LEED for Landscapes

The Sustainable Sites Initiative has announced the launch of its pilot program rating the "greenness" of landscapes using a similar system that LEED uses for rating buildings.

"The pilot version of the SITES rating system, made up of 15 prerequisites and 51 credits, offers 250 points and four levels of certification, signified by stars. According to Nancy Somerville, CEO of ASLA, the system, sometimes called “LEED for landscapes,” was design to complement LEED and other rating systems that focus on buildings. “LEED touches on landscape, but only in a limited way,” she said. SITES worked with the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) on the rating system, using Sustainable Sites credits from LEED to inform some SITES credits. In turn, USGBC plans to consider SITES credits in the creation of future versions of LEED. " Read more...


My take is that the SSI is a little weak on toxics use reduction. It gives credits for IPM but makes no mention of organic pest management techniques. The following is a letter I sent to SSI:

Dear Sustainable Sites Initiative,

I applaud your Sustainable Sites Initiative and the effort it represents to set up a system to preserve suburban and urban ecosystem services for human and environmental health.

In reviewing your Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks (2009) document online, as well as your website (www.sustainablesites.org), I am, however, confused by the lack of a a specific category or credits for reduction in use of materials that have an adverse effect on human and environmental health. There is a brief mention under stormwater, Credit 3.6, but overall this section seems to focus on mitigating through site design and gives little guidance on toxics use reduction. The plan for site maintenance (Prereq. 8.1) mentions IPM but sets no specific goals for on-site toxics use reduction. In your Human Health and Well Being area of focus tab on the website, the topic of exposure to environmental toxins is not mentioned at all.

It seems that an area of focus for sustainable sites would include a significant effort in using non-toxic materials for both construction and maintenance.  Materials subject to toxics use reduction credits/requirements would be such items as pesticides (use organic landscaping methods), pressure treated or creosote wood, recycled tires (e.g. artificial turf, http://www.ehhi.org/reports/turf/ ), plastics containing toxic additives such as lead, vinyl chloride, phthalates or Bisphenol-A, toxic cleaning materials, cement with toxic recycled material (e.g. fly ash), fertilizer with fly ash,  material that generates silica dust and so on. As is is now, some recycled material, such as artificial turf made from ground up tires, though toxic to humans, in fact would get credits.

In terms of environmental health, I also don't see an emphasis on reducing materials that are well known to be highly detrimental to the local, regional and global environment and ultimately to humans, especially phosphorus and nitrogen. They are mentioned, but again, it seems with some emphasis on mitigation planning. I also didn't find a distinction made between synthetic sources of nitrogen and phosphorus and natural sources. Phosphorus is a major fresh water pollutant that leads to rapid eutrophication and subsequent increase in use of aquatic herbicides. Synthetic nitrogen is 1) a major estuary and ocean pollutant, 2) highly disruptive of the global nitrogen cycle (http://www.epa.gov/watertrain/nitrogen.html), and 3) contributes to global warming in its fabrication.

I would like to suggest that the toxics use reduction of environmental and human health toxins in materials and maintenance is important enough to warrant its own category with specific requirements, credits, documentation, suggestions for toxics use reduction strategies and resources.

Three science-based websites with further resources on environment and human health toxins are:

The Collaborative on Health and the Environment
Bolinas, CA

The Toxics Use Reduction Institute, UMass Lowell,
Lowell, MA

Environment and Human Health, Inc.
North Haven, CT

Thank you for all the work you have done on this important project.


Sarah Little, Ph.D.
NOFA Organic Land Care Committee, Chair