A philosophy, an advocacy tool, a building standard

This piece is taken from our newsletter "Force of Nature" see more and subscribe here.

"Imagine a building designed and constructed to function as elegantly and efficiently as a flower: a building informed by its bioregion’s characteristics, that generates all of its own energy with renewable resources, captures and treats all of its water, and that operates efficiently and for maximum beauty." This imagining is one of the key aspects of the Living Building Challenge (LBC). The LBC says that the program "is a philosophy first, an advocacy tool second, and a certification program third."

The LBC started in 1990's as an attempt to make the world's most sustainable building, the EpiCenter in Bozeman, Montana. The project grew from there and in 2005 the LBC was issued. It is now in version 3.1 and contains 7 "petals": Place, energy, water, materials, health & happiness, materials, and equity. Petals are divided into a total of twenty "imperatives" such as net-positive water, net-positive energy and human powered living. The LBC pushes for high-quality sustainable materials, and is working to get companies to disclose ingredients in products. The LBC is even working to get organizations to asses their equity practices (including around gender and racial diversity) and this kind of work must play a part in the construction of an LBC building. 

But is this just a beautiful thought experiment? Fortunately no. LBC buildings are getting built (and some while not meeting the full challenge are meeting select "petals"). Jenny Che in the Huffington Post reported that the company Etsy is achieving a number of petals of the LBC in New York City. Municipal water and energy regulations can interfere with full LBC achievement she reported. However, "44 projects have been certified by the institute, and over 300 others are in the design stages." Getting certified requires achieving a number of measurable outcomes one year after occupancy. Not everyone will go through with certification but builders can take inspiration from the challenge and build super buildings, like this one in Peterborough Ontario.

Below are two videos that explore two different LBC projects, one in the U.S and one in New Zealand. Each is pushing the idea of what buildings are for and what they can do. As Kathleen Smith, vice president of the Living Building Challenge asked “What if buildings could make a place better than what it was before?”