The Sustainable Sites Initiative, or SITES, has certified the first three projects under its four-star system for rating the sustainable design, construction and maintenance of built landscapes.

The St. Charles, Mo., campus of Novus International Inc., the Green at College Park of the University of Texas at Arlington, and the Woodland Discovery Playground at Shelby Farms Park in Memphis, Tenn., are the first to be recognized for sustainable land practices from among more than 150 pilot projects seeking certification since summer 2010.

SITES was established in 2005 by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center of the University of Texas at Austin and the U.S. Botanic Garden in Washington, D.C. The program oversees a voluntary rating system and benchmarking reference guide created by a multidisciplinary team of experts that designed to encourage development, design, construction and operation of environmentally friendly landscapes.

The SITES rating system includes 15 prerequisites and 51 additional flexible credits that add up to 250 points. The credits address areas such as soil restoration, use of recycled materials and land maintenance approaches.

According to SITES officials, feedback from the pilot program will inform refinements to the next iteration of the rating system and reference guide, which will be released widely in 2013. "We really wanted to field-test it … across the board with many types of projects," says Danielle Pieranunzi, SITES director.

"One of the first things that's clear is that we certainly set pretty high bars for achieving these levels," says Nancy Somerville, ASLA's executive vice president and CEO. "That's something we're going to continue to look at as we go through the pilots," she says.