Gardening on the Planet, What's Happening

Sustainable Sites Folks say “Landscapes Give Back!”

SustainableSites Finally, after four years in the  making, the Sustainable Sites Initiative's rating system for design, construction and maintenance of sustainable landscapes was announced this week at the U.S. Botanic Garden in D.C. It's a rating system for any site at all – not just around buildings or throughout residential developments but also parks, parking lots, utility corridors, rights-of-way, botanical gardens, campuses and your own backyard.

The most compelling argument for sustainable landscapes, and the slogan splashed across SSI literature, is that Landscapes Give Back.  They give back in cleaner water and air, cooler cities, mitigation of climate change (all that sequestering of carbon), resource conservation and regeneration, greater energy efficiency, habitat conservation and biodiversity, lower costs and improved performance from stormwater management, and better living conditions.  Whew!  

So while architects are seeking the Holy Grail of green building design – carbon neutrality – landscapes are easily carbon-positive.  In the words of Nancy Somerville, executive director of ASLA, "Sustainable landscapes move beyond a do-no-harm
approach."  Other speakers included Holly Shimizu, Director of the U.S. Botanic Garden, and Susan Reiff, executive Director of the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center.  Together they represent the three parties to the Sustainable Sites Initiative.

Other comments from the podium that caught my particular attention were Reiff's nailing of lawns as the major culprit (really?), and Shimizu's assertion that many (most?) "green" buildings have landscapes that are anything BUT green.  

Pilot Sites Needed
In addition to releasing the guidelines, the SSI folks are asking for pilot sites – 75 to 150 of them.  The sites can be any type of designed landscape of at least 2,000 square feet in size. Pilot sites will earn up to 250 points toward LEED certification, and the deadline to apply is February 15, 2010.  More info.Marinell

Homeowner's Version
One bit of excellent news was the announcement that a homeowner's version of the Sustainable Sites guidelines is in the works, and it's being written by surely the best qualified person in the whole damn world for the job – Janet Marinelli.  Check out her About Page or the alternative, more official third-person version. (There's also a link there to an awfully long resume, for those who want to wade through it.)

But I'll summarize.  She's either written or edited The Brooklyn Botanic Garden's outstanding handbooks and a plenty of books, too. She created the BBG's excellent website (learning HTML to make that happen) and a really cool site I just discovered about Urban Habitats. She's been writing about sustainable gardening for a long, long time.

And check her out – I just love the nature-girl-with-lipstick-and-jewelry look in this photo. Now that I've met her and caught up on her career, Janet's my new hero. So congrats to the SSI folks for taking this extra, much-needed step, doing it right, and making the homeowner resources free.

Posted by on November 9, 2009 at 3:39 am, in the category Gardening on the Planet, What's Happening.
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10 Responses to “Sustainable Sites Folks say “Landscapes Give Back!””

  1. greg draiss says:

    “They give back in cleaner water and air, cooler cities, mitigation of climate change (all that sequestering of carbon), resource conservation and regeneration, greater energy efficiency, habitat conservation and biodiversity, lower costs and improved performance from stormwater management, and better living conditions” lawns must be included here as well especially for filtering runoff, oxygen generation and cooler air temps

    The TROLL

  2. Tara Dillard says:

    LIPSTICK ON A PIG.

    LOL, I’ve lived (apparently) in an SSI garden for decades! No grass & chemicals, trees for shade/buffering wind, roots holding rain, flowers/fragrance for the soul. Exactly how my mentors gardened.

    Women who would be over 100 if still alive.

    Nursery bought annuals are a nightmare carbon footprint. Think: trucking soils, water use, greenhouses, heating/cooling & etc. If a landscape NEEDS annuals to be pretty it’s a failed landscape design.

    I dropped lawns in favor of Tara Turf over a decade ago. Feeling strongly enough about inventing a new way I put my name on it.

    Ironic, new words, SSI, getting back to fundamentals. Great knowing it’s Janet Marinelli doing the writing. Love her work.

    Garden & Be Well, XO Tara

  3. Just a little quibble:

    So while architects are seeking the Holy Grail of green building design – carbon neutrality – landscapes are easily carbon-positive.

    Actually, landscapes are carbon-negative. We are trying to reduce the carbon in the environment, so carbon neutral is good, cabon-negative – even better.

  4. susan harris says:

    Two-Green, thanks! I was wondering which would be the best way to put it. Obviously goofed.

  5. greg draiss says:

    Annuals are not necessarily footprint heavy. We grow our annuals on site and deliver all of them within a 25 mile radius.

    The TROLL

  6. I have never had a client ask me if I was LEED certified . I don’t know how important this is to many residential or small commercial property owners but hey, if it gives some people incentive to be more conscientious in the installation and maintenance of their landscape architectural project then all the more power to them.

    In my progressive area of the country, Northern California, many of the items listed on the LEED certification are already code compliant laws .
    No landscape design plan would pass permit if they didn’t retain construction pollutants, protect an adjacent flood plain and preserve wetlands , as a matter of fact if they dissed these laws they would have their job red tagged, stopped and fined.

    Many of the other requirements are just common sense and are almost always employed here, but I guess that goes with our progressive mentality.
    No residential landscape designer worth their reputation would ever design a master plan without doing a site assessment plan, or not include a soil management plan, a maintenance plan and a construction soils erosion plan.
    Chances are, you wouldn’t be granted your building permit without this information stated.

    But for those areas that haven’t yet woken up to basic good landscape stewardship when involved in landscape construction I can see how these ‘guidelines’ would be greatly beneficial.

  7. ryan says:

    I was looking at the rating system the other day. They talk about residential and jobs of only 2,000 square feet, but the system is clearly geared towards commercial installations. Good that they’re going to do something for residential. It might be useful in talking with clients, show them how changes in the project or the design might change their score.

  8. Kelly Senser says:

    Janet Marinelli wrote a piece titled “How Green Is Your Garden?” for National Wildlife magazine earlier this year. It discusses creating landscapes that are carbon-neutral (or better, ones that act like “carbon sinks”), and it includes a sidebar she wrote detailing steps gardeners can take to save energy and reduce their carbon footprint. See http://bit.ly/S9rWv.

  9. Generating a homeowners’ version of the SSI is the most sensible news I’ve heard in some time. LEED concepts are encouragingly familar to many homeowners and professionals but a homeowners’ version of the SSI will help those millions of suburbanites connect the dots! LOVED Shimizu’s comment that greenbuilders don’t think about green landscapes ! It’s so true! But that’s changing and the SSI is the giant leap in the right direction.

  10. Katherine Brooks says:

    When all the people of the world work in unison, the world will be unified. It’s great to put a label and designation on anything–it will finally get people to notice. Those of us who have always lived “one with the earth” are now being heard! To Tara–hadn’t heard about your “Tara Turf” label–but I’ve always had the very same thing….it always starts with the landscape designers! Get out and Garden–Katherine Brooks

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