Ask Living Building Challenge (LBC) creator Jason McLennan about buildings and he’ll likely start talking about flowers. “Both are literally and figuratively rooted in place,” says the author and architect. “Unfortunately, [right now] that’s where the metaphor ends—but I don’t think it should.”
As McLennan points out, a flower gets all of its energy from the sun. It gets all the water it needs from the precipitation immediately surrounding it. It doesn’t pollute. It creates habitat—and it’s beautiful.
McLennan believes architecture should be judged by the same metrics, and has translated his vision into the LBC, one of the most ambitious green-building certification programs in the world. He has developed unique terminology for his program’s parameters. LBC projects must address seven performance areas, or “petals”—site, energy, water, health, materials, equity, and beauty. Each petal is further subdivided into a total of 20 “imperatives.”
Several of the petals match categories found in the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. And, like LEED, LBC projects are divided into types, including renovation, landscape or infrastructure, building, and neighborhood.
But the LBC goes beyond LEED. At a minimum, a project must not consume more energy than it produces, and must harvest all of its water and treat all of its wastewater on site. Building materials must be sourced “appropriately” and locally, if possible, and cannot contain any chemicals on the “Red List,” a list of 14 known toxins, carcinogens, and endocrine disrupters. In addition, LBC certification is based on actual, rather than anticipated, performance. Unlike LEED, projects don’t earn points in each category; instead, the project team must demonstrate how it has met each imperative through a combination of essays and other documents, and audits. After 12 consecutive months, the International Living Future Institute (ILFI)—the LBC’s umbrella organization—sends an auditor to conduct a final audit. Because it’s not prescriptive, the LBC encourages creative, local solutions unique to each project.
“The LBC is really the ‘what’—the guiding vision,” says Matt Grocoff, an LBC ambassador and net-zero energy consultant. “Other programs have the ‘how.’”
Restoring a healthy coexistence with nature.
To justify the LBC’s first imperative, Limits to Growth, McLennan says, “No new sites; we’ve developed enough.” This imperative sets the uncompromising tone of the LBC, instructing people to work with what they already have rather than developing more raw land. Projects must occur on “previously developed sites,” which the LBC defines as sites that were altered from a greenfield before December 31, 2007. The exception is grayfields and brownfields that aren’t sensitive habitat or prime farmland. According to the LBC, setting limits should restrict our collective footprint and foster connected, compact communities.
The other three Site imperatives support this idea. Habitat Exchange acknowledges that each project causes disturbance and displaces native plants and animals. To mitigate this, project owners must set aside land away from the site—a minimum of 1 acre for every acre of project—through an official land trust organization.
The Car-Free Living imperative encourages movement away from individual car ownership through the creation of dense, mixed-use neighborhoods. To achieve this, residential projects cannot decrease the overall density of either the site or neighborhood (within a 0.6-mile radius of the project site).