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The U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) LEED rating system ensures that buildings, construction practices, and materials are sustainable and environmentally sound.  The LEED initiative applies to buildings, indoor environments, and locations.  Similarly, the sustainable SITES initiative applies to everything else in the outdoor space, including the land a building sits upon and its landscape.  SITES is administered by Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI).  This program was created through years of research by industry professionals specializing in human health, materials, soil, vegetation, and water; including the American Society of Landscape Architecture (ASLA), the United States Botanic Garden, and the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas in Austin.  SITE certification is an international program providing resources and community support for the design and development of sustainable landscapes.  This is an essential initiative to fight climate change, but also to address the market's need to measure the sustainability and performance of land sites.  When a property or property owner wants to express intention to protect our ecosystems and commit to sustainable landscape design, construction, and maintenance practices, they may do so by registering to become SITE certified.  The benefits of SITE certification are many.  In addition to helping save our planet, property owners experience fiscal savings through overall landscape efficiencies.                      


What is SITES?

The sustainable SITES initiative is a program structured for the future of the green building and landscape industry, including:

  • Landscape Design

  • Land Planning

  • Land Use

  • Land Development

  • Landscape Construction

  • Landscape Maintenance

  • Land Management 

The program offers property owners  a set of voluntary guidelines, coupled with a rating system to assess the sustainability of the curated landscape.  It looks at the land as a crucial element of the built environment.  It ensures that projects contribute to healthy ecosystems through proper:


  • Planning

  • Design

  • Development

  • Enhancement

  • Practices

SITES provides tools and expert advice for certified property owners.  Its rating system is composed of points that assess and rate a property's performance.  The number of points a property earns determines the level of certification, including:

  • Site Certified: 70-84 points

  • Site Silver: 85-99 points

  • Site Gold: 100-134 points

  • Site Platinum: 135 or more points

These performance measures take into account the unique and diverse set of conditions that each property experiences depending on the land and location.  SITES encourages flexibility, creativity, and connection to the community, while promoting project teams.  The primary goal is to develop landscapes that are:


  • Functional

  • Aesthetic

  • Of Value

  • Regenerative  



Who Uses SITES & Who May Become Certified? 

Professionals across the industry utilize the SITES initiative with the goal to innovate, develop, and manage sustainable landscape designs.  This includes: 


  • Landscape Architects

  • Landscape Designers

  • Planners

  • Developers

  • Architects

  • Engineers

  • Ecologists

  • Policy Makers

Within the community, almost anyone may register to become SITE certified, with a few exceptions.  The minimum size to register a project is 2,000 square feet.  There is no maximum, however, additional fees apply to projects over 100 acres.  The following scenarios are appropriate for registration:


  • New construction

  • Existing sites in need of renovations

  • Sites with buildings

  • Sites without buildings

  • Projects completed within the past 2 years

SITE certification is appropriate for multiple land uses including:

  • Commercial Landscapes- office parks, retail centers, corporate campuses

  • Residential Landscapes- individual yards, neighborhoods, HOA communities

  • Educational and Institutional Landscapes- museums, hospitals, public & private campuses

  • Open Spaces- arboretums, botanical gardens, parks-local/state/national

  • Streetscapes- boulevards, plazas, urban spaces

As an international program, anyone in the world may express their commitment to their community and sustainability by registering to become SITE certified. 



How Does SITES Help Our Environment?

The sustainable SITES initiative rates landscapes, designs, projects, and maintenance programs to encourage environmental stewardship.  The primary function is to create healthy ecosystems through:


  • Protection

  • Conservation

  • Restoration

More specifically, the goal of SITE certification is to connect development and management of the landscape to creative, innovative, and sustainable design.  The program outlines the four main goals of its rating system as follows:


  1.  Cultivate resiliency and create regenerative systems

  2.  Mitigate climate change and ensure future resource supply

  3. Transform the market through design, development, and maintenance

  4. Strengthen communities while enhancing human well-being



SITE certified landscapes protect our environment by encouraging and supporting the following practices:

