SITES Provides a Tool to Measure Sustainable Landscapes

Landscape architects and their clients are increasingly looking to create landscape architecture design with a lighter ecological footprint. The goal is to develop responsible, effective approaches that apply the successes and failures of past practices to finding a better balance between humans and nature. The often overused and misunderstood term “sustainability” has been part of the global dialogue for a long time now. Despite this, there are relatively few methods that define or measure what sustainability means. To realize the goal of creating sustainable communities, we must first understand environmental, social, and economic influences and find the right balance between natural systems and development so we can improve the quality of life while at the same time maintain functioning natural systems.

EDAW Stapleton Illustrative park
Integrating open space, parks and stream restoration within a planned community, the Stapleton redevelopment in Denver was a model for the SITES program.

The Sustainable Sites Initiative™, also known as SITES™, developed a rating tool that complements Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) ™. SITES addresses site planning, landscape architecture design, site construction, and landscape maintenance in much greater detail than LEED. It was developed within the last 12 years by landscape architects who recognized that the accepted rating systems generally center on individual buildings, and do not adequately address site development. The SITES version 2 (V2) certification program is one of several administered by the United States Green Building Council to address the needs of land development challenges on projects as wide ranging as campuses, parks, plazas, streets, greenways, and cemeteries. For more information on these programs visit

The SITES program pioneered the concept of “ecosystem services,” assigning a value to elements of natural systems as they are preserved, restored or enhanced through planning and design. Historically building and site improvements have been fairly easily quantified with their economic value assigned by the marketplace. The environmental, social, and economic value of natural and designed landscapes were much harder to measure. SITES seeks to rectify this by assigning value to elements such as healthy soils that support vegetation and reduce erosion, trees and plant cover that reduce carbon dioxide and provide shade, and designed landscapes that improve human health, well-being and quality of life.

SITES certification points are awarded in 10 categories, several with prerequisites: required prior to qualifying for any points:

  • Site Context (13 points)
  • Predesign: Assessment and Planning (3)
  • Site Design: Water (23)
  • Site Design: Soil and Vegetation (40)
  • Site Design Materials Selection (41)
  • Site Design: Human Health and Wellbeing (30)
  • Construction (17)
  • Operations and Maintenance (22)
  • Education and Performance Monitoring (11)
  • Innovation and Exemplary Performance (9)

Similar to the rating system for LEED, SITES certification can be awarded at four levels depending on accumulated points and choices made during design and construction:

  • Certified (70 points)
  • Silver (85)
  • Gold (100)
  • Platinum (135)

Registration and certification fees and the costs associated with specifying, commissioning and certifying the points should be factored into the decision to become certified. Discounts are available through LEED Accredited Professionals, USGBC and American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) members.

Stapleton East West greenway
The East West greenway at Stapleton accommodated stormwater, while providing a place for people to gather, exercise and play

At Logan Simpson, we regularly apply SITES criteria to measure our projects’ performance. We can also provide certification review as a value-added service. We believe that the landscape is a crucial component of the built environment, and it can be designed, developed or preserved, and maintained in ways that protect and enhance the benefits derived from a healthy functioning landscape. For those who influence land development and management, applying sustainable methodologies to a project site not only can save short and long-term costs, but can locally address such global concerns as climate change, loss of biodiversity, and resource depletion.

Thoughts on the SITES rating tool? Share them with us on LinkedIn! For questions regarding landscape architecture design, contact a Logan Simpson expert.