Living Building Challenge Group Relaxes Requirements

By Nadine M. Post

May 8, 2019

The International Living Future Institute, steward of the world’s most demanding sustainable-building program, is no longer satisfied with its boutique status as a third-party certifier of super-green buildings. ILFI, on a course to scale up the number of participants and scale down the rigors of its Living Building Challenge, recently introduced a less rigorous option for LBC certification, called Core Green Building Certification.

ILFI also announced the first participants, including Salesforce, in a new ILFI program for zero-energy and zero-carbon certification that targets real-estate portfolios rather than individual buildings.

“We need more buildings to make a big change,” said Amanda Sturgeon, ILFI’s executive director, at Living Future 19, held April 30 to May 3 in Seattle. “People were spending 90% of their time on less than 10% of the impact.”

With the newly certified Hitchcock Center, there are 23 Living Buildings in the 13-year-old LBC.
PHOTO COURTESY OF THE HITCHCOCK CENTER

The latest version of the 13-year-old standard, which was released at the conference, is designed to direct 80% of the effort into 80% of the impact, said Sturgeon. LBC 4.0 grew out of the realization that the seven-petal, or category, program scares away owners and tires participants with its strict performance imperatives for net-zero annual water and energy use and for responsible material use.

Washington state’s King County and Google have agreed to test the revision. King County has plans to develop 10 Living Buildings by 2020 as part of its climate action plan, said Dow Constantine, the King County executive.

Salesforce and Kingspan announced “significant” commitments to ILFI’s Zero Carbon Certification program, introduced last year, said Sturgeon at the conference, which drew more than 1,300 registrants, up from 1,100 last year.

For Salesforce, this includes its Salesforce Tower headquarters in San Francisco and planned properties across North America and Europe. For Kingspan, this means certifying manufacturing plants in Europe and North America, said ILFI.

Currently, there are 420 registered projects under ILFI’s four main programs: zero carbon; zero energy; the Petal program; and the top-tier Living Building program, which includes all seven petals, or subcategories. Of these, there are only 112 certified projects and only 23 certified Living Buildings. Certification requires a year of post-occupancy performance data.

There are 30 certified Petal projects. For that program, teams are required to meet only one of the three most difficult petals: water, energy or materials. Of 154 net-zero energy projects registered, 59 are certified. There are 14 projects registered for the net-zero carbon program.

Core certification is intended to respond to climate change through a building’s holistic performance. It falls between zero energy and Petal certification in its difficulty and has 10 required but relaxed imperatives, compared to Petal and Living Building certifications.

Imperatives are ecology of place, human-scaled living, responsible water use, energy and carbon reduction, healthy interior environment, responsible materials, universal access, inclusion, beauty and biophilia, and education and inspiration.

Jonathan A. Wright, founder and senior advisor of Wright Builders, calls the new core program “brilliant.” Wright, a veteran of two Living Building projects, including the just-certified 23rd Living Building—the 9,000-sq-ft Hitchcock Center for the Environment in Amherst, Mass.—said, “Core seems like something we could do almost as standard practice in our business.”

Another attendee said, “Core certification fills a critical gap in building significantly better buildings. There are many cities and private sector owners that could use the program immediately to decrease the carbon impacts of projects.”

Jason F. McLennan, creator of the LBC, ILFI’s chairman and ENR’s 2016 Award of Excellence winner, supports the relaxed pathway.

McLennan, who also heads McLennan Design, knows from experience that it’s not easy to do Living Buildings, even with his progressive clients. “We still have the same challenges of making sure things pencil out,” and of meeting clients’ expectations and schedules, he said.

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