Living Building Initiative – The New ‘Star’ of Sustainability

Lucas Hamilton

Lucas Hamilton

Now that developers have achieved LEED Platinum on their projects, someone needed to throw the target out further to challenge the design and build community.  The Living Building Initiative may just be the answer.  The Cascadia Region Green Building Council in Oregon (a member of both the US and Canadian Green Building Councils) is setting the bar higher with the Living Building Challenge  This initiative does not replace or compete with any other program, it is simply a new level of commitment to sustainable development. 

Believe me, there is more pain than up-front profit on projects that strive to meet the strict requirements of the Living Building Challenge, but Cascadia is challenging developers to build to these standards for both commercial and residential—and they are succeeding.

There are 16 requirements that must be met for a building to be considered a Living Building.  For example,

  • The site must be on existing developed land, brown fields or grey fields.  It can’t be farmland, prairieland, parkland or wetlands.  For every acre used, the developer must set aside an acre for open space for 100 years.  This is called habitat exchange and guarantees open space.
  • The project must account for its embodied carbon footprint and buy a one-time offset. The project must offset the amount of carbon dioxide used to develop and construct the building by planting trees or other measures.
  • Water must be 100% cycled or recycled which means closed-loop or collected on site.
  • The project must contain features “solely for human delight or cultural celebration.”  It goes beyond the building and incorporates the human spirit. 
  • The building must be available to the public at least one day a month for educational purposes.

Are there areas outside of Portland that are rising to the Living Building Challenge? Do you know of a Living Building Challenge project going on in your area?

I would love to hear from anyone out there who is involved with a Living Building initiative.

Lucas Hamilton is Manager of Building Science Applications at CertainTeed Corporation