SITES Certification, developed by the Sustainable SITES Initiative, promotes sustainable land development and management practices. It ensures that landscapes—from urban areas to community spaces—are designed, constructed, and maintained in a way that supports natural ecosystems and enhances environmental health. The certification evaluates projects based on criteria such as water management, soil and vegetation health, material selection, and human well-being. Projects earn points to achieve certification levels: Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum. SITES emphasizes performance-based standards, integrated design, and the provision of ecosystem services, aiming to create economically, environmentally, and socially sustainable landscapes. It is akin to LEED certification but focuses on the sustainability of outdoor sites rather than buildings.

How does SITES Certification differ from LEED Certification?

SITES Certification and LEED Certification both promote sustainability but focus on different aspects of the built environment. SITES Certification is dedicated to sustainable land development and management, emphasizing the creation and maintenance of healthy, sustainable landscapes. It addresses areas such as water management, soil health, plant communities, and ecosystem services. LEED Certification, developed by the U.S. Green Building Council, focuses on the sustainability of building design, construction, and operation. LEED evaluates buildings on criteria like energy efficiency, indoor environmental quality, and sustainable materials. While both certifications aim to reduce environmental impact, SITES concentrates on outdoor spaces, whereas LEED is centered on building performance and indoor environments.

The SITES and LEED rating systems are complementary and can be used independently or in tandem. LEED applies to your project building and the site it is located on, and SITES applies to everything on your site, except your building (with a few exceptions). If you would like your project to benefit from certifying to both SITES and LEED, you can take advantage of the synergies between them.

What are the benefits of obtaining SITES Certification?

Obtaining SITES Certification offers numerous benefits. It enhances environmental sustainability by promoting practices that conserve water, restore natural ecosystems, and improve soil health. Certified sites can reduce long-term costs through efficient resource use, lower maintenance needs, and increased property value. These sites also support biodiversity, providing habitats for wildlife and improving air and water quality. SITES Certification can boost community well-being by creating healthier, more enjoyable outdoor spaces that encourage physical activity and social interaction. Additionally, it demonstrates a commitment to sustainability, which can enhance an organization's reputation and attract environmentally conscious clients and stakeholders. Overall, SITES Certification fosters resilient, sustainable landscapes that benefit both people and the planet.

What are the different levels of SITES Certification?

SITES Certification, offers four levels based on the number of points earned by meeting specific sustainability criteria:

Certified: 70-84 points

Demonstrates a significant commitment to sustainable land development and management practices.

Silver: 85-99 points

Indicates more comprehensive implementation of sustainable strategies, reflecting a higher level of environmental stewardship.

Gold: 100-134 points

Represents an advanced commitment to sustainability with extensive and effective practices across various criteria.

Platinum: 135-200 points

The highest level of certification, showcasing exceptional achievement and leadership in sustainable site development and management.

Each level recognizes the project's efforts in creating landscapes that support environmental health, economic benefits, and community well-being.

What is the Sustainable SITES Initiative?

The Sustainable SITES Initiative, commonly known as SITES, is a comprehensive program aimed at fostering sustainable land development and management practices. Developed by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden, SITES provides a framework for creating landscapes that enhance natural ecosystems and contribute to human well-being. It sets performance-based criteria for site design, construction, and maintenance, addressing areas such as water management, soil health, vegetation, materials selection, and human health. By promoting sustainable and resilient landscapes, SITES aims to improve environmental quality, support biodiversity, and create functional, healthy outdoor spaces for communities.

What types of projects are eligible for SITES Certification?

SITES Certification is suitable for a variety of projects that involve landscape design, construction, and management. Eligible projects include urban developments like parks, plazas, and streetscapes, which aim to integrate sustainable practices into city environments. It also applies to commercial and institutional developments such as corporate campuses, educational campuses, and healthcare facilities seeking to enhance their outdoor spaces sustainably. Residential projects, including single-family homes, multifamily housing, and mixed-use developments, can also pursue SITES Certification to promote sustainable landscaping practices. Additionally, infrastructure projects like transportation corridors, green infrastructure initiatives, and utility projects that incorporate sustainable land management strategies are eligible. SITES Certification encourages diverse types of projects to prioritize environmental stewardship, biodiversity conservation, and human health benefits through thoughtful landscape design and management.

