The Sustainable SITES Initiative

The Sustainable SITES Initiative is much like the LEED Rating System, although instead of setting guidelines for buildings, SITES focuses exclusively on natural systems and landscapes. As stated by the SITES website and Rating System, the goal of SITES is “…to align land development and management with innovative sustainable design,” and to “protect, improve and regenerate natural systems.” As we continue to develop the world for human purposes, it is crucial we do so in a way that is not only far less detrimental to the environment, but takes into consideration natural water flows, soil health, animal habitats, micro-climates and endangered species so that natural systems are supported and not destroyed. SITES projects can be designed to work with nature, rather than against it. “SITES helps create ecologically resilient communities and benefits the environment, property owners, and local and regional communities and economies.”

Some of you might be thinking, “Really? Another Rating System?” I hear you. In recent years Rating Systems seem to be expanding exponentially, but hear me out. In these early stages of the Sustainability Revolution (yes we’re still in the early years) I think Rating Systems are needed to provide a set of guidelines for better design. Without Rating Systems, there is no real way to measure the impact of the changes we are making towards regenerative developments. Plus, rating systems make sustainable design streamlined and easier for non-experts to follow. The rating system makes it easier for mass adoption of the strategies needed to improve code, nature and create a truly regenerative and resilient culture of the future (permaculture).

SITES takes a step in the right direction by incorporating the idea of regenerative design directly into a Rating System. Although regenerative design is far more than just checking a box in a scorecard, including regenerative design strategies, education and design principals in the SITES Rating System will push the industry in the right direction. If we are to continue to survive on this planet, we will need to align our systems, with the needs of the ecosystem services provided by natural systems, that support life on earth. Although many of us understand the importance of maintaining healthy trees, soil, air, water and habitats, for our own health, society as a whole currently seems to not be paying as much attention. Nature is directly connected to our human world, though living in cities, we are somewhat displaced from those natural systems. For instance, its harder to see the connection to clean water when it comes out of a faucet, rather than you filling up a bucket from the closest river. An important part for sustainable landscape development is for us all to become educated in the fact that we not only need nature to survive, but we are part of it and we need to integrate the built environment with the natural environment to create a truly resilient future. SITES provides solid guidelines for moving development in the direction of regenerative design. The Sustainable SITES Initiative has four main goals which describe the program’s approach to sustainable design.

SITES: Main Goals

  • Create Regenerative Systems and Foster Resiliency
  • Ensure Future Resource Supply and Mitigate Climate Change
  • Enhance Human Well-Being and Strengthen Community
  • Transform the Market Through the Design, Development and Maintenance Practices

As for the specifics of the Rating System and scorecard, SITES is broken up into ten major categories much in the same way LEED is, with a total of 18 Prerequisites and 48 credits. The certification levels are just like LEED although the credit thresholds are slightly different.


You can download the Rating System and Scorecard: HERE


Site Context focuses on protecting the existing elements of the site, or limiting development on certain areas, such as: farmland, floodplains, aquatic ecosystems, endangered species habitats etc.


This section focuses on using integrative design techniques to include all stakeholders and flush out potential issues early on in the design through a collaborative design process.


Water covers areas of precipitation management, reductions in outdoor water use, creating stormwater controls and restoring aquatic ecosystems.


This section focuses on a Soil Management Plan and control and management of invasive plants along with conservation of vegetation, biomass and reducing heat island effects. There are also credits for using vegetation to minimize building energy use as well as mitigating risk of wildfires.


The Materials section is will be familiar to those who work with LEED. No threatened tree species products can be used, maintain and reuses existing structures, select regional and recycled materials alimg_3958ong support for product transparency and sustainable manufacturing.


This section has no prerequisites, but is important in creating a stronger human-nature connection. Credits in this section look at culture, site accessibility, physical activity, social connections, food production, reduced light pollution and more.


Construction deals with site waste, air quality, soil retention and restoration, reuse of existing vegetation and systems, and the use of sustainable construction practices.


The focus of Operations and Maintenance is for setting a plan for more sustainable use of pesticides and fertilizers, renewable energy for landscape electricity needs, collection of recyclables etc.


This section promotes sustainability awareness and education, creation of a case study and plan to monitor and report site performance.


Additional points here are available for going above an beyond with other strategies not in the rating system or exemplary performance.

The Sustainable SITES Initiative sets clear guidelines for those looking to improve their landscape design process and improve the regenerative nature of the sites they work with. It will be important for more projects to begin to integrate the strategies set forth in the SITES Rating System to create awareness and improve the overall landscape for developed sites. With the human population continuing to grow, we will need to  adapt to a regenerative design standard as soon as possible, and SITES is helping to make this possible and adaptable to all sites.

Are you considering getting SITES Certification for your site? Contact us today or 201-788-7963

Please check out the SITES website for more information: