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Testing a sustainable landscape rating system


UC Merced will join more than 150 other projects from 34 states as well as Canada, Iceland and Spain as part of the international pilot project program, which will evaluate the new rating system for sustainable landscapes both with and without buildings.

"We are honored to have UC Merced participate in the pilot program of what is sure to become a valuable resource in determining the effectiveness of sustainability efforts in landscaping," said Thomas Lollini, FAIA, associate vice chancellor for physical planning, design and construction. "The university has set new standards for sustainability in building design and construction and will remain dedicated to preserving our environmental resources in any way we can."

Sustainable landscapes can clean water, reduce pollution and restore habitats, while providing significant economic and social benefits to land owners and municipalities. For example, shade provided by landscaping can be used to cool buildings during warmer months, reducing the amount of energy needed for cooling.

The Sustainable Sites Initiative - founded in 2005 as a partnership of the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at the University of Texas, Austin, and the United States Botanic Garden - selected UC Merced based on its extensive environmentally friendly elements.

For example, UC Merced is the only university in the country to have all of its buildings LEED-certified by the U.S. Green Building Council, and it has set a minimum standard of LEED Gold or better for all new buildings. In addition, UC Merced has made the ambitious "Triple Zero Commitment" to produce as much energy as is used, eliminate landfill waste and produce zero net greenhouse gas emissions, all by 2020.

UC Merced will use its planned Science and Engineering 2 building as the template for the pilot project. Like the other pilot projects, the site will help officials evaluate how practical and effective a tool the point system is for determining different levels of site sustainability. The 250-point scale evaluates landscaping in terms of site selection, water use, soil and vegetation, choice of materials and other factors in accordance with the group's Guidelines and Performance Benchmarks 2009.

In the pilot program, UC Merced joins landscaping projects like the Smithsonian Institution's African American History and Culture museum and a New Orleans project to absorb storm water on the streets of the Lower Ninth Ward that were flooded during Hurricane Katrina. The program also includes corporate campuses, public parks with hundreds of acres, transportation corridors, and private residences of less than one acre.

The initiative will use feedback from UC Merced and the other selected projects during the pilot phase, which runs through June 2012, to revise the final rating system and reference guide by early 2013. The U.S. Green Building Council, a stakeholder in the Sustainable Sites Initiative, anticipates incorporating the guidelines and performance benchmarks into future iterations of its LEED Green Building Rating System.

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