SITES buildings

The Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITESTM) Rating System is a sustainability-focused framework that offers a systematic approach to define, develop and restore landscapes through improving ecosystem services, community benefits and economic performance. SITES certification aims to weave development of sustainable ecosystems in our landscape with daily human activity through the natural spaces we inhabit by providing a systematic, comprehensive set of guidelines to model development practices after healthy systems and processes.

At the City of Austin, construction practices are moving closer towards sustainable and environmentally responsible landscape designs to pursue SITES-certified projects. By providing adequate performance measures, SITES helps urban parklands to reduce water demand, filter and reduce storm water runoff, provide wildlife habitat, reduce energy consumption, improve air quality, improve human health and increase outdoor recreation opportunities.

SITES was developed through a collaborative and interdisciplinary effort of the American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA), the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin and the U.S. Botanic Garden. The standard was acquired by GBCI in 2015.



10 Sections referenced from the SITES v2 Handbook




SITES requires careful planning and the protection of existing, functioning natural features that are unique, critical, sensitive, or threatened, such as farmlands, floodplains, wetlands, and wildlife habitats.


Before design begins, an integrated design team must conduct a comprehensive site assessment of existing physical, biological, and cultural conditions that will inform planning and design.


Projects that are designed to conserve water, maximize the use of precipitation, and protect water quality encourage strategies and technologies that restore and mimic natural systems.


Proper soil management as a design element and construction priority can serve as the foundation for robust vegetation, filtering pollutants and help prevent excess runoff, erosion, sedimentation, and flooding.


The demolition, selection, procurement, and use of materials in site design and construction present considerable opportunities to decrease the amount of materials sent to landfills, to preserve natural resources, to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, and to support the use of sustainable building products.


SITES requires careful planning and the protection of existing, functioning natural features that are unique, critical, sensitive, or threatened, such as farmlands, floodplains, wetlands, and wildlife habitats.


Before design begins, an integrated design team must conduct a comprehensive site assessment of existing physical, biological, and cultural conditions that will inform planning and design.


Outdoor opportunities for physical activity, restorative and aesthetic experiences, and social interaction are promoted. Projects are encouraged to address social equity in their design and development choices.


Sustainable construction encourages projects to protect air quality through low-emitting equipment, strive for a net-zero waste site, ensure healthy vegetation through soil restoration strategies, and protect receiving waters from polluted runoff and sedimentation


O+M promotes maintenance strategies that maximize the site’s long-term potential in providing ecosystem services. Strategies include reducing material disposal, ensuring long-term health of soil and vegetation, reducing pollution, conserving energy, and encouraging the use of renewable energy.









SITES is based on the concept of ecosystem services, the benefits provided by the natural ecological processes that support our daily lives. SITES-certified landscapes create ecologically resilient communities that are better able to withstand and recover from floods, droughts, wildfires and other catastrophic events. These projects help reduce water demand; conserve or restore natural resources; enable wildlife habitat; reduce energy consumption; and promote human health and wellbeing. SITES is designed for the future of the green building industry. As a complement to USGBC’s LEED green building rating system, SITES addresses the market’s need for a way to quantify and rate the sustainable use and performance of land sites.




project overview

design features

environmental features

Address: Austin, TX
Project Size: 16.2 acres
Project type:
Institutional / Educational

Site Context: Urban
Former Land Use:
Greenfield / Greyfield

The Dell Medical School and its teaching hospital, Dell Seton Medical Center, are part of a 16.2-acre development located in central Austin on the University of Texas campus. The completion of this project in November 2017, provided green spaces around the building and along Waller creek that have become an urban oasis, providing environmental and human health benefits to students, educators, patients and the greater community.

