Set Your SITES: What to know about the new rating system

As the center encourages visitors to immerse themselves in the natural environment and experience prairie life first-hand, the Plains volunteers are better equipped to increase their educational, environmental, and community-based programs.

For design professionals interested in environmental stewardship, making the case for SITES is straight-forward: by being an early implementer of the system, the client/owner will gain national recognition in the competitive and growing marketplace of sustainability. Hempstead Plains was once a beloved sanctuary of only a few preservationists and researchers; this year, the number of visitors multiplied and included a contingent of designers from the New York City Department of Parks and Recreation, interested in the prairie plant palette and vegetated roof.

In September, the Interpretive Center partnered with the Ecological Landscape Alliance and hosted a regional conference open to landscape architects, ecologists, and designers, offering Landscape Architect Continuing Education System (LA CES) credits to attendees.

Developers can also benefit from project cost savings by reducing energy, maintenance, labor, materials, and water. For example, transportation costs are lowered by the use of imported locally native plants, while maintenance fertilizers and pesticides can reduce or eliminate the need for potable water.

For more expensive materials, such as soils, SITES encourages the reuse of onsite materials like recycled wood, concrete, and asphalt. Additionally, soils require careful handling as outlined in Prerequisite 7.2, Control and Retain Construction Pollutants, which mandates vegetation and soil protection zone (VSPZ) to reduce the construction footprint and prevent soil contamination and compaction. This will reduce the common practice of exporting expensive disposal and importing soil materials.

The education value of SITES is not to be underestimated. As high schools, colleges, and universities implement sustainability into their facilities management and curriculum, students are seeing first-hand the value of green practices, in both the buildings and landscape. While students learn about water cycles, pollination, waste streams, and biodiversity in the classroom, the tangible benefits are visualized and experienced as they walk in and out of sustainable buildings and through sustainable outdoor courtyards, designed to provide healthy habitats for humans.

While commissioning is not required as with LEED, a plan for sustainable site maintenance is a prerequisite and an important and detailed element of the SITES documentation. To further encourage the visibility of a project, credits can be achieved for developing an outreach program for sustainability awareness and education, communicating a case study, and monitoring and reporting site performance. All this information will help improve and quantify the body of sustainable landscape knowledge.

As with any forward-thinking standards, SITES practitioners are encouraged to create innovative solutions or to go beyond the required or credited areas to earn points. Simultaneous to Hempstead Plains Friends decision to become a SITES pilot project, the group spearheaded a gathering of so-called ‘meadow managers’ from around Long Island and New York City.

This group, mostly non-profit managers and volunteers, met for the first time at Nassau Community College, the site of Hempstead Plains. Each participant presented a case study on his or her park, preserve, or private retreat, which included a meadow. Presentations were delivered, as members exchanged knowledge of grasses, wildflowers, birds, butterflies, insects, and methods of invasive plant control. The conference is now in its seventh year of existence and Hempstead Plains continues to fill a leadership role. For project certification, the SITES project team created a new innovation credit and earned an additional four points for this initiative.

To keep current and ahead of the competition, developers, contractors, architects, and landscape architects must adapt to the growing demands on the natural resources, including energy, water, and materials. More and more, the public is embracing the growing body of scientific research demonstrating the importance—in terms of health, absenteeism, and productivity—of green spaces for all. Owners, clients, and design professionals can work as an integrated team and combine their efforts to create a better, more sustaining built environment while improving the bottom line.

CeCe Haydock, LEED AP, is a registered New York State landscape architect, and the manager of the 2015 SITES pilot project Hempstead Plains Interpretive Center. She is a partner at StudioVerdeUS, which has offices in in Maine, Texas, and New York. Haydock can be reached via e-mail at

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