The nation’s first voluntary rating system for sustainable landscapes, called SITES, has selected 175 pilot projects to test its green-landscape design, construction and maintenance program. The goal is to apply “The Sustainable Sites Initiative: Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009” to real projects to see whether the four-star rating system needs tweaking. Feedback from the pilots will be used to revise the SITES’ final rating system and inform the technical reference manual, scheduled for release in 2013.

The fledgling SITES, under development since 2005, is modeled after the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) green-building rating system. SITES covers all types of landscapes, with and without buildings.

The two-year pilot program, which ends in June 2012, involves a wide variety of project types, sizes and geographic locations. Participation costs range from $500 to $5,000, depending on the project budget. Every pilot project has the opportunity to be Pilot Certified by the end of the program.

SITES has a four-star rating system based on 250 points. A project gets one star if it achieves 100 points, two stars for 125 points, three stars for 150 points and four stars for 200 points. The rating system covers areas such as initial site selection, water, soil, vegetation, materials, human health and well-being, construction and maintenance. Information on the SITES project can be found at

“We’re currently exploring mechanisms, including fees, etc., for certifying projects once the final rating system and reference guide are completed,” says Jim Lapides, a spokesman for the American Society of Landscape Architects, Washington, D.C. ASLA is one of the program’s leaders; the other two are the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin and the United States Botanic Garden, located in Washington, D.C.

Pilots in the nation’s first voluntary program for sustainable-site creation will be used to tweak the four-star rating system.

SITES invited 215 of 345 initial applicants to participate in the pilot program. “We have 175 registered pilot projects but expect some attrition,” says Lapides. The final number of projects could be closer to 150.

One pilot, called the Birmingham Intermodal Facility, is a commercial project in McCalla, Ala., that involves construction of an intermodal facility for trucks and rail. Moss Rock Place in Boulder, Colo., is a residential retrofit. Watson Park Remediation Phase I Improvements in San Jose, Calif., is an existing 35-acre city park with site-remediation needs.

Of those selected, 8% are in the pre-design phase, 32% are in the site design phase, 17% are designed but not yet constructed, 26% are under construction, and 17% are completed.

Of the pilots, 25% are park projects, and 20% involve institutional or educational projects. Commercial, residential, transportation corridor, gardens, government complexes, mixed-use and industrial projects also are represented.

Projects range from less than one acre to greater than 500 acres. There are pilots in 34 states as well as in Canada, Iceland and Spain. The projects involved include about 65% grayfields, 20% greenfields and 15% brownfields.