Running directly through the middle of The Dell Medical School is Waller creek, a previously neglected urban stream that played an integral role in influencing design efforts. One of the key elements of the project’s design focused on improving the ecological function of the creek corridor. Prior to construction, approximately 70 percent of the vegetative canopy along the creek was comprised of invasive species. The process for restoring the creek was an 18-month process that included the removal of invasive species, stream bank stabilization and the re-vegetation of diverse native plant communities. Formal planting areas around the buildings prioritized the usage of native vegetation which helped reduce irrigation by over 75 percent. Through careful design and planning, The Dell Medical District accomplished a sustainably resilient environment that reduced outdoor water use, restored 100 percent of the native plant communities along the riparian corridor, conserved and utilized native plants, reused salvaged plants, leveraged recycled content for 28 percent of the materials cost and restored 3,318 cubic yards of soil. Storm water management features were designed as site amenities to provide visitors with a connection to the local climate and hydrology. Using a combination of rain gardens, pervious pavers, rainwater harvesting, and a green roof, the project manages the 80th percentile rainfall event or approximately 46,939 cubic feet of water.

Luci and Ian Family Garden at the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

project overview

design features

environmental features

Address: Austin, TX
Project Size:
4.5 acres
Project type:
Open Space-Garden
Site Context:

Former Land Use: Greenfield
Terrestrial Biome:
Temperate Grasslands, Savannas & Shrublands

The Luci and Ian Family Garden showcases Texas native plants and landscapes while offering a unique, beautiful space for children and families to appreciate nature through exploration and to learn about plants, wildlife and water, and sustainable landscape design elements. The 4.5-acre space features more than 180 native Texas plant species and interactive features such as a nectar garden, a wildlife blind and pond, a “stumpery” made for jumping and climbing, and an area for building structures from natural materials. Sustainable practices are part of the fabric of the garden, and include plants that were salvaged pre-construction and replanted, and a rainwater harvesting system and rain gardens to demonstrate water conservation. Locally sourced pecan shells and crushed recycled glass are among the mulches. Stone harvested on site is used in features such as two caves, and non-potable water feeds a waterfall flowing into a recirculating creek with fish and tadpoles.

Mary Elizabeth Park

project overview

Supporting Sustainable Water Use

Integrating Interactive Waterscapes

Accommodating All Generations and Dogs

Address: Austin, TX
Project Size:
3.5 acres
Project type:
Open Space - Park

Former Land Use: Greyfield
Site Context: Urban

Mary Elizabeth Branch Park is in the Mueller community, a mixed-income, mixed-use urban village located in Austin, Texas. From the outset, Branch Park sought to balance the best use of a small space with the diverse needs of the local community. The 3.5-acre park was designed to accommodate the various recreation needs of a multi-generational community. Opened in May 2019, Branch Park features a creative children’s playground, a dog run, two sand volleyball courts, an interactive waterscape, and a large open lawn space and shady areas for picnics. For Branch Park, SITES Certification was an important goal for Mueller’s master developer Catellus Development Corp., the City of Austin, Design Workshop, and the design and construction teams, who all collaborated on this effort. Below are key goals and strategies that contributed to the final design of the park.

The rain garden in Branch Park is lushly planted with native species that can tolerate dry summer months and the wet fall and spring seasons. The rain garden treats the majority of storm water from the park site, allowing the storm water to slow down and percolate into the soil before it goes into the city storm sewer system. This garden is a major feature in the park, separating the interactive waterscape from the lawn and playground areas.

Branch Park is designed to be multi-generational and multi-functional, considering the needs of empty nesters, young adults, teenagers, and young kids. At Branch Park, this included incorporating seating options, shaded areas, viewing gardens, open spaces conducive to informal games, and a playground. The park allows all community members to enjoy the space simultaneously. Additionally, the dog run allows for neighborhood dogs (and their owners) to interact with one another in a leash-free zone. Pet waste bags, disposal systems, and dog drinking fountains are supplied for convenience. Trees surrounding the dog run gives owners and their dogs a great spot in the park to enjoy throughout the year.

The interactive waterscape at Branch Park is woven seamlessly into the design, addressing any health and safety concerns and appealing to a wide age range to maximize use. The water seeps, sprays, and mists out of the stonework. Interactive buttons allow people to activate certain features. In the winter, when the water is shut off, this space becomes another plaza in the park, allowing for year-round use.