Is Your Building Living Life to The Fullest?

Move over LEED, there’s a new green building standard in town.

Photo by Steve Partridge. Some rights reserved.

Most of us are at least peripherally familiar with Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED), a now-ubiquitous green building certification system that, in their own words, provides “third-party verification that a building or community was designed and built using strategies intended to improve performance in metrics such as energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts.”

The system works by providing builders (or designers or building owners) with a set of criteria – developed by the U.S. Green Building Council and peer reviewed by member organizations – that are each assigned a point value. For each of the criteria met in a given project, the project earns the allotted number of points. For instance, in the latest version of LEED’s “New Construction Project” checklist, up to 10 points can be earned for various efforts relating to water efficiency: 2-4 points for water efficient landscaping, up to 2 points for using innovative wastewater technologies, and 2-4 points for water use reduction.

But all the LEED criteria pale in comparison to the “imperatives” mandated by an up-and-coming certification program called the Living Building Challenge. The Living Building Challenge consists of seven “performance areas” (or “petals”) such as water, health, or materials. Each Petal is further subdivided into a total of twenty “imperatives,” which are broad enough to be applied to development of any scope. To qualify as a Living Building, every imperative must be met.

Browsing the aesthetically appealing website, the Living Building Challenge strikes one more as a philosophy than a checklist – “What if every single act of design and construction made the world a better place?” asks the International Living Building Institute – but the Institute’s flowery language belies its incredibly strict standards. Where LEED merely encourages water efficient landscaping, “Living” buildings’ occupants must derive one hundred percent of their water from “captured precipitation or closed loop water systems that account for downstream ecosystem impacts and that are appropriately purified without the use of chemicals.” Now you understand why there are only – so far – three certified Living Buildings in the world.

Puget Sound’s local public radio station recently aired a story about an elementary school in Seattle poised to be the first “living building” in Washington state. You can read the transcript here.

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