Just when you were sure there could not possibly be any more building rating systems introduced, the International Living Future Institute introduced the Living Building Challenge (LBC). Although it is a certification program and uses categories like LEED and Green Globes, it has one major fundamental difference. LBC challenges us to develop sustainable buildings and communities that promote social justice, as well as solve environmental problems.
LBC is an intriguing concept because this particular program is not dedicated to just protecting the environment for the benefit of humans and the natural world. It is also concerned with raising awareness of social and economic issues, like lack of community distinctiveness, and taking into account cultural characteristics. The Living Building Challenge is not focused on checklists of best practices or even minimum performance standards, though there are rigorous ones established. It is interested in restoring balance in the environment by developing real, long-term solutions to problems facing people and the environment.
Adding Equity and Beauty
Perhaps the easiest path to understanding the difference between LBC and a rating system like LEED is to read the seven LBC categories. Each category is called a petal (like in flower petal), and they are site, energy, water, materials, health, equity, and beauty. You probably would not find the words “equity” and “beauty” in most rating systems. LBC addresses universal access and social justice and raises green practices performance beyond commonly accepted definitions of sustainability. For example, LEED and Green Globes accommodate development of new sites, while LBC allows development only on previously developed sites. LBC promotes biophilia, which is the mimicking of the natural environment in the built environment. In addition, LBC requires offsets to the carbon footprint any project imprints.
Perhaps the word that best describes the Living Building Challenge is “holistic” because it considers much more than just the building itself. LBC has a general requirement for 3rd party certification of fair labor practices and requires local and regional materials sourcing. These are the types of requirements that support the equity component of the Living Building Challenge. Local projects should use local labor and resources to promote economic development. Who knows better how to incorporate the local natural environment into building and site designs than local community members? A project team can have the ultimate engineering and construction training and expertise and, yet, not understand the community’s culture and its symbiotic relationship with the built environment.
Closing a Gap
Whether or not you agree with moving away from strict performance measurement approaches, you must admit that the Living Building Challenge is intriguing. It strives to close the gap between what is possible and what is ideal. Whether or not this standard endures is yet to be seen. That said, there is little doubt that it will have an influence on the more traditional rating systems by forcing designers and builders to consider whether the project is built in an equitable manner and creates an environment occupants can relate to on some cultural level. The quality of the air we breathe is certainly critical to good health, but so is the view out the window.
In any event, don’t be misled. The LBC is a rigorous green building rating system. You can learn more by attending the FREE live webinar: