The Living Building Challenge may represent the most ambitious green certification program to date. It defines itself in uncompromisingly idealistic terms as an effort to use the most advanced sustainability measures possible today, and then to go further and act to diminish the gap between current limits and ideal solutions. A program initially developed by the Cascadia Green Building Council, and now overseen by the offshoot International Living Future Institute, it defines priorities on both a technical level and as a set of core values, “Engaging the broader building industry in the deep conversations required to truly understand how to solve problems rather than shift them,” according to the Institute Website.

In contrast to programs based on incremental improvements to minimum codes, such as Energy Star, the priorities for Living Building Challenge are both environmental and social. Challenge objectives seek to unify the visions of all advancing architectural and planning movements, incorporating rigorous environmental standards with social and economic ideals.

One important technical difference, the Challenge standard is performance-based.  Designers can use energy software to develop design and construction criteria, but Challenge certification documents require proven performance over 12 months based on real energy bills, not models. This is at once more flexible and stringent than other programs in that the Challenge does not provide a checklist of best practices; the Challenge leads teams to find regional solutions that respond to a number of variables, including climate factors and cultural characteristics, but certification comes only with field-proven results. Launched in 2006, to date only three projects have achieved  “Living” status by meeting all imperatives of the Living Building Challenge:

  • Tyson Living Learning Center in Eureka, Mo. (certified Oct. 12, 2010);
  • Omega Center for Sustainable Living in Rhinebeck, N.Y. (certified Oct. 12, 2010); and
  • Hawaii Preparatory Academy Energy Laboratory, Waimea, Hawaii (certified April 27, 2011).
The presentation accompanying this post provides an articulate and thorough introduction to the Challenge concept and certification program. It covers the overarching philosophical framework and how the 20 imperatives of the Challenge relate to building, remodeling, landscaping, and urban development.