The future of sustainable development extends far beyond just green buildings. The Green Business Certification Inc.‘s (GBCI) Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) rating system provides nature-based solutions for sustainable landscapes and outdoor spaces to address biodiversity loss and mitigate environmental impacts.

Guided by principles that champion doing no harm and environmental stewardship, SITES brings nature back into the built environment. The rating system helps conserve resources, improve public health, and protect critical ecosystems so future generations can enjoy a “sustainable environment supported by regenerative systems and endowed with regenerative resources.”

Complementary to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating systems, SITES addresses many of LEED’s same core concepts. Credit categories touch on site selection, rainwater management, reducing heat island effect, and sustainable construction practices.

SITES encourages strategies such as protecting and restoring native habitats, restoring soil, and increasing key vegetation to help reduce heat island effect in urban cities and communities. The categories also stress water conservation and water quality protection. Projects are encouraged to use designs and technologies that restore or mimic natural systems and value water as a critical resource rather than a waste product.

Projects that utilize SITES are designed for resilience. With the increased natural hazards frequency, exacerbated by a rapidly changing climate, SITES mitigates hazards such as floods, droughts, heat waves, and wildfires that cause significant negative economic and human safety impacts by protecting and restoring landscapes, enhancing biodiversity, and promoting sustainable management strategies.

The demand for SITES has been growing in recent years, with more developers seeking sustainable options for outdoor spaces in addition to LEED certification of their new buildings.

University campuses have unique opportunities to use SITES certification to promote sustainable landscape practices in tandem with their LEED certified buildings. The Recycling Center at Orange Coast College boasts the world’s first triple certification; LEED Gold, SITES Gold, and TRUE Zero Waste Platinum. The project’s raised planter beds grow plants used for food production on campus and a repurposed tea house that promotes mental restoration for its users.

The SITES Gold-certified Orange Mall Sustainable Infrastructure Project at Arizona State University was designed in concert with the adjacent LEED Platinum and Net Zero Student Pavilion. The landscape’s integrated approach to sustainability utilizes low impact development (LID) strategies that benefit both building and landscape.

The Howard Hughes Corporation’s Ward Village in Honolulu, Hawai’i, demonstrates an all-encompassing approach to sustainability that incorporates LEED and SITES in tandem. In addition to LEED-certified buildings, VCA Green is assisting the corporation to attain SITES certification for five parks within the LEED Neighborhood Development (ND) Platinum master site. These certifications will help create natural spaces in an urban center that facilitate the resident health, celebrate Hawaiian culture, and help ecosystems flourish.

SITES projects have multi-scale positive impacts by protecting, restoring, and generating ecosystem services. With more developers taking on large-scale community developments that use SITES as a complement to LEED, there is great potential to make significant contributions to climate regulation, protection of air and water quality, flood control, improved resilience, enhance biodiversity, conserve resources, and reduce waste.

With a SITES Accredited Professional on staff, and more in progress, VCA Green is well equipped to steward you through your next SITES certification. Contact us below to start your project.

Moe Fakih, Principal

Robyn Vettraino, Principal

Contributing Author Aliza White