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Sustainable Landscape Project Takes Root

Greener pastures for a Super Bowl village, a black history museum, and a wealth of other land developments in the United States and beyond

Adjaye African History building

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A Super Bowl village, a black history museum, and a Thom Mayne house in New Orleans have absolutely nothing in common except this:
They’ve signed on to become some of the greenest landscapes in the
country.

More to the point, they’re among 175 pilot projects worldwide to enlist in the Sustainable Sites Initiative, a new rating
system for environmentally friendly land development. (Read our past
coverage here.)
Over the next two years, they’ll be tilling soil and planting native
grasses and showering plants with rainwater to meet the standard. Call it the landscaper’s LEED, the U.S Green Building Council’s green rating system.

Sustainable landscape certification might sound a bit redundant. People throw
green roofs onto their buildings to earn LEED points, so why do the lawns
need to prove their eco cred, too? “Just because landscapes are green
doesn’t mean they’re sustainable,” Steve Windhager, of the Sustainable Sites Initiative, tells us. “Most landscapes are
waterhogs. We want to go beyond conservation. The opportunity in
landscape design is that we can actually replenish the Earth’s ability
to sustain life.”

Mayne Float

This makes sense for botanical gardens and nature
preserves, but some of the pilot projects sound like the last places on
Earth that could sustain life. (There’s a power plant in Southern
California and an industrial park in Oregon and a facility cryptically
called the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Lab in South
Dakota.) In Windhager’s telling, that’s all the more reason to become a Sustainable Site. Seemingly small efforts like tree islands in parking lots and capturing rainwater
in dense urban areas can have a big impact on the environment —
even if they won’t produce the next cover shot for Better Homes and Gardens.

The
pilots will help hammer out the final rating system in coming years. They’ll also inform a guidebook that the
Sustainable Sites Initiative expects to release in 2013.

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We’re
all for greening up landscapes. We wonder, though: There’s already a
deluge of environmental certificates on the books.
Do we really need one more? Or is labeling something green the only
way we know how to be green?

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About the author

Suzanne LaBarre is the editor of Co.Design. Previously, she was the online content director of Popular Science and has written for the New York Times, the New York Observer, Newsday, I.D.

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