Vancouver, British Columbia, April 17 -- At the Living Future conference (actually dubbed "The Unconference" due to its audience roundtable feedback format), talk is of going deep green and beyond LEED. This is the second year the Cascadia Region Green Building Council (a chapter of the USGBC and Canadian Green Building Council made up of Oregon, Washington, Alaska, and British Columbia) has held this event, seen by organizers and attendees alike as a gathering place for green building leaders and next-level thinkers.

Cascadia GBC CEO Jason McLennan set the tone for the two-day meeting today by challenging attendees to act with a sense of urgency on the ideas they take away from Living Future. "While it may seem like we're making progress, the building industry is drifting and not getting any closer to our goals," he said. "We don't have the luxury of time."

Last year the Cascadia GBC introduced, and the USGBC endorsed, the "Living Building Challenge," a new standard for green building--beyond the usual levels of performance prescribed by other programs--that requires buildings perform at zero net energy, zero net waste, and zero net water levels. Instead of awarding points or credits from a menu of product or design options, the Living Building Challenge lists 16 prerequisites that each project must meet to earn the rating.

Here in Vancouver a number of projects targeting this rating are already underway--and the tough criteria are clearly having a challenging effect on the architects and developers working on them.

The "Unconference" program also includes sessions covering a wide range of topics from product selection to project financing to overcoming regulatory challenges. One of the most interesting presentations today was from David Eisenberg, co-founder and director of the Development Center for Appropriate Technology and a member of the USGBC's board of directors who has worked for years trying to balance code-related restrictions that impact green building features and systems. He's just begun research for a white paper he is preparing with Cascadia GBC studying the hurdles building codes place in front of green building projects and their impact throughout North America. This white paper will be made public when complete and should offer an interesting look at what could become a critical factor in the adoption of codes that could require higher performance standards as time goes on.

Later I'll report on sessions covering the selection of green building products, including Cascadia's Red List, and a new launch called Pharos, an online tool with real potential to help product specifiers find the balance between resource efficiency, energy performance, embodied energy, health and indoor air quality, product life expectancy, and end-of-(product) life issues when making selections.