The Center for Sustainable Landscapes in Pittsburgh
Creating and looking at landscapes in a sustainable way is coming to the forefront much the same way that organic foods, farmers’ markets and eating locally sourced foods have gained traction with the general public over the last ten years. Albeit, the idea of sustainable landscapes has a long way to go before it is has any degree of acceptance like the previously mentioned buzzwords in the minds of today’s consumers. Chiefly to be accepted, the idea of sustainable landscapes needs to have a common definition and a broad enough scope that it can be applied to many different types of gardens on a wide range of scales from home garden to municipal parks. Sustainable landscapes, if they are thought of in a “do no harm, repair previous harm” way, can be created by most (if not all) gardeners. This expansion of the definition in a broader and more encompassing way makes sustainable landscaping approachable for many more gardeners (who hopefully will become staunch supporters of the idea).
The American Society of Landscape Architects (ASLA) has stepped up and created a definition of sustainable landscaping that is broad and encompassing, and makes sense. On their website they say, “Sustainable landscapes are responsive to the environment, re-generative, and can actively contribute to the development of healthy communities. Sustainable landscapes sequester carbon, clean the air and water, increase energy efficiency, restore habitats, and create value through significant economic, social and, environmental benefits.” Nothing in this ASLA definition of sustainable landscapes precludes even the smallest garden.
With that definition, many gardeners can now champion the idea that sustainable landscapes are regenerative, restore healthy communities, and create value. But how do we evaluate sustainable landscapes, certify that it is being done, and reward those who are doing it? This is where the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) comes in. This program was developed by the United States Botanic Garden, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center, and the ASLA. The SITES definition of a sustainable site includes the following: “Like green buildings, sustainable sites use less energy, water and natural resources; generate less waste; and minimize the impact on land compared to conventional design, construction and maintenance techniques. Yet unlike buildings, sustainable sites can give back by cleaning air and water, sequestering carbon, reducing pollution, restoring habitat and biodiversity – all while providing significant social and economic benefits to the immediate site and surrounding region.”
Certified Sustainable Landscapes
As of December, 2014, 34 landscape projects have been SITES certified with a rating of one to four stars, based on their sustainable features and practices. A four-star rating was granted to Phipps’ Center for Sustainable Landscapes (CSL), in Pittsburgh, PA.
The Center for Sustainable Landscapes is the first and so far the only project to receive the program’s highest level – a four-star SITES certification for the building and landscape that surrounds it. The 3-acre site was formerly a paved, city public works maintenance yard with low concentrations of hazardous waste in the soil. Challenges on the site included brownfield damaged soils, a steep bluff with erosion issues, and previous dumping areas for construction waste and urban fill. The site now manages sanitary waste, has a LEED Platinum certified green building, has reintroduced 150 native plant species, and has net-zero energy and water use. A 4,000 square foot storm water lagoon, surrounded by a boardwalk, is the focal point of the landscape design and can accommodate up to 3.3 inches of rain in twenty-four hours. Rain gardens, a green roof, and compost tea use have been incorporated in the landscape.
The achievements at this site, open for public visitation at the Phipps Conservatory, are impressive. They are generating all of their own energy, treating and reusing all water captured on site, just use rainwater for irrigation, have installed permeable paving, have a wetland water treatment system, have Net Zero Energy Building Certification, LEED Platinum Certification, WELL Platinum Pilot Certification (a protocol for measuring human wellness in a building).
Phipps Conservatory and the Center for Sustainable Landscapes are open from 9:30 am to 5:00 pm daily (later hours on Fridays). The Conservatory is surrounded by Schenley Park and near the Hunt Institute for Botanical Documentation, Carnegie Museums and the Cathedral of Learning in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. Phipps Conservatory, One Schenley Park, Pittsburgh, PA 15213 (412) 622-6914 (phone).