How long does the SITES Certification process take?

The duration of the SITES Certification process varies depending on several factors, including the size and complexity of the project, the completeness of initial documentation, and the responsiveness during the review stages. Typically, the process can take anywhere from several months to over a year to complete.

Key stages in the certification process include project registration, submission of documentation, review by SITES professionals, and potential revisions or additional information requests. The timeline also factors in the certification level sought (Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum), as higher levels may require more extensive documentation and review. Timely and thorough preparation of documentation and responsiveness to review feedback are crucial in expediting the process. Overall, while some projects may achieve certification relatively quickly, others with larger scopes or complex designs may require more time to meet all certification requirements effectively.

What are the main categories in the SITES rating system?

The SITES rating system comprises several main categories that assess different aspects of sustainable site development and management:

  1. Site Context: Evaluates how well the project integrates with its surroundings, considering environmental and cultural contexts. It examines site selection, land use history, and community connectivity.
  2. Pre-Design Assessment and Planning: Focuses on initial planning stages, including site assessment, goal setting, and engagement with stakeholders to ensure sustainable design objectives are aligned from the outset.
  3. Water: Water conservation and management strategies, including stormwater management, water efficiency measures, and the use of recycled water.
  4. Soil and Vegetation: Preservation and restoration of healthy soils, the promotion of native vegetation, and strategies to minimize soil erosion and habitat disturbance.
  5. Materials: Evaluates the selection of sustainable materials and products, considering factors like lifecycle impacts, recycled content, and local sourcing to minimize environmental footprint.
  6. Human Health and Well-being:Focuses on enhancing occupant comfort and well-being through design features that encourage physical activity, provide access to nature, and promote mental well-being.
  7. Construction:Assesses sustainable construction practices to minimize environmental impacts during the building phase, including waste reduction, pollution prevention, and efficient resource use.
  8. Operation and Maintenance:Addresses ongoing site management practices that sustain environmental benefits over time, including landscape maintenance, pest management, and energy-efficient operations.
  9. Education and Performance Monitoring:Encourages educational outreach and the implementation of performance monitoring systems to track sustainability metrics and engage stakeholders in ongoing improvement efforts.
  10. Innovation or Exemplary Performance: Recognizes projects that exceed standard requirements through innovative strategies or exemplary performance in any of the above categories, promoting continuous improvement and leadership in sustainable site development.

These categories collectively provide a framework for evaluating and promoting sustainable practices in landscape architecture and site development, aiming to create resilient, environmentally responsible, and socially beneficial outdoor spaces.

How are points awarded in the SITES rating system?

Points in the SITES rating system are awarded based on the extent to which a project meets specific sustainability criteria across various categories. Each criterion is assigned a certain number of points, reflecting its importance and impact on sustainable site development. Projects earn points through documentation and evidence that demonstrate compliance with these criteria. The total number of points determines the level of certification: Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum.

Points are awarded for innovative practices, exemplary performance, and measurable outcomes that contribute to environmental, social, and economic sustainability. The scoring system encourages projects to implement comprehensive strategies that enhance ecosystem services, conserve resources like water and energy, promote biodiversity, improve human health and well-being, and minimize environmental impacts throughout the project's lifecycle.

What is the role of ecosystem services in SITES Certification?

Ecosystem services play a crucial role in SITES Certification by emphasizing the importance of landscapes in providing benefits to both the environment and human communities. SITES encourages projects to enhance and maintain ecosystem services such as air and water purification, climate regulation, habitat provision, and recreational opportunities. This approach ensures that landscapes contribute positively to ecological health while supporting sustainable development goals.

How does SITES Certification promote biodiversity?

SITES Certification promotes biodiversity by encouraging projects to incorporate native vegetation, create habitat diversity, and minimize habitat fragmentation. It emphasizes strategies that support local ecosystems and wildlife, such as preserving natural habitats, integrating green infrastructure, and using sustainable landscaping practices. By enhancing biodiversity, SITES-certified projects contribute to ecological resilience, improve ecosystem health, and support the long-term viability of plant and animal species within urban and built environments.

