The Living Building Challenge
“The Living Building Challenge is especially important at this make-it-or-break-it moment when humanity must rapidly address climate change in disruptive, systematic ways. At a cusp when world populations continue to place increasingly radical strains on the biosphere, innovating on how we redesign the built environment is imperative.”
–Kenny Ausubel, 2012 Fuller Challenge Juror
SUMMARY: The Living Building Challenge defined the highest level of environmental performance, envisioning a built environment that is fully integrated with its ecosystem. It pushed the building industry to re-imagine business as usual, and transformed building occupants from passive consumers into active stewards of increasingly scarce resources. At a cusp when world populations continue to place increasingly radical strains on the biosphere, innovating on how we redesign the built environment is imperative.
PROBLEM SPACE: The Living Building Challenge was launched in 2006 by Jason McLennan as a direct response to the pressures that the accelerating rate of urbanization and impending resource scarcity will place on humanity. It aims to further a design paradigm that minimizes the built environment’s toxic effluents, its destruction of habitats and ecosystems, and its contribution to carbon emissions.
SOLUTION: The Living Building Challenge (LBC) was administered by the International Living Future Institute. The Living Building Challenge is a third-party building certification program. Unlike other green building certification programs, such as the US Green Building Council’s LEED standard, the Living Building certification is not awarded based on design and performance projections; it is awarded only after the building is completed and has been in operation for at least one year. What makes the Living Building Challenge unique is that it is not only a performance standard, but also a design philosophy and even an advocacy tool. It called for the creation of building projects at all scales (from single-room renovations to whole communities) that operate as cleanly, beautifully and efficiently as nature’s architecture. To achieve certification, a project must meet 20 rigorous Imperatives (including net-zero energy, waste and water) over a minimum of 12 months of continuous occupancy. The Institute certified the first projects to fully achieve the LBC in October 2010, proving that the LBC is attainable now, using existing technology. Approximately 140 more projects, spread across eight countries and twenty-eight U.S. states, are currently in progress. LBC Ambassadors, skilled volunteers dedicated to advancing the LBC in their home communities, are active in twenty-one countries. The LBC’s seven primary performance areas that are divided into a total of 20 imperatives: Site, Energy, Water, Health, Materials, Equity and Beauty.