10% of participants represent GSA, the agency that could directly benefit from positive findings.

The Site Commissioning White Paper provides a data-driven, triple-bottom-line-benefits justification for verifying landscape performance in land development projects. Anyone who has sought facts to support their advocacy for verifying landscape performance will find it in this seminal publication, which remains the most comprehensive resource on the subject matter of site commissioning. Christian Gabriel attests that, “[the white paper] very thoughtfully aggregated and contextualized many disparate GSA policies and procedures and utilized those resources to justify all recommendations for pursuit of this policy vehicle.”


GSA’s implementation of the white paper’s recommendations has the potential to shape federal, state, and local land development policy, thereby advancing the effectiveness of the site design, construction, and management industries. This, in turn, would enhance the triple bottom line performance of constructed landscapes, at a national scale.


The white paper’s uniquely, broad impacts are poised to change the trajectory of land development within federal facilities. Since the publication was written as a tool for GSA’s policy-makers, it is designed to first and foremost impact policies surrounding the agency’s development practices. One example includes dividing site maintenance into two, separately-funded phases in order to enhance plant establishment and system resilience: 1) “Early-stage management,” financed by the facility’s capital budget; and 2) “Long-term maintenance,” financed by the operational budget. The white paper recommends that GSA’s site commissioning process dovetail into the agency’s existing Total Building Commissioning Program, thereby expanding the scope of performance verification beyond the building skin and elevating the criticality of landscapes in providing essential environmental, social, and economic services. GSA is currently using the paper’s findings to ground-truth the performance of operations at a variety of facilities, and the agency’s first site commissioned federal pilot project is underway. Beyond the realm of GSA, production of the white paper directly engaged policy-makers within five additional federal agencies and three city governments, thereby planting the seed for a site commissioning process within multiple jurisdictions.


Implementing the white paper’s recommendations has the potential to positively impact not just one landscape, nor the GSA’s nearly 150,000 owned and leased acres, but all constructed landscapes. The breadth of this potential influence is unprecedented. GSA’s scale has historically steered markets—from design through product manufacturing—when adopting LEED, in 2012, and SITES, in 2016. GSA’s progressive adoption of a site commissioning process will undoubtedly shift the design, construction, and management markets further as the industries and owners realize site commissioning’s triple bottom line benefits for their own projects. These shifts could result in growth for the landscape design and management industries, which were valued by IBIS World in 2017 at $5 billion and $83 billion per year, respectively.


Site commissioning involves establishing landscape performance goals, designing and building to meet those goals, and then field-verifying that performance is maintained through time. Goals are tailored to meet the unique needs of each project, and can span the triple bottom line. For example, a port of entry in the arid southwest might establish a goal of sourcing 100% of irrigation water from air-conditioning condensate, whereas an office building in the densely-populated northeast might aim to decrease absenteeism by 2% over 5-years by providing views and access to green space (which research findings demonstrate improve workplace satisfaction and health, thereby decreasing absenteeism). Site commissioning serves to verify that relevant systems are designed, built, and operated to achieve these goals. By its nature, this process increases the accountability of a site’s design-construction-management team and elevates the chance that each constructed site will provide environmental, social, and financial services.


While the white paper was written for policy-makers, it was designed to be relevant and accessible to design, construction, and management practitioners. The concepts are also relevant to, and easily replicable by other institutions such as state university systems, corporate campuses, and regional governments. Never before have landscape architects had the opportunity to help shape federal policy that’s capable of shifting the land development paradigm from assumed to field-verified performance. This advancement helps pave the way for the next generation of landscape architects, who can feel empowered to excel, advocate, and continue broadening the criticality of our profession.


Product Sources: N/A

Plant List:

  • 1. Yellowhorn
  • 2. Sweetvetch
  • 3. Miscanthus
  • 4. Astragalus Mongolicum
  • 5. Oxytropis Aciphylla Ledeb