Can SITES Certification be applied to existing landscapes?

SITES Certification can be applied to existing landscapes. Projects seeking certification for existing landscapes must demonstrate adherence to SITES criteria, including sustainable practices in water management, soil health, vegetation, materials selection, and human health. By retrofitting and managing existing landscapes sustainably, projects can achieve certification and improve environmental quality while enhancing the functionality and resilience of established outdoor spaces.

What documentation is required for SITES Certification?

For SITES Certification, documentation typically includes detailed plans and reports demonstrating compliance with sustainability criteria. This may include site assessments, design plans, construction documents, maintenance plans, and performance data. Documentation should illustrate how the project meets requirements in areas such as water management, soil health, vegetation, materials selection, human health, and innovation.

How is water efficiency addressed in SITES Certification?

Water efficiency in SITES Certification is addressed through various strategies aimed at reducing water consumption and managing stormwater effectively. Projects must demonstrate efficient irrigation practices, such as using native plants that require minimal watering, employing drip irrigation systems, and incorporating rainwater harvesting techniques. Additionally, designs should minimize impervious surfaces to allow natural infiltration and reduce stormwater runoff. These measures aim to conserve water resources, improve water quality, and enhance the overall sustainability of landscapes certified under SITES.

What are the prerequisites for achieving SITES Certification?

To achieve SITES Certification, projects must meet certain prerequisites that establish fundamental sustainability requirements. These typically include conducting a site assessment to understand environmental conditions and community context, setting clear sustainability goals aligned with SITES criteria, and engaging stakeholders in the design and planning process. Prerequisites ensure that projects are committed to sustainable practices from the outset, laying the groundwork for successful certification under the SITES rating system.

Achieving SITES Certification involves meeting specific prerequisites that establish foundational sustainability requirements for the project. These prerequisites typically include:

  1. Site Assessment: Conducting a comprehensive assessment of the site's environmental conditions, historical land use, and existing natural features.
  2. Setting Goals:Establishing clear sustainability goals aligned with SITES criteria, outlining objectives for water management, soil health, vegetation, materials selection, and human health.
  3. Stakeholder Engagement: Engaging stakeholders throughout the design and planning process to ensure their input and support for sustainable practices.
  4. Documentation: Compiling necessary documentation to demonstrate compliance with prerequisites and readiness to pursue SITES Certification.

These prerequisites ensure that projects are well-prepared and committed to sustainable practices before undergoing the rigorous certification process.

How does SITES Certification handle soil management?

SITES Certification addresses soil management by emphasizing practices that preserve and enhance soil health. This includes minimizing soil disturbance during construction, promoting the use of native vegetation to stabilize soil, and implementing erosion control measures. Projects are encouraged to improve soil fertility through organic practices and compost use, fostering resilient landscapes that support biodiversity and sustainable land use practices.

What is the importance of native vegetation in SITES Certification?

Native vegetation plays a critical role in SITES Certification by supporting biodiversity, conserving water, and enhancing ecosystem resilience. It is preferred for its ability to adapt to local climate and soil conditions, reducing the need for irrigation and chemical inputs. By incorporating native plants, SITES-certified projects promote habitat restoration, improve air quality, and contribute to overall environmental sustainability within their landscapes.

How can a project earn points for sustainable materials in SITES Certification?

Projects can earn points for sustainable materials in SITES Certification by selecting materials that minimize environmental impact throughout their lifecycle. Points are awarded for using materials with recycled content, sourcing locally to reduce transportation emissions, and choosing products certified by recognized sustainability standards (e.g., FSC for wood). Additionally, projects can earn points for specifying materials that are durable, low-maintenance, and contribute to indoor air quality improvement. These practices encourage the use of environmentally responsible materials and contribute to overall sustainability goals of the certified project.

What are some examples of SITES Certified projects?

