Creating Sustainable Landscapes Focus of First Comprehensive Report

The Sustainable Sites Initiative, a partnership that includes The University of Texas at Austin's Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, invites public comment today on a new report that offers the most comprehensive set of voluntary guidelines yet developed for sustainable landscapes.

Titled "Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks Draft 2008," it provides more than 50 prerequisites and credit options that cover everything from initial site selection and design to construction and maintenance. The Sustainable Sites Initiative, which also includes the American Society of Landscape Architects and the United States Botanic Garden, is asking for comments before Jan. 20, 2009 on the report that is available for download at

The report is timely because of increased concerns about such environmental issues as scarce resources, climate change, waste, and air and water pollution. Landscapes have the potential to use resources more efficiently and to improve air and water quality, and they can reduce the urban heat island effect and remove carbon dioxide, an important greenhouse gas that contributes to global warming, from the atmosphere. Previous efforts to address sustainable practices in the design and construction industry mostly focused on buildings.

A recent consumer survey conducted by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) reflects this disparity. While only 58 percent surveyed said they used energy and resource saving practices in their yard, lawn or garden, many more (96 percent) used similar practices in their home.

The previous lack of comprehensive efforts to address sustainable landscapes has left major economic, political and environmental issues unsolved. For example, the report notes, "At a time when water usage in the United States is up 209 percent since 1950, irrigation of unsustainable landscapes accounts for more than a third of residential water use--more than seven billion gallons per day nationwide." The heat island effect continues to raise peak summer temperatures as much as nine degrees Fahrenheit, increasing utility costs, air pollution and heat-related illnesses. The report offers new, powerful tools to address these and other important problems.

The "Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks Draft 2008" is the second report from the Initiative that formed to create the voluntary system to evaluate sustainable landscape design, construction and maintenance. The U.S. Green Building Council is lending its support to this project and anticipates incorporating the Initiative metrics into future versions of LEED® (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System.

"Whether the site is a transportation corridor, shopping mall, park, large subdivision, or a single home, landscapes hold the unique potential to create a net improvement to the sustainability of the area," said Nancy Somerville, executive vice president and CEO of ASLA. "This new report finally creates a way to measure and recognize those efforts."

More than three dozen technical advisers in hydrology, vegetation, soils, materials, and human health and well being contributed thousands of hours to ensure the credits could apply to any landscape, with our without buildings.

"This is a guidebook for all those who design, construct or maintain our outdoor landscapes," said Susan Rieff, executive director of the Wildflower Center. "If we follow these directions we can create compelling landscapes that actually mitigate environmental harm, making our communities better places to live."

"These guidelines will change not only the landscape and garden industry but will also raise public expectations about the health and quality of the built environment," said Holly Shimizu, executive director of the United States Botanic Garden. "We are asking industry professionals and interested parties to participate in this 45-day public comment period to ensure the quality and applicability of the report."

An online form is available for the public to provide feedback on this draft at Responses will inform the final "Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks" which will be released in summer 2009.

Find frequently asked questions about the Initiative and projects that illustrate sustainable landscape practices online.