Beyond LEED: The Living Building Challenge

Posted: February 12, 2012 in Building Technology, Construction
Tags: ,

Recently, I had the chance to attend a lecture hosted by the Central PA USGBC on a new program that measures the sustainability of buildings.  The Living Building Challenge is:

“a PHILOSOPHY, ADVOCACY PLATFORM AND CERTIFICATION PROGRAM. Because it defines priorities on both a technical level and as a set of core values, it is engaging the broader building industry in the deep conversations required to truly understand how to solve problems rather than shift them.”

The International Living Future Institute

The challenge was created by the Cascadia Green Building Council, one of the three original chapters of the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) and a pioneer of the LEED rating system.  However, it is a separate system and has no direct ties to LEED.  In fact, the biggest difference between the two is that the Living Building certification is based on actual building performance, whereas LEED is based on projected building performance.


The petals of a dandelion represent the requirements for the challenge.  The dandelion is said to be a perfect metaphor for the system because it stands for many of the same ideas.  For example, the dandelion is collaboratuive.  When it roots, it send a taproot deep into the ground, accessing many nutrients most plants cannot normally reach and literally creates future opportunities for new plants to grow.  For more information on the logo, please visit the Living Building Challenge website.

Overall, there are seven petals.  The seven petals and their requirements are:

I.) Site

01 – Limits to growth
02 – Urban Agriculture

03 – Habitat/Land exchange

04 – Car Free Living

II.) Water

05 – Net Zero Water

06 – Ecological Water Flow

III.) Energy

07 – Net Zero Energy

Note: No combustion allowed

IV.) Health

08 – Civilized Environment (fresh air and daylight are priorities)

09 – Healthy Air

10 – Biophilia (Reference –

V.) Materials

11 – Red list (DO NOT USE List)

12 – Embodied carbon footprint

13 – Responsible industry

14 – Appropriate Sourcing – FSC Pure, Salvaged or Timber from on site

15 – Conservation + Resource

Note: Only petal which currently requires significant documentation

VI.) Equity

16 – Human Scale + Humane Places

17 – Democracy + Social Justice

18 – Rights to nature – Do not impede others access to natural light, water, etc.

VII.) Beauty

19 – Beauty + Spirit (Nature, delight, joy)

20 – Inspiration + Education

– Taken from LEED Resource

This system is a very serious challenge.  Right up front, two of the main themes are net-zero energy and net-zero water consumption.  All water and energy must be produced, treated, and used on site.  This is a significant test of any engineer and architects knowledge and there is also a substantial cost burden associated with a project going for certification as well.  It is estimated that a certified Living Building will cost 20-60% more than a standard code acceptable building.


Yet I do not think this system can be completely discounted.  In recent years, technology advances have impacted the way sustainable energy sources are utilized on individual sites and material providers have taken a greater interest in providing sustainable products.  The Living Building Challenge may not have been fully embraced by the public yet, but with time, more and more Living Buildings are sure to appear.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s