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The Living Building Challenge: Building Better World

In the past we’ve discussed performance standard certifications: LEED and WELL are two of the most widely recognized, but there is another highly rigorous standard we have yet to explore, and that’s The Living Building Challenge (LBC). This progressive initiative represents the highest measure of sustainability in the built environment. By curtailing the gap between present limits and ideal solutions, the LBC aims at making the world a better place through the built environment.

The LBC takes components from other building standards and green building, and amplifies them. LBC buildings are nurturing structures that allow occupants to experience daylight, fresh air, food, nature and their communities. Because of several components of the standard, LBC projects are self-sufficient and have a positive impact on both human and natural systems in which they exist.

The Canada Green Building Council says, the “Living Building Challenge provides a framework for design, construction and the symbiotic relationship between people and all aspects of the built environment.”

The Flower Metaphor

The Living Building Challenge uses a flower analogy to illustrate the simplicity at its core—a flower gives more to the environment than it takes. Petals represent seven performance areas, each of which has specific criteria that must be met, depending on project type and location.

The petals are:

Place – 4 Imperatives, including habitat exchange: for every hectare of development the same amount of land must be set-aside in perpetuity (away from project site).

Water – 1 Imperative. Net zero water: all of the project’s water must be caught rainwater, from another natural water system or recycled water. It should also be purified without using chemicals.

Energy – 1 Imperative. Net zero energy: all of the facility’s energy must be supplied by on-site renewable energy (net annual basis).

Health & Happiness – 3 Imperatives, including civilized environment: characterized by requiring operable windows in every room of an interior living or working space.

Materials – 5 Imperatives, including a Red List: none of the items (materials and chemicals) on this list can be contained within the project.

Equity – 3 Imperatives, including human scale and humane spaces: the building brings out the best in occupants and promotes interaction.

Beauty – 2 Imperatives, including inspiration and education: educational materials relating to operation and performance must be provided to the occupants and public.

By meeting all of the imperatives, a project can be certified as “Living,” or as “Petal Recognition,” by meeting the requirements from a minimum of three Petals, one of which must be Water, Energy or Materials.

Potential for the Future

The LBC is one of the first certifications to require a holistic approach to design, construction, operation and maintenance requiring all stakeholders to consider the life cycle and impact of the project. One of the most striking benefits: if in the future buildings were constructed to meet LBC requirements, building sector emissions would end, resulting in a considerable reduction in worldwide greenhouse gas emissions.

Application for Healthcare Projects

The philosophy behind the LBC is to provide regenerative, efficient and balanced environments has an obvious synergy to apply to the development of healthcare projects and places of healing. Achieving this certification though may be a challenge, given the heavy resource demands of healthcare facilities, their continuous 24/7 operation and redundancy of systems. The LBC does provide opportunity for resource sharing amongst other buildings, within a campus or city block and this approach may provide opportunities for offsetting some of the energy and water requirements through a cooperative arrangement.

Other LBC facts:

  • Living Buildings must be operational for one year before certification
  • LBC is endorsed by both the Canadian and US Green Building Councils
  • Certification and Petal Recognition can be achieved by existing buildings being retrofitted or renovated. Regional factors are integrated into the standards to factor in climate variables and building characteristics.

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