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Sustainable Landscape Project Takes Root

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 thecountry.

Adjaye African History building

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 thecountry.

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More to the point, they’re among 175 pilot projects worldwide to enlist in the Sustainable Sites Initiative, a new ratingsystem for environmentally friendly land development. (Read our pastcoverage here.)Over the next two years, they’ll be tilling soil and planting nativegrasses 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 throwgreen roofs onto their buildings to earn LEED points, so why do the lawnsneed to prove their eco cred, too? “Just because landscapes are greendoesn’t mean they’re sustainable,” Steve Windhager, of the Sustainable Sites Initiative, tells us. “Most landscapes arewaterhogs. We want to go beyond conservation. The opportunity inlandscape design is that we can actually replenish the Earth’s abilityto sustain life.”

Mayne Float

This makes sense for botanical gardens and naturepreserves, but some of the pilot projects sound like the last places onEarth that could sustain life. (There’s a power plant in SouthernCalifornia and an industrial park in Oregon and a facility crypticallycalled the Deep Underground Science and Engineering Lab in SouthDakota.) 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 rainwaterin 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.

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

We’reall for greening up landscapes. We wonder, though: There’s already adeluge of environmental certificates on the books.Do we really need one more? Or is labeling something green the onlyway 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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