How Green Are Your Gardens?

So, you’ve built a new building and it’s so energy efficient and environmentally sensitive that you’ve earned a LEED Silver rating. Well, that’s all well and good. But what about that landscaping in the courtyard nearby, or that grassy quad across campus? Just how sustainable are all those nonnative plantings and ever-thirsty lawns?

A new project to create a rating system for sustainable landscape design could soon help answer some of those questions — and encourage colleges and others to adopt more sustainable approaches.

The new effort, dubbed the Sustainable Sites Initiative, is being spearheaded by the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas at Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden.

While some colleges and universities, such as the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, have begun to adopt “xeriscaping” and other sustainable practices on their campuses, for many this is still new ground. But the leaders of the program say they expect the idea will catch on, just as colleges have begun to embrace the idea of green buildings. “There’s a lot of interest in this,” says Frederick R. Steiner, dean of the University of Texas School of Architecture and one of the project’s founders.

As with the LEED program which is strictly for buildings, the Sustainable Sites program will develop a rating system. The ratings will assess the sustainability of public and private landscapes — looking specifically at four areas: soils, hydrology, vegetation, and the materials used for paving, benches, and similar features.

Mr. Steiner, who’s also helping out with soils portion of the project, says the idea is to identify the kinds of practices that would make campuses, parks, and even highway rights of way less of a drain on resources. Or as the wildflower center puts it on its Web site: “Planned landscapes across the country often use too much water, contribute to water pollution, and accelerate the spread of invasive species.”

The U.S. Green Building Council, which oversees the LEED rating system for buildings, plans to adopt the Sustainable Sites metric into the LEED program once they are finished.

Mr. Steiner, along with Nancy Somerville, the head of the landscaping society, will formally announce the new program on Saturday, at the society’s annual meeting in San Francisco.

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