Enhancing Campus Sustainability through SITES and Socially Equitable Design: The Socially Equitable Category Represents a Unique and Often Missed Opportunity for Academic Institutions to Further Their Commitment to Sustainable Practices

By Spooner, David | Planning for Higher Education, July-September 2014 | Go to article overview

Enhancing Campus Sustainability through SITES and Socially Equitable Design: The Socially Equitable Category Represents a Unique and Often Missed Opportunity for Academic Institutions to Further Their Commitment to Sustainable Practices


Spooner, David, Planning for Higher Education


SUSTAINABILITY ON CAMPUS

SINCE THE SIGNING OF THE TALLOIRES DECLARATION in 1990 and the creation of the American College & University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) in 2007, over 1,000 academic institutions have adopted policies focused on achieving a higher level of sustainability on campus. Growing out of this initiative is a renewed interest in understanding how physical design enhances sustainability within campus landscapes. Several organizations have developed design criteria, ratings, and point systems to inform this process.

The three most recognized are Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED), the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS), and a new set of guidelines associated with the Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES).

While each set of guidelines holds environmental, structural, and organizational requirements at its core, the SITES guidelines expand the definition of sustainability to include human interaction with and within the outdoor environment. Classified under the heading of "Socially Equitable," this category is one of the three main components of sustainability under the SITES definition (figure 1).

SOCIALLY EQUITABLE SUSTAINABILITY

The Socially Equitable category is based on the idea that humans are an integral part of an environment in which human decisions and actions are components of a global feedback loop. What people do affects the health and well-being of the natural world and, in turn, the natural world affects people. The SITES guidelines further interpret this idea under a list of 12 ecosystem services that describe "the goods and services of direct or indirect benefit to humans that are produced by ecosystem processes" (Sustainable Sites Initiative 2009a, p. 6). Of interest to this research is the ecosystem service related to Human Health and Well-Being, which is defined as having benefits that "[enhance] physical, mental, and social well-being as a result of interaction with nature" (Sustainable Sites Initiative 2009a, p. 6).

The Socially Equitable category represents a unique and often missed opportunity for academic institutions to further their commitment to sustainable practices. The central idea is to strive for a better understanding of the complex relationship people have with the outdoor environment and to design accordingly to satisfy peoples' needs. Within this framework, the SITES manual directly ties sustainability to the positive effects landscapes have on people through recognition that "healthy ecosystems are the source of the many less tangible benefits that humans derive from a relationship with nature" (Sustainable Sites Initiative 2009a, p. 7).

Many of these less tangible benefits are described in section six of the SITES guidelines. Within section six, two criteria of particular importance for campus environments, credits 6.7 and 6.8, emphasize the restorative and social benefits that landscapes afford people. These two criteria have been found to be important on several university campuses, as they are repeatedly identified by faculty, students, and staff as desirable characteristics of landscapes that serve their individual needs (Abu-Ghazzeh 1999; Cooper Marcus and Wischemann 1987).

DEFENDING AND DEFINING SITES SUSTAINABILITY

The SITES guidelines defend the viability of their credits as relevant measures of sustainability based on existing empirical research. For Credit 6.7 "Provide Views of Vegetation and Quiet Outdoor Spaces for Mental Restoration," the guidelines point to two studies that indicate that viewing vegetation and other natural elements has a restorative effect and that people gain inspiration and pleasure from

the aesthetic experiences provided by nature (Chenoweth and Gobster 1990; Kaplan 1995). An additional study concludes that desk work or studying for long periods of time contributes to mental fatigue, and brief exposure to natural settings following these work sessions is mentally restorative (Kaplan and Kaplan 1989). …

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