Green Building Movement Takes Another Step Forward: The Living Building Challenge (LBC)


By Joe Bruce

Fourteen years ago, six individuals asked the question about construction and the environment, “Can we do more?”  The answer arrived in the formation of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED), an endeavor to preserve, recycle and eliminate unnecessary waste of our natural resources.  It was received like many other environmental changes that had come before it, with defense and contempt – too aggressive, unreasonable goals and expectations.  It will never catch on, a pipe dream, something for the environmentalists to beat their drum with.  Fourteen years later, more than 59,000 common and institutional projects are participating in LEED, in more than 140 countries with projects aggregating more than 10 billion square feet.  LEED has changed the construction landscape and is widely accepted by contractors, architects and designers and is the cornerstone in building standards expected by project owners, tenants and governmental authorities globally.  Not too bad for a pipe dream that will never catch on.

During 2006, the Living Building Challenge (LBC) was launched by the International Living Future Institute.  The LBC was a challenge to take the green building movement to the next level, to create the foundation for a sustainable future within our communities.  Its guidelines are aggressive, to say the very least, in that they are the most advanced measures of sustainability in the building environment today.  The LBC consists of seven performance categories, or “Petals”:  Place, Water, Energy, Health & Happiness, Materials, Equity and Beauty, which are subdivided into twenty imperatives.

Those imperatives include concepts such as Limits to Growth – an imperative allowing for projects to be built only on existing greyfields or brownfields that are not classified as on or adjacent to wetlands, dunes, old-growth forest, virgin prairie, prime farmland or within 100-year flood plain.  The Urban Agriculture imperative requires the project to meet food production requirements using Floor Area Ratio as a basis for calculation.  The Habitat imperative requires that for each hectare of development, an equal amount of land away from the project must be set aside in perpetuity through an approved program or land trust organization.  The Water imperative requires 100% of the project’s water needs to be supplied by captured precipitation or other natural closed-loop water systems, and/or by recycling project water without the use of chemicals.  All water discharge, including grey and black water, must be treated onsite and managed either through reuse, a closed-loop system or infiltration.  The Energy imperative requires that 105% of the project’s energy needs must be supplied by on-site renewable energy on a net annual basis without the use of on-site combustion.  Projects must provide on-site energy storage for resiliency.  Other imperatives, such as Materials, include a Red List of banned substances for the project (including CPVC, HFRs, PVC, or VOCs, among others), while other imperatives address net positive waste, access to nature and place, project beauty and design, inspiration and education. 

Currently, there are more than 100 projects pursuing Living Certification or Living Building Certification (by achieving all 20 imperatives), while others are pursuing Petal Certification (by meeting the imperatives by achieving the completion of at least three of seven petals, one of which must be either the Water, Energy or Materials Petal).  Some would consider that a humble start to a concept still in its infancy, but it’s difficult to predict the power and potential impact of asking “Can we do more?”

For more information concerning LEED or LBC Certification and construction, go to usgbc.org or ilbi.org, respectively.

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