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American Society of Landscape Architects


May 2008 Issue

Rating the Regenerative Landscape
A new “green” rating system aims to evaluate landscapes—with or without buildings.

By Theodore Eisenman

Rating the Regenerative Landscape Nicholas Wilton/

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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