Some examples of SITES Certified projects include:

Brooklyn Bridge Park, New York: A waterfront park that integrates sustainable design with recreational and cultural amenities.

Maggie Daley Park, Chicago: An urban park featuring sustainable landscaping and innovative stormwater management.

National Renewable Energy Laboratory Campus, Colorado: Incorporates sustainable site strategies into the campus design to support energy research and environmental stewardship.

These projects demonstrate how SITES Certification can be applied to diverse landscapes to promote environmental sustainability and community benefits.

How does SITES Certification contribute to climate resilience?

SITES Certification contributes to climate resilience by promoting sustainable practices that enhance the adaptive capacity of landscapes to climate change impacts. It encourages the use of green infrastructure for stormwater management, which reduces flood risks and improves water quality during extreme weather events. Additionally, SITES-certified projects prioritize native vegetation and soil health, which enhance carbon sequestration and mitigate urban heat island effects, thereby supporting climate regulation and enhancing the resilience of ecosystems and communities to climate variability.

What is the process for submitting a project for SITES review?

Submitting a project for SITES review involves several steps:

  1. Registration:Create an account on the Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) website and register the project for SITES Certification.
  2. Documentation: Prepare and compile documentation that demonstrates compliance with SITES criteria, including design plans, sustainability strategies, and performance data.
  3. Upload: Upload the documentation to the SITES certification platform and pay the required registration and review fees.
  4. Review Process: The submitted documents undergo review by SITES professionals, who may request additional information or clarifications.
  5. Certification Decision:After review, the project receives a certification level (Certified, Silver, Gold, or Platinum) based on the points earned and compliance with SITES standards.
  6. Feedback and Revision:Address any feedback or recommendations from reviewers to ensure compliance and potentially improve the project's certification level.

This process ensures that projects meet rigorous sustainability standards and contribute positively to environmental, social, and economic sustainability goals.

How does SITES Certification support human health and well-being?

SITES Certification supports human health and well-being by promoting design practices that enhance the quality of outdoor environments. It encourages projects to provide access to nature, promote physical activity through walking and cycling paths, and create spaces for social interaction and community engagement. Additionally, SITES emphasizes the use of plants and trees for shade, air purification, and noise reduction, which improves air quality and creates healthier urban environments. By prioritizing human-centric design elements, SITES-certified projects contribute to mental well-being, physical health, and overall quality of life for users of outdoor spaces.

Can SITES Certification be integrated with other sustainability certifications?

Yes, SITES Certification can be integrated with other sustainability certifications to enhance overall sustainability performance. Projects pursuing LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification for buildings, for example, often seek SITES Certification to address sustainable site development aspects. Integration allows for a holistic approach to sustainability, combining efforts to minimize environmental impact, conserve resources, and promote human health and well-being across both built and natural environments. This synergy helps projects achieve comprehensive sustainability goals and demonstrate leadership in sustainable design and development practices.

What are some common challenges in achieving SITES Certification?

Some common challenges in achieving SITES Certification include navigating complex documentation requirements, balancing sustainability goals with project budgets, and coordinating diverse stakeholder expectations. Managing site-specific constraints such as existing infrastructure and regulatory compliance can also pose challenges. Additionally, ensuring ongoing commitment to sustainability throughout construction and maintenance phases requires consistent effort and communication among project teams.

What is the significance of performance monitoring in SITES Certification?

Performance monitoring in SITES Certification is significant because it ensures that sustainable practices implemented during design and construction phases continue to deliver intended environmental, social, and economic benefits over time. By monitoring key metrics such as water use, energy consumption, biodiversity outcomes, and user satisfaction, projects can assess their performance, identify areas for improvement, and demonstrate ongoing commitment to sustainability. This data-driven approach promotes accountability, informs decision-making for future projects, and enhances the overall effectiveness and resilience of SITES-certified landscapes.

How does SITES Certification address construction impacts?

SITES Certification addresses construction impacts by requiring projects to implement sustainable construction practices that minimize environmental disturbance and resource consumption. It encourages measures such as erosion control, waste reduction, and pollution prevention during construction. Projects must also document efforts to protect existing vegetation and natural habitats, ensuring that site integrity is maintained and environmental impacts are mitigated throughout the building process.

