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The Living Building Challenge (LBC) is renowned as the world’s most rigorous sustainable building standard. This is a statement of fact as much as it is a point of pride – not only for the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) which originated the program but also for those able to achieve its designation.
Building owners, architects and designers attempting to achieve LBC certification are measured against several metrics. But, at its core, LBC ensures that a building will give more than it takes, ultimately creating a net positive impact on the human and natural systems that interact with the final product.
The Flower Model
James Connelly, former Vice President of Strategic Growth for ILFI, describes the LBC as a program that takes the principles of LEED and brings them to another level to achieve true sustainability.
“We’re designing buildings that are like a plant, like a flower,” he said. “They get all their energy from the sun. They get all the water they need from their natural water cycle. They’re comprised of integrated, interrelated systems. And, lastly, they’re beautiful. We think beauty is an important part of sustainability, because unless a building’s beautiful and functional for its occupants, it’s not going to last. And, maybe more importantly, it’s not going to inspire others to think in a new way about design and construction.”
The LBC is organized into seven performance areas which are classified as Petals. Each Petal is then further sub-divided into Imperatives. Each Imperative specifically addresses an issue through detailed requirements, and all imperatives assigned to a Petal are mandatory to achieve the designation.
The seven Petals are place, water, energy, health & happiness, materials, equity and beauty. The 20 imperatives range from biophilic environment distinctions to being Red List Free.
Where Cabling Comes In
Helping to achieve a LBC certification, Superior Essex Communications is the only cable manufacturer that offers products for building owners and architects to meet Red List Free requirements.
Annie Bevan, Global Head of Sustainability for Superior Essex Communications, said that being the lone supplier is something that gives her mixed feelings.
“When companies decide to go down the path of creating a workspace with a goal of a Living Building certification, it is certainly advantageous for our team to meet with them and let them know that we are the only manufacturer that can make that a reality for them,” she said. “It is, honestly, a competitive advantage. Conversely, as a human living on this planet, it is somewhat worrisome that there is only one communications cable manufacturer with Red List Free options.”
“That sends a two-fold message,” Bevan added. “The first is that Superior Essex Communications is an abled solutions partner to achieve Living Building Challenge certification. The second is that, currently, there isn’t enough demand to force other manufacturers into that marketplace.”
Connelly said that there are more active participants in the pipeline, and that there are millions of square feet of Living Building projects being registered with the ILFI every day.
The Continued Evolution of LBC
ILFI announced LBC 4.0 in May 2019, and the change in scope from the ILFI could help solve the market issues that Bevan sees. The new version of the program has a new feature: volume certification, which allows major companies (think Google), some really innovative retailers (think PCC Natural Markets) and affordable housing developers the ability to adopt the LBC at scale.
“We’re actually driving demand by getting more and more buildings to adopt the Living Building Challenge and our Zero Carbon certification, as well as to just implement our principles into a company’s overall materials purchasing policies,” Connelly said.
“And it’s not just for one project, but builders are actually thinking about how they can pilot scaling across their global portfolio so that every single material they buy meets the Red List requirements and that they are ensuring the healthiest spaces for their occupants,” he added. “Beyond that, they’re actually working to detoxify completely the built environment by leveraging their purchasing power to change the supply chains of how products are made.”
Putting the LBC into Practice
Marc Bruni is an Associate Principal at PA Engineering Consultants, a mechanical, electrical, plumbing, technology and lighting design firm. This collective of consulting engineers is regularly tasked with helping businesses solve their energy and water challenges. Suffice it to say that the group does a lot of sustainable projects and tries to make it the focus of its work.
Bruni acknowledged the aggressiveness of the Living Building Challenge and shared his excitement to have worked on projects which have already met the standard, as well as for what the future holds as more companies look to be environmentally conscious.
“It’s surprising – a lot of times you show someone a design, and even if they hadn’t really been considering Living Building as a goal, all of a sudden, they get interested. And, frequently, it becomes a goal that everyone gets excited about it,” he said.
“I think we try to bring sustainability into all our projects, even if we’re not going for a particular rating system. For the Living Building Challenge, we discuss it early in general and schematic design, provide a path towards meeting that and show a client what they would have to do to get there.”
To help owners on their path to sustainability, the Living Building Challenge program does not give a set-in-stone checklist of its best practices. Rather, ILFI provides an outline of a design framework that promotes the highest standards. The organization has found that a series of performance goals allows companies the ability to identify the best solutions for itself while also allowing for the creative aspects to shine.
The holistic approach to sustainability is something that Bevan believes makes it very appealing to many. “The Living Building Challenge places a spotlight on so many things that it may come across as restrictive because of how rigorous it is to achieve. But, the way that it requires beauty makes it unique,” she said. “Though our products live behind the wall – unseen – knowing that these projects are always visually stimulating makes them inspiring beyond sustainability. That presents a proud moment for us, and it makes for something that everyone involved is thankful to have been a part of.”