SITES as a climate solution

Published on: 
20 Feb 2018
Marni Evans

The SITES rating system is a way to mitigate the effects of climate change that are impacting our world and way of life. The natural systems on which we depend are tied into climate, and any sustained change affects food production, availability and use of water, fresh air and much more.

Climate determines where people live and how their homes, businesses and schools keep them comfortable. As the Pew Report “Ecosystems and Global Climate Change” suggests, the warming of the U.S. environment over this century will jeopardize the integrity of our ecosystems. Climate affects all aspects of our world: precipitation levels, pollination of crops, migration of birds, spawning of fish and the timing of seasonal life cycle events.

Climate and carbon

We're taking millions of years' worth of carbon, stored beneath the earth as fossil fuels, and releasing it into the atmosphere. Most of the activities we do every day—turning the lights on, cooking food, heating or cooling our homes, powering our factories and running our cars, and even recycling and landfilling waste—rely on energy sources like coal and oil that emit carbon dioxide and other heat-trapping gases into the atmosphere.

Changing land use patterns and deforestation contribute to the current problem, too. These energy products send emissions into our atmosphere, which in turn traps heat (hence the term "greenhouse gases") and particulates such as carbon dioxide and methane.

The amount of carbon in the atmosphere has been increasing sharply over recent decades. Global climate change to the degree anticipated—a 1 to 4ºC rise in the global mean temperatures over this century—will cause a major change in ecosystem distributions and the balance of climate that life systems depend upon.

That’s why climate action is essential for any type of transformative sustainable development to occur. And it’s just one more way that USGBC and GBCI are committed to safeguarding the climatic and ecological systems on which we depend through the Sustainable SITES Initiative and the SITES v2 Rating System.

SITES as a climate solution

THE SITES program promotes practices that conserve, restore and improve the carbon storage capacity of landscapes, minimizing the release of carbon. This helps to minimize impacts from the shifting climate, such as changing weather patterns, drought and increased frequency and intensity of storm events.

SITES encourages project teams to minimize energy consumption and encourages use of low-carbon and renewable energy sources. It also helps to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, heavy metals, chemicals and other pollutants. SITES inspires teams to reduce, reuse and recycle materials and resources, conserve water and increase the capacity of carbon sinks through re-vegetation.

Prerequisites and credits to minimize climate effects

For example, SITES prerequisites require projects to avoid development on sensitive, rare or functioning land. This not only limits land disturbance, which protects the integrity of any stored carbon in vegetation, soil or wetlands, but it also provides many other benefits such as controlling flooding, protecting habitat and promoting food security.

Other prerequisites influence the site design process, such as by requiring that precipitation be viewed as a resource rather than a waste product, and that plants be selected based on their local ecoregion and climate.

  • Limit Development on Farmland (Context P1.1)
  • Protect Floodplain Functions (Context P1.2)
  • Conserve Aquatic Ecosystem (Context P1.3)
  • Conserve Habitats for Threatened and Endangered Species (Context P1.4)
  • Manage Precipitation On Site (Water P3.1)
  • Use Appropriate Plants (Soil+Veg P4.3)
  • Restore Soils Disturbed by Construction (Construction P7.3)
  • Plan for Sustainable Site Maintenance (O+M P8.1)

Below are just a few examples of how projects can earn credits for addressing these current and future issues:

  • Managing Precipitation Beyond Baseline (Water C3.3)
  • Restoring Aquatic Ecosystems (Water C3.6)
  • Support Sustainability in Plant Production (Materials C5.10)
  • Restore Soils Disturbed by Previous Development (Construction C7.4)
  • Protect Air Quality During Construction (Construction C7.7)
  • Recycle Organic Matter (O+M C8.3)
  • Using Renewable Sources for Landscape Electricity (O+M C8.6)
  • Protecting Air Quality During Landscape Maintenance (O+M C 8.7)

Additionally, other soil and vegetation credits support the goal of maintaining healthy soils to support vegetation. This results in benefits beyond sequestering carbon, such as improving air and water quality and regulating climate.

There are also many SITES credits that aim to reduce net carbon emissions throughout the life of the site, from design and construction to operations and maintenance, including embodied energy in materials and equipment operations. Most of these credits can be found in the Materials, Construction and Operations and Maintenance sections of the rating system.

Learn more about these prerequisites and credits by downloading a copy of the free rating system or by accessing the detailed resources, references and documentation found in the SITES v2 Reference Guide.

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