  • Carbon storage

  • Flood mitigation

  • Reducing stormwater runoff

  • Reducing water demand

  • Improving water quality

  • Improving air quality

  • Increasing crop pollination 

  • Reducing energy consumption

  • Conserving and restoring natural resources

  • Encouraging and protecting wildlife habitats

  • Increasing biodiversity

  • Reducing light pollution

  • Promoting human health and well-being

  • Increasing opportunities for outdoor recreation

  • Reconnecting humans with nature


These good practices bring nature back to the community.  They not only benefit our environment, but the humans and animals living within it.  They work to sustain the natural ecological processes that support and affect our daily lives and influence wellness.        


How Does SITES Benefit Property Owners?

Property owners who choose SITE certification experience the good feelings that come with being a part of climate solutions, but also many additional benefits that come in the form of increased efficiencies and fiscal savings.  This includes the maximization of:


  • Time

  • Money

  • Resources


The market favors landscapes that are performing most efficiently.  Sustainability appreciates in value over time, thereby positively impacting property values.  Green design and green landscapes have proven to:

  • Increase property value

  • Increase rental income

  • Increase retail sales

  • Increase energy savings

  • Reduce the cost of maintenance

  • Reduce water and electricity use

  • Reduce energy costs


Green landscapes are more sustainable and provide increased resiliency in the wake of climate events and other natural disasters.  Property owners who are SITE certified protect their investment and their community as a whole, as they are able to recover more easily from:

  • Wildfires

  • Flooding

  • Drought

Property owners also experience benefits from SITE certification that have a human component.  Healthy thriving ecosystems lead to healthy thriving communities.  This is observable through:


  • Higher standard of living

  • Reduction of crime

  • Improved health and wellness

  • Improved job satisfaction

  • Protection of worker health

  • Opportunities for social interaction

  • Thriving economies  



During the design and development phase of any landscape project, SITE certification protects property owners through:


  • Project efficiency

  • Fewer delays

  • Reduction of cost overruns

  • Better overall value

  • Better overall function

Over time, SITE certified properties save a great deal of time and money.  There are also incentives for property owners such as:

  • Tax credits

  • Rebates

  • Local financial incentives

The sustainable SITES initiative benefits property owners, communities, and the economy overall, while protecting the health of our planet.   





Registration & Certification

SITE certification is a four-step process that begins with registration, followed by review and certification.  The sustainable SITES initiative provides online tools to help with documentation and the application process.  The following steps must be completed for certification:

  1.  Register online at:

  2.  Apply for review with GBCI

  3.  GBCI conducts a review of the property/ project 

  4.  Final review and sign off; the site becomes certified

The cost to certify a site is between $2,500 and $9,000, which includes a registration and certification fee.  Fees are calculated based on the project and property.  Registration fees are due at the time of registration.  The certification fee is due before the project submits their application for GBCI review.  Registration and certification fees may be eligible for a discount in the following scenarios:


  • Applicant is a member of ASLA

  • Applicant is a member of USGBC

  • The registration and certification fees are paid at the same time   


Projects in the planning and design phase are strongly encouraged to register.  The earlier the better, although projects may register at any time during the planning or development stages.  Precertification is offered to projects in the planning phase.  Precertification is good for 3 years once achieved, and assists the project in connecting with:


  • Sustainable landscape design/ designers

  • Sustainable landscape construction/ contractors  



Overall, once a project or property is registered, SITES connects applicants to:


  • Resources

  • Community partners

  • Community support

  • Funding

  • Tools to track progress

  • Expedited permitting



It is important to note that the USGBC's green building rating system, LEED, which is also administered by GBCI, is specifically designed to work with the sustainable SITES initiative.  SITES and LEED work in tandem and compliment the other.  The SITES rating system may be used alone or alongside the LEED rating system.  When a project or property applies for Site Gold certification (100 to 134 points), they automatically earn LEED credits.



For more information about the sustainable SITES initiative and landscape SITE certification, please visit:      






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