A deep sense of place at USGBC Kentucky's Sustainable SITES Workshop

Published on
29 Jun 2016
Nancy Church

Recently, USGBC Kentucky hosted an inaugural workshop to train 58 regional professionals on the SITES rating system, the most comprehensive program of developing sustainable landscapes. Architects, landscape designers, sustainability officers and policy makers from all over the state of Kentucky met to learn about regenerative design, the benefits derived from sustainable landscapes and the SITES rating system and certification process.

Hosted in partnership with ASLA Kentucky and the Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest, the workshop took place in Bernheim’s LEED Platinum Visitor Center, which served as a nice complement to the nature of the workshop. The framework of SITES is based on the concept of ecosystem services—the benefits provided by the natural ecological processes working all around us that support our daily lives. Land is a crucial component of the built environment and can be planned, designed, developed and maintained to protect and enhance the benefits we derive from healthy, functioning landscapes.

Bernheim’s Visitor Center is a prime example of how this can be applied: with floor-to-ceiling windows on three sides that provide natural daylight filtered through surrounding trees, views of school kids heading off to discover the woods and a deep connection to the outdoors. The magic of Bernheim and sustainable landscapes was felt throughout the day. At lunch, workshop attendees were treated to a spread partially supplied with items harvested from Bernheim’s Living Building Challenge-registered Edible Garden; the chef and caterer at Bernheim explained which items were harvested and how, and guests were given a tour of the Edible Garden after lunch.

Diving into the SITES Rating System

Workshop attendees learned about the importance of SITES as a market transformation tool, took a deep dive into each credit category of the SITES rating system, analyzed the synergies between SITES and LEED and listened to case studies of SITES pilot projects from around the country. Keynote guest Sarah Astheimer, from James Corner Field Operations, showcased the approach to and evolution of three projects: Chicago’s Navy PierSanta Monica’s Tongva Park, and a SITES pilot project, The Woodland Discovery Playground in Memphis, Tenn. Participants also enjoyed hands-on experiences, working through the SITES scorecard and contributing ideas to an actual SITES project, thanks to preparation and documentation provided by Bluegrass Greensource’s Patti Stivender and Amy Sohner, and by Scott Southall, ASLA, LEED AP BD+C, and Clive Pohl, LEED AP.

Only in Kentucky—a Bourbon-themed finish

To cap the day, and provide a bridge of sorts, Paulette Akers from the Kentucky State Department of Compliance Assistance linked aspects of Kentucky’s Sustainable Spirits Initiative—a collaboration of five bourbon distilleries—with SITES, carefully pointing out specific credits that reflect practices distillers can use to protect the water in their products, the grounds for their warehouses and the supply chain for distribution of their cargo. Akers also imparted a deeper understanding of bourbon history, culture and economic impact in Kentucky. Then, workshop professionals were treated to a bourbon warehouse tour and Green Scene at the nearby Jim Beam Distillery and LEED Gold Visitor Center, all sponsored by host Beam Suntory.

SITES benefits the environment, property owners and local and regional communities and economies. SITES-certified landscapes help reduce water demand, filter and reduce stormwater runoff, provide wildlife habitat, reduce energy consumption, improve air quality, improve human health and increase outdoor recreation opportunities. The future of SITES in Kentucky is bright. Thanks to the vast efforts of experts, enthusiasts, organizers and professionals, Kentucky and the region will benefit from SITES projects with beautiful, functional and regenerative landscapes.