After several years of testing, the Sustainable Sites Initiative's SITES rating system for landscape design is now available for widespread use. The voluntary rating system was launched in 2009 by the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin (UT), and the U.S. Botanic Garden, and is designed to rate the sustainable design, construction, and maintenance of sites and landscapes.

The launch of SITES v2 this week marks the end of seven years of development and a two-year pilot phase, during which more than 30 projects achieved pilot certification. "We tested the 2009 system to make sure it applies to differensite types and locations, ranging from the small residential yard to a 100-acre park," says Danielle Pieranunzi, SITES program director, noting that the pilot phase allowed the developers to make adjustments to the system in response to feedback from project teams that had concerns about how the system applied to their project type. While the 2009 version was only available for pilot projects, v2 is now open to the public.

While the SITES system is currently administered by the Sustainable Sites Initiative, the stakeholders are involved in negotiations with the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) to have that organization take over program certification as well as an associated professional credentialing program. GBCI currently oversees project certification and professional credentialing for the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED rating system for buildings.

SITES is modeled after LEED, and features both prerequisites (required points) and optional credits. As revised after the pilot phase, SITES v2 includes 18 prerequisites and 48 potential weighted credits for a total of 200 points that address the use of greenfields, brownfields, or grayfields; wildlife habitat protection; stormwater runoff; materials; soils and vegetation; and construction and maintenance. Similar to LEED, a handful of bonus points are available for innovative strategies. While the pilot phase awarded certification in a scale of star ratings, the system now issues certification in levels similar to LEED: Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.

The release of v2 does not resolve the legal debate surrounding the SITES trademark that arose last year between ASLA and UT, and which threatened to delay the rollout of the new SITES system. Both parties filed legal challenges regarding the ownership rights to the SITES trademark, and the lawsuit is still pending.