The Living Building Challenge (LBC) is the ultimate green building standard that can be applied to any building type around the world. The LBC was launched in 2006 by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) with an incredibly ambitious question: Is it possible to design and create buildings that function as elegantly as anything found in the natural world and also be sustainable?
The goal is to create Living Buildings that incorporate regenerative design solutions that will actually improve the local environment rather than just reducing harm. LBC projects must strive to produce more energy than they use, collect their own portable water from rainfall, treat all gray and stormwater on site, use the healthiest building materials available and provide a beautiful, educational and healthy environment for occupants.
The LBC is comprised of seven performance areas, or “Petals” – Water, Place, Energy, Health, Materials, Equity, and Beauty. The LBC uses this metaphor because the built environment should function as cleanly and efficiently as a flower. Here’s a brief overview of each petal to help understand the goal and intentions of the LBC certification.
1. Water Petal
The intent of this petal is to reimagine how people use water and redefine “waste” in the built environment. With the scarcity of clean water becoming a serious issue in many countries, the LBC envisions a future where all new buildings are configured based on the carrying capacity of the site. This means being a net-zero water facility and using 100% of stormwater onsite for internal water needs.
2. Place Petal
The intent of this petal is to state where it is acceptable to build, how to protect and restore a place once it has been developed, and how to encourage the creation of communities that are more pedestrian focused instead of the automobile. An important aspect of this petal is “Habitat Exchange,” which requires that for each hectare (2.47 acres) of development, an equal amount of land away from the project site must be set aside indefinitely.
3. Energy Petal
This petal requires all buildings to rely solely on renewable forms of energy and operate year-round in a pollution-free manner. Therefore, the LBC requires all projects to have net-zero energy, which can be attained by methods like natural daylighting, photovoltaic solar panels and other systems.
4. Health & Happiness Petal
The intent of this petal is to create robust, healthy spaces and encourage a highly productive indoor environment. For example, this petal requires that every occupied interior space in the building must have operable windows to provide fresh air and daylight.
5. Materials Petal
The intent of this petal is for all buildings to have a successful materials economy that is non-toxic, transparent and socially equitable. This is one of the most challenging petals of the LBC because projects cannot contain any of the identified “Red List” materials, including polyvinyl chloride (PVC), formaldehyde, asbestos, lead, mercury, and volatile organic compounds (VOCs). Therefore, a detailed record of how each material is made by the manufacturer must be kept and turned in before LBC certification can be achieved. Additionally, there are quite a bit of specifications on the type of timber that can be used and where the materials can be sourced.
6. Equity Petal
This petal is focused on creating communities with equitable access to all people regardless of physical abilities, age or socioeconomic status. An important aspect of this petal is “Rights to Nature” that states that a project “may not block access to, nor diminish the quality of, fresh air, sunlight and natural waterways for any member of society or adjacent developments.”
7. Beauty Petal
The purpose of this Petal is to design buildings that elevate our spirits by encouraging project teams to put in genuine and thoughtful efforts into beautifying a project. This petal is mostly focused on genuine efforts to create aesthetically pleasing designs, so there are currently no limitations or restrictions for this petal.
As the market for Living Buildings has grown, the incentive for LBC certification has become increasingly clear. Owners and developers realize that the framework of the LBC, while still challenging, provides clear and compelling value to owners and occupants, outweighing any costs incurred through meeting the building standard. Project teams and building owners are discovering that pursuing a Living Building gets you more than the greenest building on the block — you end up with a fundamentally better building, superior to almost all standard construction. By addressing key issues of human health, including access to fresh air, daylight and ventilation, a Living Building just feels better. To improve health, well-being and productivity, one simply walks inside of a Living Building.
Additionally, the benefits of Living Buildings related to employee health and productivity are becoming increasingly well researched and understood. A recent study from the Harvard School of Public Health found that improved air quality and other green features in buildings improved the cognitive function of building occupants. Cognitive function scores were better in green building conditions compared to the conventional building conditions across nine functional domains, including crisis response, strategy and focused activity level. If you factor in the potential benefits from fewer sick days, and better employee recruitment and retention, the benefits are even greater.
While the business case for Living Buildings is becoming increasingly clear for many companies and organizations, the most important reason to pursue an LBC project is the opportunity for each project to become an agent for change in their community and industry. LBC projects help accelerate a movement toward a complete remaking of our built environment to work in harmony with the natural world, which is desperately needed in a time of growing climate change and environmental decline. OC Habitats encourages you to support these projects and encourage developers, companies and organizations in your community to pursue LBC certification. Remember: you can’t put a price on changing the world!