SITES successes: Celebrating “firsts” from 2019

Published on
11 Feb 2020
Danielle Pieranunzi

In order to create a truly sustainable, resilient, equitable, and healthy society, we must address our outdoor spaces. Unlike conventional buildings, which play an immense role in impacting both our outdoor and indoor environments, healthy and functional landscapes appreciate in value over time, providing a multitude of benefits at various scales – from reducing urban heat island effects and cleaning stormwater runoff in cities to improving the mental and physical health of those who interact with these spaces.

While every building has a site, not every site has a building, and the SITES program fills a necessary and important gap in elevating the importance of landscapes and sustainable site development. 

This is why it’s so exciting to see the ways that the market is growing for SITES. Within the past year alone, we saw new project types, new countries implementing the rating system, and stronger commitments to sustainability with Platinum-level certification. To keep up with market demand, we also began formally offering Precertification, which can help projects attract community supporters, funders, and can even expedite permitting in some localities.

The SITES program celebrated many “firsts” in the past year, and it is through projects’ leadership that we continue to see demand and ingenuity move the market for sustainable outdoor spaces forward:

The first certified hospitality project: Gulf State Park Lodge

Not only is this the first SITES-certified hospitality project, it is also the first project in Alabama. Gulf State Park Lodge reveals a new approach for hospitality – moving away from traditional hotel landscapes that are seen mostly as “decoration” to a more functional system. The Lodge now provides protection against potential disturbances and reflects the region’s identity while still providing a beautiful and engaging environment for site users.

The first projects certified in China and Xuhui Runway Park and Avenue of Stars  

Xuhui Runway Park in Shanghai

A redevelopment of a former airport (hence, the name Runway Park), the 28.6 acre Xuhui Runway Park now provides a valuable ecological patch in an urban environment while fostering a healthier and more meaningful environment for the local community. This green infrastructure approach provides a clear demonstration of a forward-thinking municipal stormwater management system for Shanghai.

Avenue of Stars became the first SITES-certified project in China, along with the neighboring Salisbury Garden. Located in Hong Kong, this 457-meter waterfront first opened in 1982. It was rebranded with its current name in 2004 with a cinematic theme similar to Los Angeles' Hollywood Walk of Fame.

The first project to achieve SITES, LEED and TRUE certifications simultaneously: The Orange Coast College Recycling Center

The Orange Coast College Recycling Center in Costa Mesa, CA

Already a LEED Gold certified building, the OCC Recycling Center took sustainability initiatives to a new level by also achieving SITES Gold and TRUE Zero Waste Platinum certification. The center was also the first project in California to earn SITES v2 certification. Over the past 5 years, a team of sustainability experts had been working on plans to develop the outside space at the recycling center, which has served the OCC and its surrounding community for over 45 years. The resulting project was truly a collaborative community effort.

The first projects to achieve the highest certification level, SITES Platinum: Center for Sustainable Landscapes at the Phipps’ Conservatory and Jindaiji Garden

Center for Sustainable Landscapes in Pittsburgh, PA

As the first project to achieve SITES Platinum certification in the world, the Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL) at the Phipps’ Conservatory in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania clearly demonstrates leadership in sustainability. Built over a previously documented brownfield, this site essentially had no existing natural land covers or ecosystems to preserve or protect. The site can now manage a 10-year storm event using soil and vegetation based systems, and features 1.5 acres of new green space with over 100 native plant species. The CSL is net-zero water treating all storm and sanitary water captured on-site, and is net-zero energy, generating its own energy through photovoltaic solar panels and a wind turbine.

The Jindaiji Garden project is the second project from the Green Wise company further demonstrating their concept of “Slow Green,” which encourages native, seasonal plant growth and promotes a better way to enjoy nature. This semi-public garden in a suburban area of Tokyo is the first SITES Platinum project in the Asia region, in addition to achieving LEED for Homes certification for the two residential homes on the site.

Overall, 2019 showed steady market growth with a diverse array of project types and continued leadership among professionals and the growing community of SITES APs.

Today, there are a total of 187 registered and certified projects across the world in 133 cities, which equates to more than 251 million square feet of outdoor space. This includes projects from university campuses and city parks, to corporate headquarters (like Hewlett Packard, who certified their second campus in 2019), to a prominent large streetscape project which removed an elevated expressway to reinvent how it feels to experience city life in Montreal, Canada. These are just a handful of inspiring and innovative projects and project teams that are leading the way. 

What’s next for SITES?

This array of projects brings to light the ways the market is adopting techniques – through SITES – to address the ongoing threats of climate-related risks. With some changes in land-use practices over the next decade, nature could provide a third of the emissions reductions we need between now and 2030 to keep the global temperature rise below 2°C. These are solutions that are available today. And the SITES program can help make this sustainable future a reality while holding people and organizations accountable.

This is why, going into this new decade, we must scale up the SITES program even further. 

Natural climate solutions are necessary in our work ahead. Many of these SITES-related solutions also provide co-benefits like water filtration, pollination services, flood control, and habitat protection, among many others. In this new decade, SITES will continue its work of innovating on conservation, restoration, and adaptation. Thanks to the leadership of SITES project teams, we are integrating nature back into our lives in a beautiful, meaningful, and functional way, providing climate positive solutions, fostering resilience, and improving the quality of life for all.