Group Seeks Comment on Sustainable Landscape Report

The Sustainable Sites Initiative invites public comment on a new report that offers the most comprehensive set of voluntary, national guidelines ever 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 design to construction and maintenance. The report is available for comment and download at, with a public comment period open until Jan. 20, 2009.

Landscapes have the potential to use resources more efficiently, improve air and water quality, reduce the urban heat island effect, and remove carbon dioxide from the atmosphere -- helping reduce global warming. However, 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 7 billion gallons per day nationwide." Additionally, 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 -- a partnership between ASLA, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden to create the first 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(R) (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 chief executive officer of ASLA. "This new report finally creates a way to measure and recognize those efforts."

Over three dozen technical advisors 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 or without buildings.