The Living Building Challenge: The 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.

Getting your Building “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 category.

Building: This refers to any permanent standing construction with a roof and walls, either existing or newly constructed.

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.

  • 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.

  • 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.

  • 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)

  • 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.

  • 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)

  • 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.

  • 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!


Recommended Reading

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A non-profit organization, Green Seal Inc promotes sustainability. A Green Seal certification labels ensures products, services, buildings, and homes follower green practices.

LEED rates buildings on their energy-efficiency, water efficiency, waste reduction, and other sustainable practices. Many industrial and commercial buildings throughout Georgia qualified for LEED certification.

Shakir Williams
Shakir Williams

A true creative with a penchant for the spiritual and natural order. She loves the Earth, almost as much as she loves writing about it.

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