In 2006, the International Living Future Institute created a challenge titled “The Living Building Challenge.” The challenge was deigned to inspire long-term thinking and make room for sustainability in the modern world. There are 20 criteria that must be met for a building to be certified as a Living Building. The broad categories that these criteria fall under are site, water, energy, health, materials, equity, and beauty. Some of the specific requirements of these buildings include a net zero energy and water consumption, support a car free lifestyle, constructed in a sustainable location, and integrate agriculture, even in urban settings. Because these requirements are performance based, simply constructing a building that meets these standards does not automatically mean it has met the challenge. A year-long occupancy period is also part of the challenge, where the building must show that it can continue to meet the challenge’s standards for at least one year.
The high standards of sustainability required to attain certification makes a Living Building even more challenging to achieve then the current sustainability standards of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, or LEED certification. LEED was created in 2000 by the U.S. Green Building Council as a way of calling attention to the green potential of buildings and inspiring green construction. To become LEED certified, the building must receive a certain minimum number of points on a 100 point scale in areas of “sustainable sites, water efficiency, energy and atmosphere, materials and resources, and indoor environmental quality.” Living Building certification is endorsed by the U.S. Green Building Council as a way to take the idea of LEED a step further.
Currently, there are only three Living Building certified sites, however many more are under construction or entering the one year occupation period. There is currently a building under construction in Seattle, Washington that hopes to achieve Living Building certification.
Above is a rendering of what the new building will look like.
A variety of innovative ideas will be employed to allow the six story building to meet the Living Building requirements. The building will achieve net zero energy by utilizing solar panels on the roof. The solar panels will contribute energy to the grid during the summer when the panels produce more electricity than needed. In the winter the building will have to draw energy from the grid to make up for the lack of sunlight, however the energy the building draws will be no more than it had contributed during the sunny summer months. Water equilibrium will be achieved by collecting rainwater and purifying it in an on-site facility. Water will also be circulated throughout the building as a means of temperature control to reduce the amounts of heating and cooling required.
Though the building may cost almost one third more than a conventional building, the savings in energy and water bills will more than make up for the additional cost. In addition, with the building designed to last 250 years, the savings over that time will be substantial.