From the Site Studio

Environmental Ranking for the Environment: Sustainable SITES Initiative

Swaner Board WalkThe U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED® Rating System is a well know certification criteria for assessing the environmental impact of new and remodeled building projects. But what about the impact of the landscapes near and on which those buildings sit? The Sustainable Sites Initiative and the corresponding SITES™ Rating System is a collaboration between the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and the United States Botanic Garden. It is an environmental ranking system specifically for the land, and covers things such as Open Spaces, Plazas, Yards, and Commercial/Government Grounds.

Swaner Aerial

Sustainable SITES in Theory

The SITES™ Rating System includes 15 prerequisites and 51 different credits in categories measuring performance in areas such as the site selection, water, soil, vegetation, materials, human well-being, construction and maintenance – all contributing to a 250 point scale. The rating system recognizes levels of achievement by obtaining a percentage of available points with one through four stars awarded.

The core components of the SITES™ system include:

Resiliency: design and planning that informs long-term monitoring and adaptive management of the landscape.

Ecosystem Services:  interactions and processes between living elements and non-living elements that are of direct or indirect benefit to humans.

Human Health: benefits that humans derive from a relationship with nature including reduced stress, anxiety, and aggression, and higher levels of trust and willingness to help

Materials: resources that have been extracted or processed for human use, which have the capacity to significantly impact ecosystem services

Soil & Vegetation:  the foundation of ecosystems which provide services such as reduction in water runoff, improvement in groundwater recharge, and climatic regulation

Water: a limited resource, essential to all life, that when sustainably managed can be used for recharging groundwater, irrigation purposes, in ornamental water features, and promoting healthy rivers, lakes, and oceans

Sustainable SITES in Action

SITES CertificateCRSA’s Swaner EcoCenter in Park City, Utah, was selected to participate in the pilot program of the SITES™ Initiative. The Project recently completed its certification, becoming the first certified project in Utah and among the first ever SITES™ Certified projects nationally. It demonstrates the SITES™ core components in a real-world context:

Resiliency: The site was designed with long-term sustainability in mind. Daily practices and maintenance routines automatically ensure long-term sustainability as long as those practices and routines are followed. Since completion of the Swaner EcoCenter, the director and staff have met annually to review the goals of the EcoCenter. The owner is monitoring the site’s performance mainly by annual evaluations of how the well goals for the site are met each year in consideration of the amount of time, financial and other resources are required to meet those goals.

Ecosystem Services: The Swaner EcoCenter was delivered via an Integrative Design Team Process. The chief difference this led to was the inclusion of the contractor during design decisions. The contractor provided feedback that minimized site disturbance. In return, because the contractor and team had a good understanding of the project goals and the importance of the wetland, they were invested in the process. The construction team worked in a manner to minimize dust and sound during construction so that cranes nesting near the construction site were not disturbed. The boardwalk construction was also challenging due to the sensitive nature of the wetland. The careful construction of the boardwalk and the fact that the nesting birds did not abandon their nest during construction was a great source of pride for the construction team.

Human Health: Key project successes include the careful construction of the boardwalk and the continuation of practices, such as composting and the ban of chemical weed controls, put in place for SITES credits. The client and project did not implement sustainable practices only for the certification of the project. The commitment to sustainability is intact and continues to grow.

Materials: The Western Mountain Region influenced the choice of materials. Several products such as the furnishings chosen for outdoor seating, bike racks, and high SRI pavers were effective. However, by far the most effective materials used to meet the project goals was the Great Salt Lake trestlewood- naturally preserved lumber claimed from the lake less than 80 miles away.

Soil & Vegetation: The construction of the boardwalk used an innovative construction technique to minimize disturbance. Typical boardwalk construction uses metal helical piers that are drilled in from the side. For the EcoCenter boardwalk, wooden piers from wood salvaged from the Great Salt Lake was used. These piers were preserved from sitting in salt water for decades. They could be pounded into the ground and the equipment required for this stayed only within the footprint of the boardwalk and did not disturb the area beyond the boardwalk like using helical piers would have done.

Water: The greatest impact this project has had in the surrounding area is the establishment of a cistern for rainwater collection. The rainwater collection eliminates potable water use for irrigation and flushing toilets. This is quite a significant feature in a state that averages less 12 inches of precipitation a year yet has the 2nd highest per capita water use in the nation. This provides a precedent that had not been attempted in this area.

More information on the SITES™ program and a full listing of the Swaner EcoCenter project is available at and

Swaner EcoCenter