More on the sustainability of federal landscapes


I was pretty excited to report on new guidelines for sustainable federal properties, but wondered how enforceable these guidelines are and promised to try to find out more. 

I did.  It's a bit discouraging. 

I talked with Ray Mims, the point guy on pulling together input from 31 agencies and 13 consulting bodies to produce the guidelines.  Interesting guy.  Peace Corps volunteer in Nepal, then – get this – salesman for Dow Chemical.  That gig prompted a big career change and a return to school.  Now a conservation horticulturist, Ray has worked for the Denver and Atlanta Botanic Gardens and the National Cathedral here in D.C., and currently heads up sustainability projects as part of his job with the U.S. Botanic Garden.

Asked how much effect the guidelines would have, Ray answered "Hopefully a lot", an answer we can't exactly take to the bank.  But all agencies have goals for sustainability, and now they can use good landscape practices toward that end.

Here's where it gets discouraging – asking whether Ray or his bosses at the Botanic Garden have any say-so at all in whether federal agencies implement these guidelines.  Well no, because the Botanic Garden is part of Congress, not the executive branch, and only the executive branch can implement this stuff.  Ah, government.  I keep remembering why I've never worked for one. 

So this fabulous product is a guidance, not a directive.  It's not enforceable. But hey, at least this whole effort came directly from the White House.

Ray gave me a little more hope with the news that the people in charge of most federal buildings – the boringly named General Services Administration – are early adopters of Sustainable Sites standards – they're already using much of it.  And the Park Service, in their design competition for redesigning the National Mall, required that competitors follow these the new guidelines. In Denver, the top Park Service person is using the guidelines already.  Change is happening, though not all of a sudden, by fiat. 

The goal is to change the whole damn marketplace, not just new federal courthouses and office buildings.

Taking the long view, changes in landscapes make good business sense.  Developers wants their properties to be "green", to be LEED-certified, and now finally (thanks to SITES), points toward that end can be achieved through good landscape practices.  And as Ray points out, buildings, as they age, just get less and less efficient while landscapes get more and more productive in providing eco-services.  Plants rule!

Not to mention that points for landscape practices generally are less expensive to achieve than through building practices.  So economics are on the side of green.

SITES for homeowners

Don't forget that Ray and his colleagues created Landscape for Life for the home gardener.  Coming soon are PowerPoint presentations about that for use by schools, garden clubs, Master Gardener groups, etc., and sustainability guidelines for still more types of landscapes – around schools, historic homes and cultural institutions.  All good.


  1. Susan, perhaps if people like you DID work for the government, things would change 🙂 And I’m not sure I’d want all decisions made by one branch of government….

    Otherwise, this initiative seems like it’s moving in the right direction. When some of this landscaping is in place, maybe there will be some good press about it, encouraging more.

  2. Susan, thanks so much for this post. I’ve added a link to the sidebar on my blog and will be checking in on the Landscape for Life site for updates. Anything we can do to engage the regular homeowner, school, garden club, etc. in stewardship is bound to result in a win!

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