Getting Dirty

The new Sustainable Sites Initiative wants you to think about the soil.

On Wednesday morning, a group of architects, developers, designers, and ecologists gathered in the Baltimore office of Biohabitats to hear Deb Guenther, landscape architect and principal with Seattle-based Mithun, talk about her company’s research and development in the field of sustainable design. The conversation quickly led to dirt. “Soils are a mystery to people,” Guenther said.

“That’s putting it nicely,” replied architect Julie Gabrielli. “Soil is irrelevant to most developers.” That, Guenther says, is why an interdisciplinary group composed of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and the United States Botanic Garden launched the Sustainable Sites Initiative.

The new Web site went live in November and is focused on the 20% of carbon emissions produced during the construction of a building. The aim is to create a set of voluntary national guidelines for ecological land design, construction, and maintenance. There are a series of case studies highlighting projects with forward-thinking land use and tips for developing sites with no toxicity or invasive species and smarter water useage.

The team just released a draft report titled Sustainable Sites Initiative Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks. It contains 50 prerequisites and credits that cover all stages of the site development process from site selection to ongoing maintenance, according to the organizers.

Now they want your feedback. Public comments about the guidelines are encouraged through January 20, 2009. What’s the incentive to respond? This could very well become the prevailing document for sustainable site development. The U.S. Green Building Council says it hopes to use these standards for a future LEED Green Building Rating System.

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