The Living Building Challenge: A Paradigm Shift

By: Sydney Covey

Jun 2, 2020

The Living Building Challenge (LBC) is a building certification program built on a foundation of advocacy for sustainable construction. For project teams focused on developing a sustainable construction practice, this program serves as a framework to design, construct, and operate buildings that work symbiotically with people and the environment.

Rather than merely checking a box, project teams can creatively build upon the methods of previous LBC certified projects – contributing to the collective positive impact sustainable buildings have on the built environment. After 12 consecutive months of LBC qualified performance, structures meeting the program’s standards can claim to be the ‘greenest’ anywhere and serve as models for future construction, a goal all sustainability-minded owners, developers, and contractors should have.

An important first step towards LBC certification is to understand the LBC standards and the imperatives within them. The criteria used to judge these methods is comprised of seven performance areas – Place, Water, Energy, Health & Happiness, Materials, Equity, and Beauty –  referred to as “Petals”.

Place Petal

The Place Petal’s goal is to create a healthy relationship among the project, nature, and the community. The imperatives within this petal guide project teams on how to protect and restore a site once it has been developed. It also encourages the creation of pedestrian-centric communities, rather than automobile-centric. To achieve this, the project team must understand existing conditions and the project could impact them. One of the imperatives of the Place Petal is “Habitat Exchange,” which requires a hectare of land set aside in perpetuity for each hectare of project development.

Water Petal

The Water Petal addresses how people view stormwater and use water throughout the built environment. LBC challenges project teams to create buildings and sites that operate within the water balance of its climate. In other words, to create a net-zero water facility that treats all stormwater onsite.

Energy Petal

The Energy Petal features the “Net Positive Carbon” imperative that requires 100% reliance on renewable energy resources such solar panels and wind turbines. Builders must also account for embodied carbon emissions from construction. This petal aims to reduce energy waste, resources and capital by requiring a 70% reduction in total net building energy consumption and a 20% reduction in embodied carbon of primary materials.

Health & Happiness Petal

The Health & Happiness Petal strives to foster an environment that optimizes physical and psychological health and well-being through design and construction. Imperative requirements include operable windows for fresh air and daylight, indoor air quality testing, and safe cleaning protocols. The “Access to Nature” imperative encourages project teams to deliberately connect people with nature through interior and exterior design elements.

Materials Petal

The Materials Petal intends to create a materials economy that provides products that are safe for all species through time. One of the most challenging petals, it prohibits the use of 19 identified materials, including PVC and Formaldehyde. Therefore, teams should keep a detailed record of how each material used on the project is made. This record must be turned in before certification can be achieved. The project must also achieve net positive waste by implementing a Materials Conservation Management Plan that explains how the project optimizes materials during its life cycles: design, construction, operation, and end of life.

Equity Petal

The Equity Petal is focused on creating communities with equitable access to all people regardless of physical abilities, age, or socioeconomic status. The goal of every LBC project is to ensure that everyone can benefit from the project’s creation. Diverse stakeholders from vulnerable or disadvantaged populations must be included in the design, construction and operations, and maintenance development process. The project must also commit to being open to the public one day a year for free.

Beauty Petal

The Beauty Petal reminds project teams to design and construct buildings that uplift human spirits. This imperative requires project teams to engage in an 8-hour biophilic design charrette, or a meeting where all project team members determine how the project will deliberately incorporate nature through environmental features, light, space, and natural shapes and forms. The project team is also challenged to integrate public art solely intended for human delight and celebration of culture and place.

LBC is one of the most rigorous certification programs in the industry because it does not dwell on basic best practices by ‘doing less bad’. It instead challenges project teams to be exceptional at constructing spaces that are regenerative for the environment, community, and economy. Project teams do not sign-up for a certification program, but rather embark on a transformative challenge to personify the question: What does good look like? Teams that participate in the LBC challenge can truly say they are building structures that are positively impacting the built environment.

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