What are the best practices for site maintenance according to SITES?

According to SITES, best practices for site maintenance include implementing integrated pest management, using sustainable landscaping practices such as composting and mulching, minimizing chemical use, and ensuring regular monitoring and maintenance of stormwater management features to sustain site performance and ecological health.


SITES Certification promotes sustainable land use planning by emphasizing strategies that preserve natural resources, enhance ecosystem services, and minimize environmental impact. It encourages projects to integrate green infrastructure, conserve biodiversity, and engage stakeholders in sustainable design practices to support resilient and ecologically sound land development.

Public engagement in SITES Certification involves involving community members in the planning and design process to ensure that the project meets local needs and values. This collaboration fosters support, enhances the project's relevance, and ensures long-term sustainability by incorporating diverse perspectives and promoting stewardship.

SITES Certification addresses stormwater management by encouraging practices like permeable paving, rain gardens, and green roofs. These strategies reduce runoff, enhance infiltration, and improve water quality, mitigating flooding and erosion while supporting sustainable site hydrology and ecosystem health.

Resources available to help with SITES Certification include the SITES v2 Rating System guide, SITES v2 Reference Guide, online training courses, webinars, and workshops. Additionally, project teams can access SITES worksheets, case studies, and consult with Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI) for support and guidance.

Energy efficiency in SITES Certification is incorporated through strategies such as using energy-efficient lighting, selecting low-energy materials, and incorporating renewable energy sources. These practices reduce the energy footprint of site operations, enhance sustainability, and support overall environmental performance.

Site assessment is crucial in the SITES process as it provides a comprehensive understanding of existing conditions, including soil, water, vegetation, and cultural features. This knowledge informs sustainable design decisions, helps identify opportunities and constraints, and ensures the project aligns with ecological and community goals.

SITES Certification enhances air quality by promoting the use of native vegetation, which filters pollutants and provides oxygen. It also encourages reducing urban heat islands through green infrastructure, minimizing dust and emissions during construction, and implementing sustainable transportation options to decrease air pollution.

Yes, SITES Certification can be applied to residential projects. It promotes sustainable practices in residential landscaping, such as water conservation, native plant use, and efficient resource management. These practices enhance environmental quality, reduce maintenance costs, and create healthier living environments for residents.

SITES focuses specifically on sustainable landscape design, construction, and maintenance, emphasizing ecosystem services and site-specific practices. Other green certifications, like LEED, primarily address building sustainability but may include some landscape elements. SITES provides a comprehensive framework tailored exclusively to landscapes, promoting broader ecological and social benefits.

SITES Certification supports pollinator habitats by promoting the use of native plants that provide food and shelter for pollinators. It encourages reducing pesticide use, creating diverse plant communities, and designing landscapes that support pollinator populations, contributing to biodiversity conservation and ecosystem health.

To achieve SITES Platinum Certification, projects must earn a minimum of 135 points across various categories such as site context, water, soil and vegetation, materials, human health, construction, operation, maintenance, education, and innovation. This requires exemplary performance in sustainable practices and innovation, demonstrating leadership in environmental and social responsibility.

SITES Certification addresses the urban heat island effect by promoting the use of green infrastructure, such as green roofs and tree canopies, which provide shade and reduce surface temperatures. It encourages minimizing impervious surfaces and using reflective materials to mitigate heat absorption in urban areas.

A project can improve its chances of achieving SITES Certification by early registration, thorough site assessment, setting clear sustainability goals, integrating sustainable practices into design, and documenting compliance with SITES criteria throughout the project lifecycle.

Landscape architects play a crucial role in the SITES Certification process by leading sustainable site design, coordinating with project teams, implementing green infrastructure, selecting native vegetation, and ensuring compliance with SITES criteria to achieve environmental and community goals.

SITES Certification encourages the use of renewable resources by awarding points for incorporating renewable energy sources like solar or wind power. It also promotes sustainable materials with high recycled content and locally sourced materials to minimize environmental impact and support long-term resource conservation efforts.