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What the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED ratings did for sustainable building design, a consortium of organizations is now trying to accomplish for landscapes and other outdoor spaces. The Sustainable Sites Initiative was unveiled last week at the American Society of Landscape Architects Expo as a joint project by that organization, the University of Texas at Austin's Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and the United States Botanic Garden.

Although the idea has been in the works for a couple of years, it's still in its preliminary stages. The first report on what exactly will be expected of landscape architects who choose to follow the initiative's guidelines will be released November 1st. However, the LEED creators have already signed on to include the finalized guidelines in their rating system in the future.

The Sustainable Sites Initiative plans to incorporate everything from open spaces as large as national parks to sites as small as city plazas. (I wonder how the park outside our offices at 7 World Trade Center would measure up.) Each site will have to take into account water usage, soil quality, types of vegetation used, construction materials, and the impact on humans. Like the LEED system, the initiative anticipates different ratings depending on each site's level of "green-ness."

The initiative's website is filled with interesting (and disturbing) facts about the impact of manmade outdoor sites on the environment. For example, lawn maintenance in this country requires the equivalent of 200 gallons of water per person each day. Moreover, 5,000 non-native plants first used in landscape designs have infiltrated natural eco-systems, accounting for 85 percent of invasive plant species in this country.

Guidelines for eco-friendly outdoor spaces are something that never really occurred to me, but after seeing the Sustainable Sites Initiative it really makes sense. We'll just have to wait and see if this is something that catches on and people are actually interested in following.

For the inside story behind the LEED standards, check out The Green Standard? from the October issue.