While net-zero energy, water, and waste buildings remain a lofty target for many builders and architects, the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) wants to push the industry even further. The organization's Living Building Challenge (LBC) was already just that for a large swath of the building industry: a challenge. Last week, ILFI released version 3.0, which focuses on net-positive, regenerative structures—buildings that produce more energy and water than they use, treat more resources than they are responsible for, or use waste that is already in its waste stream. The new version of the green building system also places greater emphasis on resiliency, regeneration, equity, and material transparency.
The LBC comprises "imperatives" that projects must address within seven "petals" or performance areas: Place (formerly called "Site" in other versions), Water, Energy, Health and Happiness, Materials, Equity, and Beauty. Unlike other green building certification systems, such as LEED, where different strategies may be combined and others bypassed, to achieve the points required for LBC certification, projects must meet all imperatives.
Recognizing that not all project types have the same challenges and opportunities, the LBC does break down projects by typology—Renovation, Infrastructure + Landscape, and Building—to determine which imperatives apply to each registered project; some typologies requiring fewer imperatives depending on conditions and critical needs. A fourth typology, Neighborhood, has been removed in Version 3.0 and set aside as its own challenge, the Living Community Challenge (keep reading for more information on this).
Regardless of typology, buildings must provide a minimum of 12 consecutive months of actual performance data before being eligible for evaluation for certification. Three levels of certification are available: Living Certification (where a project achieves all imperatives in its typology); Petal Certification (where the imperatives of at least three, but not all seven, petals are met); and Net Zero Energy Certification (where four imperatives, including net zero energy, are met).
We took some time to review the documentation for Version 3.0. On first glance, here's what you should know:
Version 3.0 makes a big shift toward net-positive structures. Past version of the LBC required buildings to achieve net-zero water by meeting 100 percent of their water needs by captured precipitation, other natural closed-loop systems, or recycled project water, and to manage all stormwater and project water discharge onsite. Project were also required to achieve net-zero energy by meeting all of the buildings' energy needs through on-site renewable energy on a net annual basis. Now, however, the projects must not only produce as much water and energy as they need, but they must produce more than they need. "The LBC is not a net neutral program, it most decidedly is about creating a pathway and vision for a truly sustainable, regenerative living future," the ILFI says in its FAQs on the changes to the LBC. "Nature doesn't do zero—it is net positive in energy, food, and flows."
Version 3.0 also integrates the organization's Declare and Just labels. Teams pursuing LBC certification must not only use some products and companies with the respective labels, but also become active advocates for wider adoption. Launched in 2012, the ILFI's Declare label discloses a product's ingredients in a nutrition panel-like presentation; under Version 3.0, projects must use at least one Declare product for every 500 square meters of gross building area, and it must send Declare program information to at least 10 manufacturers not currently using the program, according to LBC documentation.
The Just label, which was launched at the organization's Living Future UnConference in May 2013, is now part of the LBC's Equity petal. It was designed to rank a company's progress on social equity metrics, such as responsible investing and gender diversity. Similar to the LBC's new Declare requirements, projects under Version 3.0 must have at least one team member from the architect of record, interior architect of record, landscape architect of record, MEP engineer of record, owner and developer, or structural engineer obtain a JUST label. The team must also send Just information to at least 10 project consultants, sub-consultants, or product suppliers.
A third major change involves the LBC's Red List, which catalogs materials and chemicals that may not be used in any project, such as halogenated flame retardants, phthalates, and polyvinyl chloride (PVC). There are exceptions granted for projects that use non-Red List-compliant products when a Red list-compliant alternative does not exist. Version 3.0 features an expansion of the original list to include chemicals such as bisphenol A (BPA) and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in wet applied products such as coatings, adhesives, and sealants. It is the first update to the Red List since its development in 2006.
A fourth major change, mentioned earlier, is that community elements that were previously recognized under the LBC have now been split into their own program, the Living Community Challenge (LCC). The LCC uses the same structure as the LBC (seven petals and 20 imperatives), but has requirements that have been adapted to or substituted by imperatives that are most relevant at the community scale.
Finally, Version 3.0 requires participants to purchase exchange offsets in three categories. For each hectare of development in a project, an equal amount of land must be set aside through a habitat offset. For every dollar of total project costs, a project must donate half a cent or more in an equity offset. Projects must also purchase a one-time carbon offset through the ILFI exchange to account for the total embodied carbon impact from its construction. With the release of Version 3.0, ILFI also announced the creation of three offset exchanges through which participants can purchase their offset via the ILFI, rather than through third-party vendors.
One last item of note: Effective May 22, all projects that register for the challenge will be registered under Version 3.0, and the previous version, 2.1, will no longer exist as an option. Projects already registered under Version 2.1 but are not yet complete or certified will have until Dec. 31, 2019, to achieve certification under the 2.1 guidelines and requirements. They will also have the option to upgrade to version 3.0.
Click here to access Version 3.0 of the Living Building Challenge.