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.

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.