Sustainability Certifications Are Not JUST for Buildings

Two Outdoor Sustainability Certification Programs to Consider

Sustainability Certifications Are Not JUST for Buildings

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To create a truly sustainable environment, consider the landscape around your building and explore the following two outdoor Sustainability Certification Programs: SITES and Parksmart.

While most people in the sustainability space are familiar with sustainability certifications that apply to buildings such as LEED, NGBS, and Green Globes many don’t know about certifications for outdoor spaces and structures. SITES and Parksmart are two certifications for outdoor landscapes and structures that are worth learning about and hopefully adding to your team project goals.  

What Is SITES? 

The Sustainable SITES Initiative, commonly known as just SITES, is a sustainability certification for the area around the actual site of the building. These include outdoor landscapes such as parks, plazas, and campuses. The goal of a SITES certification is to preserve, protect, and enhance the environment and ecosystem on and around the specific project location. SITES encourages landscape architects, designers, ecologists, city planners, policy-makers, and other parties to create spaces that improve human and ecosystem health. SITES certifications not only involve different community stakeholders but are also adaptable to the unique characteristics of each project. Certifications can be achieved in outdoor spaces with or without structures, in open spaces, streetscapes, and plazas, and in commercial, residential, educational, and institutional spaces. 

While sustainable building certifications focus on specific practices relating to the building functions and materials, SITES engages stakeholders in working towards achieving broader performance measures in seven certification areas

  1. Greenhouse gas emissions 
  2. Energy efficiency 
  3. Solar renewable energy 
  4. Sustainable materials 
  5. Lifecycle and facility management 
  6. Energy management systems 
  7. Monitoring performance 

Some of the systems that work towards achieving these performance measures include projects such as improving carbon storage and regulation through planting a variety of native trees, ground cover plants and flowers, improving flood mitigation, and reducing polluted stormwater runoff by reducing the use of impervious surfaces by choosing penetrable natural materials. 

Who Has Become SITES-Certified? 

The Seattle Center, a large outdoor theater, arts, and cultural hub in Seattle, Washington, implemented some of these ecosystem services in their SITES-certified Theater Commons and Donnelly Gardens area. By transforming an old parking lot, service road, and isolated lawn into a beautified public walkway surrounded by gardens, the center created a water filtration and stormwater runoff system assisted and beautified by bio-retention and Cascadia Region native plant gardens

The Bat Cave Draw and Visitor Center at Carlsbad Caverns National Park in New Mexico was having problems with polluted stormwater runoff from the parking lot reaching the protected cave areas of the park. To solve this issue, the park service teamed up with architects and developers to remove and revegetate that parking lot area. The newly relocated parking lot included a system to collect, treat, and prevent contaminated runoff from reaching the caves. 

While these measures may seem small, encouraging a trend in sustainable landscaping, especially in highly-visible public spaces, is quintessential to improving urban climate resilience and awareness. As warned by the International Panel on Climate Change’s 2022 Report, natural disasters such as hurricanes, floods, and wildfires are increasing in frequency and severity. This will only continue to worsen as the global temperature rises above 1.5 degrees Celsius, threatening humans and biodiversity worldwide. Ecosystem restoration and reducing land disturbance is essential to mitigating greenhouse gasses and protecting ecosystem services. Outdoor sustainable landscaping design is a small but necessary step towards a more sustainable future.

What is Parksmart? 

Parksmart is a unique sustainability certification for parking garage structures that awards points and recognition for sustainable practices and systems. To clarify further, Jay Chamberlain, PE, Parksmart Advisor, Senior Engineering Project Manager, THP Limited, says, “Parksmart, a U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) program, is a voluntary, consensus-driven standard that guides projects toward innovative, solutions-oriented strategies that benefit everyone from building owners and property managers to tenants and drivers. A garage, whether renovated or newly constructed, can earn Parksmart certification by adhering to 48 criteria, all of which fit within three overarching categories." They are:

1. Management 

Tire InflationSustainable management involves the entire “life” of a facility, including aspects such as:  

  • the materials used in building 
  • the waste management of construction materials and in-building waste 
  • the cleaning procedures and materials used 
  • sourcing local labor 
  • the life-cycle assessment 
  • parking pricing  
  • shared parking  

2. Programs 

BNA Available SpacesSustainable programs are designed to support social and economic sustainability for patrons. The ease of use through internal and external wayfinding systems, programs for rideshares, accommodations for alternative fuel vehicles, bicycle sharing and parking, and access to public transportation are essential to creating a sustainable place for patrons to use and enjoy. 

3. Technology structure design 

Sustainable technology and structure design focus on the sustainability specs of the building itself. Auto-sensing lighting fixtures, water efficiency, ventilation systems, EV charging stations, and rainwater harvesting are just a few of the many ways to Parksmart. 

Who Has Parked Smart? 

The Wells Fargo Center in Los Angeles, California, boasts a Parksmart-certified garage that maintains ease of use through shared parking programs, online parking reservations, electronic occupancy sensors, 22 EV charging ports, and all-LED occupancy-sensored lights. 

The Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport has three Parksmart-certified garages that offer electric fleets, shuttles to downtown, electric vehicle charging, airport-wide stormwater management, advanced building management of HVAC, air quality, lighting, elevators, and fire suppression. 

Parking structures may seem like an arbitrary structure to certify, but they exist in almost every city sustainability should be important and a priority in building anything!  

Why Certify Outdoor Spaces? 

Creating sustainable landscapes and public spaces is quintessential to prioritize the importance of protecting habitats and ecosystem services as a buffer to climate change, and making accessible, liveable, enjoyable cities. Well-designed outdoor spaces are just as important as a well-designed building: they’re good for people, the planet, and the future. Contact Emerald today — we can help you become SITES and Parksmart certified! 

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