Understanding the SITES Initiative and its Benefits

Green Building

Understanding the SITES Initiative and its Benefits

Architects have been known for creating beautiful and functional buildings all while thinking about what materials can be used that are sustainable to our environment. Over the past several years, several robust green building standards have emerged in the marketplace, including LEED, WELL, Fitwel, and the Living Building Challenge. This commitment to sustainability in building design and construction is now spilling over into the landscape architecture arena, largely as a result of the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES).


SITES is a reference tool and a rating system. The program began as a collaboration by experts from a wide range of fields, and was helped along by nationally acclaimed organizations. Designed to help professionals achieve sustainable land development and management practices, the principles encourage ecological protection and restoration. A unique benefit of best practices in the ecological world is an increase in regenerative design.

Compare, for a moment, the inherent difference when construction and its aftermath is applied to structures. A structure slowly degenerates over time as it consists of materials that were once living and have been manipulated for human use. The gradual degeneration can be managed, and to a large degree minimized, through best operations and maintenance practices. However, the process cannot be stopped entirely – let alone reversed into a regenerative state.

But landscapes are different. They consist of natural, living ecological systems. When designed appropriately and responsibly, landscapes can be regenerative, making it possible to be stewards of our environment.

The Benefits of SITES

There are three major benefits of the SITES rating system:

  1. Goal-setting and measurable achievements for your project. Goal-setting is a big part of starting a project off successfully. By preparing the project goals in advance, the team can plan which measurable achievements need to be met along the way. Then the goals can be followed and monitored for success all the way through construction and finally into property maintenance.
  2. Accountability by rigorous third-party review. SITES provides the ‘pud’ to the pudding by helping a team ensure that a project does what it intends to do. Anyone can claim that their project is sustainable. Very few can claim that the project achieved robust measurable outcomes, accomplished a quantifiable standard of quality and environmental or social benefit, and that their efforts upheld under the scrutiny of a third-party review by experts in the field. SITES certified projects make a power statement for sustainable design and construction by backing it up with quantifiable results.
  3. Guide project through challenges. SITES gives a project team access to the latest and greatest research and expertise. A team can choose to use a variety of methods to achieve their goals for certification. Sometimes tricky situations can emerge and a major benefit to having a SITES team is that project guidance is available. In the event that a team isn’t sure how to proceed, SITES personnel can look to the reference guide or reach out to the SITES technical staff with questions. This includes access to resources that outline the way an expert in the field would approach a project challenge.

All projects are guided by values; those of the client, the designer, the developer, and the end users. Design for the health and well-being of site users is another major goal of the SITES program. A successful and sustainable project protects and nurtures both humans and the environment. The SITES certification process ensures that a project addresses sustainable sites in holistic, comprehensive manner with measurable results.

Browning Day has incorporated these SITES principles dating back to before the rating system was formed into a solid initiative. Our landscape architects are also working on one of the first SITES certified projects in the state, and hope to meet the rating system goals within the next few months.

Barth D. Hendrickson, PLA ASLA APA
Principal and Executive Vice President

Barth Hendrickson, PLA ASLA APA is a firm principal whose passion resides in rethinking design solutions that make physical sense of the human experience through planning and design. His solutions add value by stewarding the health and well-being of life on our planet. Many of the firm’s landscape and site design awards are the result of his encouraging a studio focus on the design and management of water, soil, vegetation, material use and, animal/human health and well-being in purposefully programmed spaces. Barth is a Vice President at Browning Day and on the Executive Committee managing the day-to-day aspects of the company. Barth also leads significant projects for the firm. 


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