Locating materials that meet appropriate sourcing criteria and don’t contain Red List components (see “Red List” sidebar) can be one of the most difficult tasks on an LBC project. If no option exists, protocol does allow a “next-best” substitute, but a project team member must write a letter to the manufacturer stating they are using the product reluctantly because no other choice exists. The letter must urge the company to change its manufacturing process and/or collaborate with companies that are closer to the project site.
Direct pressure on the manufacturer can make a difference, and LBC Projects Coordinator James Connelly cites a compelling example. The super-efficient, triple-pane windows sourced for the Bullitt Center—a commercial LBC project in Seattle, Washington—included a unique venting mechanism, but they were manufactured by Schüco, a German company located far beyond the allowable radius for heavy materials. The Bullitt Center Team worked with Schüco to bring manufacturing equipment and expertise to Goldfinch Brothers, a local window company outside Seattle. Goldfinch now provides super-efficient windows to other cutting-edge green projects, including two pursuing LBC certification. In this way, the LBC helps stimulate innovation and local business.
The Responsible Industry imperative encourages LBC projects to support fair labor and sustainable extraction via third-party certification programs. All lumber used in a project (unless it’s recycled or harvested on-site) must be Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified, but for industries that don’t yet have such certification programs, the project team must write letters encouraging their development.
Project teams must also create a Material Conservation management plan, with the goal of reducing or eliminating waste during the building’s construction, life, and end of life. The embodied carbon from construction must be estimated and offset with a one-time carbon credit purchase that supports a new RE project.
Supporting a just, equitable world.
One of the most striking ways the LBC departs from LEED is the inclusion of Equity and Beauty parameters on par with Materials and Energy. In the United States, the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements address one facet of the Equity petal—all primary transportation, roads, and non-building infrastructure considered externally focused must be equally accessible to all members of the public—but there’s a philosophical component, too, says Vidas.
“An LBC house wouldn’t be built in a gated community, for example,” she says. The equity imperative functions to discourage, if not forbid, exclusivity, by stipulating that the “project may not block access to, nor diminish the quality of fresh air, sunlight, and natural waterways.” In other words, no cordoned-off beaches or homes that tower over neighboring ones.
Celebrating design that creates transformative change.
As for the Beauty petal, the LBC believes that people are more inclined to care for places they find beautiful, and their hope is that beautiful buildings will inspire people to extend this care to the natural world. “It’s not intended to be a objective analysis,” says Sturgeon. “It’s more about what beauty means to [the inhabitants].” For Matt and Kelly Grocoff, who are renovating a 112-year-old Victorian home in Ann Arbor, Michigan, under the LBC guidelines, this meant restoring the home’s original features and connecting with the home’s history by learning about its original owners. For Scott and Elliott in Bend, Oregon, it meant pairing natural materials with a contemporary design (see “LBC Case Studies”). As for documentation, both the project designer and the owners must write essays (at least four and two pages long, respectively) describing how the project fulfills the imperative.
With its varied, stringent requirements, the LBC program is only for the very determined—and those with the resources to pull it off. Although the ILFI offers support through its website, case studies, and network of project teams and ambassadors, there is much that project teams must figure out on their own. However, these first “pioneer projects” show what’s possible and are crucial to breaking barriers, whether technological, legal, or one of public perception.
LBC offers two alternatives to full certification: Net-Zero Energy Building certification and Petal Recognition, which requires “earning” at least three petals, one of which must be Materials, Energy, or Water. While only four projects have achieved full certification, three others have earned Petal Recognition, and 12 others are complete and somewhere in the 12-month documentation process as of September 2013. There are more than 150 registered projects around the world, including Australia, Romania, New Zealand, and Mexico. In North America, many are in Oregon, Washington, British Columbia, and Alaska. Google recently announced plans to build a 1 million-square-foot “Living Campus”—a solid sign that the word is getting out.
Freelancer Juliet Grable frequently writes about green building and renewable energy. She lives on a beautiful, south-facing slope in Oregon’s Southern Cascades.
Living Building Challenge • living-future.org