The Living Building Challenge: The Path to a Greener Tomorrow

By shakir_williams on 04/18/2018

solar panels a path to a greener tomorrow


As we move towards a greener tomorrow, the construction industry has found a new way to promote sustainability, through the Living Building Challenge. This building certification program was created in 2006 by the non-profit International Living Future Institute. The program helps promote the advancement of newly constructed and renovated buildings, communities, and other project developments. Similar to LEED, Green Globes, and Energy Star, the Living Building Challenge is a green certification program that rates a construction based on its ability to reduce its energy consumption, water consumption, and waste through eco-friendly building practices. However, unlike other building certification programs, Living Buildings strive to lower their carbon footprint well below the commercial standard. The Institute certifies buildings that strive for net positive energy consumption and are free of toxic chemicals.

What is net positive?

Net positive energy just means that Living Buildings generate more energy than they consume. So, if a living building has net positive water, that means it generates more water than it consumers through sustainable water solutions, such as rainwater harvesting for irrigation, or implementing gray water systems.

net positive energy living building challenge


How do you get your construction project “Living Building” certified?

The Living Building Challenge is for anyone who is interested in investing in a healthy and sustainable environment. All building projects, renovations or new constructions, go through a rigorous twelve-month performance period, and are audited based on several rating systems before they can receive Living Building Certification. The Institute offers three certifications:

Living Building Certification

This certification requires that all building projects pass all of the portions that match their specific project. Each project has a different set of requirements:

living building certification

Renovation: This project certification guideline refers to

renovations of already-constructed buildings. These

projects could include single floor improvements, kitchen

remodels, and historic rehabilitations. 

Infrastructure: These requirements pertain to any project

that does not include a physical standing structure. For

example, an open-air structure, like a restroom,

amphitheater, plaza, road, or bridge would fall into this


Building: This refers to any permanent standing

construction with a roof and walls, either existing or newly


Community: The Living Future Institute encourages

community developers to invest in sustainable practices

through the Living Community Challenge. The

requirements for this certification pertains to any project

that contains multiple buildings, such as residential

neighborhoods, industrial districts, corporate office

buildings, etc. 
Petal Certification

The Living Building Challenge is organized into seven categories, known as petals. Each performance area is divided into sub categories. A building must fulfill each requirement for each category to receive a petal certification.

green flower petal for place living building challenge

Place: To promote a healthy

relationship with the

environment and nature
  • Limits to growth – Building projects cannot be built on or adjacent to an ecological habitat, such as a wetland, farmland, prairie, etc.
  • Urban agriculture – Projects must have an acceptable building to ground ratio for agriculture. Single family homes should be able to grow at least a two-week supply of food.
  • Habitat exchange – Must include a minimum of 0.4 acres of land for the Living Future Habitat Exchange Program.
  • Human-powered living – Projects must consider the health and accessibility of pedestrians through weather protected facilities, bike racks, vehicle charging stations, stairways, etc.
red rose petals for beauty living building challenge

Water: To promote

sustainable water reduction

  • Net positive water – 100 percent of the buildings water consumption should be supplied through loop-water systems, and water waste should be infiltrated into the irrigation system.
yellow flower petal for energy living building challenge

Energy: To reduce energy

consumption using

renewable forms of energy
  • Net positive energy – 100 percent of a building’s energy consumption must be supplied through renewable energy sources, without the use of on-site combustion. (i.e. solar panels)
green flower petal for water living building challenge

Health/Happiness: To

promote a healthy

environment through

better air quality
  • Civilized environment – Projects must have windows that provide access to fresh air and daylight.
  • Healthy interior environment – Building projects must promote good indoor air quality, through ventilation systems, smoking prohibitions, exhaust systems, and more.
  • Biophilic environment – Must include elements that promote the human-nature relationship, such as parks and nature trails.
green flower petal for water living building challenge

Materials: To promote the

use of healthy and

sustainable building

materials, free of toxic

  • Red List – Construction materials must not include a list of toxic chemicals, including, but not limited to, asbestos, mercury, lead, formaldehyde, etc.
  • Embodied carbon footprint – Building projects must account for their total carbon emissions during construction or renovation.
  • Responsible industry – Construction projects must use sustainable building materials, such as stone, rock, metal, and wood.
  • Living economy sourcing – Projects must incorporate materials and resources from local sources
  • Net positive waste – Building projects must reduce waste through recycling construction materials, or reintegrating materials for beneficial reuse. (i.e. turning lumber into mulch for landscaping)
orange flower petal for equity living building challenge

Equity: To support a healthy

and diverse community 
  • Human scale + human places – Construction Projects must integrate a design that contributes to a better lifestyle for the community. Some of the requirements include, appropriate street signs and parking lots.
  • Universal access to nature + place – The construction must create accessibility to nature, fresh air, sunlight, and natural bodies of water.
  • Equitable investment – For every dollar that a project costs, the development must donate half a cent to a charity to fund green infrastructures.
  • Just organizations – The project must promote other businesses that support responsible and environmentally-friendly practices.
rose flower petal for beauty living building challenge

Beauty: To maintain a level

of design aesthetic that

promotes beauty in the

  • Beauty + spirit – The project should integrate art and design that celebrate culture.
  • Inspiration + education – Each project should provide educational material that shares successful solutions for a greener tomorrow.
Zero Energy Certification

Zero Energy Certification is the highest certification level to achieve, because it shows that a building has achieved optimal energy performance. In order for buildings to achieve net zero energy, they must generate their resources from renewable energy sources. Building projects can attain Zero Energy Certification if they generate power through geothermal practices, wind turbines, water-powered turbines, and solar panels.

Help the world move towards a greener tomorrow!

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