Logic and the construction industry do not always go hand in hand, so the industry, regulators and government officials often jump in to set limits on what a project owner and its design and construction teams can do on a project for the safety and health of the community, project and environment. Many teams complain and chafe under these restrictions but do little more. The best way to come out ahead in the long run is to step out front and lead the way with innovative ideas to make projects better and, at the same time, duck the threat of being beat with a clumsy regulatory club. In other words, infuse a project with sustainable logic.

The Logic of Sustainability Starts With Site Development

Logic is at the heart of the Sustainable Sites Initiative, developed by a partnership of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center and the U.S. Botanical Garden. It has crafted criteria for sustainable land practices that will enable built landscapes to support natural ecological functions by protecting existing ecosystems and regenerating lost ones.

Over the past four years, the team has drafted guidelines and performance benchmarks for sustainable site development that include a rating system with 15 prerequisites and 51 credits. They cover all stages of site development, such as sustainable landscape design, construction, operations and maintenance. Many of the design issues focus on enhancing and expanding natural ecosystems to provide important and sometimes irreplaceable environmental benefits at little or no cost. At the other extreme, the rating system penalizes such wasteful and ludicrous practices as pumping potable water onto lush lawns in the middle of a desert.

Some in the industry dwell on the design issues, but there also are practical construction aspects. During the course of a project, contractors (unless forced to take action) usually focus on completing just their aspect of the project, giving little thought to the impact of their machinery, trucks and materials on the soil and site. Earth may be compacted to the consistency of concrete, tree roots damaged and habitats destroyed. Logic and finance dictate that developers prevent the damage up front or mitigate the effects later at greater cost.

The industry now has a chance to step forward to help in refining the rating system. The Sustainable Sites Initiatives team has put out a call for pilot projects to test the system before it is implemented in the marketplace. Applications will be accepted online through Feb. 15, 2010, at http://.sustainablesites.org/pilot/ and the team will select projects that represent a broad range of types, sizes, budgets, geographic diversity and phase of development.

Rating systems always benefit from the widest industry input possible so that best practices as well as the challenges and opportunities faced by members of the project team can be fairly represented. Here is an opportunity for the industry to step ahead.