Saturday, April 5, 2014

Living Building Challenge

Last month’s meeting of the Construction Specifications Institute’s Willamette Valley Chapter featured a presentation by Gabe Cross, LEED AP BD+C about the Living Building Challenge (LBC). The International Living Future Institute created the Living Building Challenge in 2006 as “a philosophy, advocacy tool, and certification program that promotes the most advanced measurement of sustainability in the built environment.As we learned from Gabe, the LBC calls for the creation of building projects at all scales that operate as cleanly, beautifully, and efficiently as nature's architecture. It is truly a visionary path toward a restorative future. 

Gabe is currently Chair of the Cascadia Green Building Council’s Eugene branch, as well as founder and managing member at New Axiom, LLC, where he consults on energy efficiency, sustainable operation and occupancy, green design and construction, and LEED certification. He also is an instructor for the Northwest Water & Energy Education Institute, a program of Lane Community College, where he teaches courses on LEED, energy efficiency methods, and alternative energy technology. Gabe serves on the Board of Directors of BRING Recycling, sitting on the planning committee. 

One of Gabe’s missions is to spread the word about the Living Building Challenge. While other models of green building promote strategies to lessen our impact upon the environment, the LBC seeks to foster a culture of design, construction, and occupancy that goes well beyond mere mitigation. For example, LEED is a prescriptive system wherein points are awarded for a building’s projected performance and whether it incorporates certain features. In contrast, the LBC doesn’t mandate accruing a minimum number of points. Instead, it is a system predicated upon actual building performance. A project either achieves Living Building status or it doesn’t. The beauty of the Living Building Challenge is its simplicity. 

This simplicity is exemplified by the all-or-nothing Living Building Challenge imperatives and measures of performance. Every project must meet each of its 20 strict requirements to attain certification. The LBC is focused on the ends rather than the means, and achieving those ends requires exceptional commitment, imagination, and persistence. It’s noteworthy that very few LEED-certified buildings are both net-zerowater and net-zero energy, but every single LBC building must achieve those goals. There’s a reason why the LBC is framed as a “challenge.” Achieving Living Building Status is nothing if not exceedingly difficult. 

There’s no doubt LEED has been a tremendous boon to increasing society’s awareness of the impact of buildings upon the environment. However, even if every new building in the world was rated LEED Platinum, it’s unlikely their construction and performance would stem the tide of carbon emissions, toxic pollution, and water depletion. By contrast, the Living Building Challenge requires that everyone involved consider the real life cycle impact of design, construction, and operation. If our future buildings all met the requirements of the Challenge, growth in emissions from the building sector would cease, yielding real reductions in global carbon emissions. 

Is the Living Building Challenge too ambitious? Does it overreach so much that it is impossible to imagine its practical application across the entirety of the building industry? Gabe doesn’t think so. The LBC may reflect cutting-edge thinking, but it’s precisely the kind of thinking we urgently need now to pull everyone forward toward realizing the best possible future for our planet. Remember, it was just a few years ago that we considered achieving basic LEED certification remarkable, not to mention costly. In response to the awareness cultivated by the U.S. Green Building Council, LEED-certified projects and green building technologies are now commonplace and cost-effective. There’s no reason not to believe that certified Living Buildings will likewise become part of the “new normal.” Gabe and the other members of the International Living Future Institute would only be pleased if their efforts proved so successful that everyone possessed the wisdom, skills, and resources necessary to create living buildings anywhere in the world.  

Learn more about the Living Building Challenge and review the Challenge in detail by downloading a copy of the standard:

Also, consider attending Living Future 2014, the International Living Future Institute’s annual unConference in Portland this coming May 21-23):

Big thanks to Gabe for spending his evening to introduce the Living Building Challenge to the members of CSI’s Willamette Valley Chapter. His presentation was excellent, spurring keen interest and lively interaction during the question and answer period. I highly recommend contacting Gabe if you or your organization would like to learn more about the LBC as well. You can reach him through his company, New Axiom at the following URL:

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