Living Building Challenge Certification

The Landscape is Changing: Living Building ChallengePosted: Aug 2015 Posted by: Mats Inc.


LEED has been in the forefront of the green building industry for over a decade with exponential growth in the US and internationally. This industry is well-known to have many alternative strategies that hide in the shadows of LEED and the landscape continues to evolve with new and competing standards such as GBI’s Green Globes certification, the National Green Building Standard, the WELL Building Standard, the German DGNB, and the UK’s BREEAM. Every year certification systems establish new qualifications that are more difficult to achieve. But which system rises above? Which is the most challenging? Jason McLennan, CEO of the International Living Future Institute (ILVI), reports that the Living Building Challenge is, in fact, the most stringent green building guidance system. This building standard gives designers the freedom to be creative, yet demands for the building to be 100% sustainable on its own. Currently, there are only eight certified Living Building Challenge Projects.

The Living Building Challenge was introduced by the International Living Future Institute in 2006 and is a performance based standard. Unlike LEED, in order to achieve certification, a building must be operational for a full 12-month period and it is certified based on actual performance. Each project must meet twenty imperatives under a system of seven categories, called “petals”, which include Site, Water, Energy, Health, Materials, Equity and Beauty. Twelve of the imperatives are evaluated when the building is completed, prior to occupancy. These do not require ongoing data collection. Eight of the twenty imperatives require a final audit, 12-months after building occupancy. Because the imperatives fluctuate based on building usage, the audit certifies that the building is actually fully sustainable, producing equal or more energy and water than it uses.


The below list of imperatives in the Living Building Challenge reference guide apply specifically to the purchase of building materials.

  • Red List states that the project cannot contain any of the Red List chemicals outlined in the reference guide. These chemicals and elements are known to pose a serious risk to human health and to the ecosystem.
  • Living Economy Sourcing requires reporting the product extraction and manufacturing locations and only specifying local products that support regional economies. They require 75% of the building material budget to be sourced within a radius of a project construction site. 20% of the building materials budget must be sourced within 500km, 30% must be sourced within 1000km and the last 25% must be sourced within 5000km of the construction site, totaling to 75%. The last 25% can be sourced from any location.
  • Responsible Industry requires that all wood be certified toward the FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) and advocates for the creation and adaptation of 3rd party certified standards for sustainable resource extraction and fair labor practices.
  • Healthy Interior Environment states products with the potential to emit VOCs must comply with the CDPH Standard Method v1.1-2010. It also states that entry approach must be installed to reduce tracking dirt in the building on shoes.

Phipps Conservatory Center for Sustainable Landscape It’s a colossal journey to design, construct, and certify a Living Building. Mark Sadauskas, a Regional Sales Manager at Mats Inc., started working with the design team for the Phipps Conservatory Center for Sustainable Landscape project in Pittsburgh, PA back in 2009. It was only this past March that this project receive confirmation of achieving the Living Building Challenge. It took over 6 years to complete the project and the green landscape has changed greatly since then. In 2009, there was little talk of Life Cycle Assessments and HPDs and other newly required documents for LEED. Back then, Sadauskas was supplied with a questionnaire that needed detailed disclosure about the product being specified. The purpose of these questions was to better understand the social and ecological footprint of the product. This questionnaire asked about Life Cycle Assessment, manufacturing location, chemical components, raw material extraction, red list chemicals, VOCs, environmental impact and recyclability. He specified two entrance products, foot grilles and modular tiles, to makeup the entrance system for the building. These products were locally sourced, did not contain any chemicals from the red list, and improved the health of the interior by reducing particles tracked in through shoes. As the industry is advancing, most product reporting is being done via database websites. ILFI is following this trend by phasing out the questionnaire method Sadauskas mentioned and moving toward their own product database called Declare.

Phipps Conservatory Center for Sustainable Landscape

The ILFI created Declare as a tool for product manufacturers to report all information about their products required by the Living Building Challenge for an annual fee. They also require a minimum of one Declare product used for every 500 sq. meters of project space. In addition, project teams must send Declare program information to at least 10 manufacturers who are currently not registered. The HPD collaborative, Green Wizard and Declare are all working on harmonization to make it easier on project teams to find products for their Living Building challenge projects. The newest version of LEED (v4) has heightened their difficulty in product selection by requiring similar product qualities, or at minimum, requiring disclosure to anything harmful to humans or the environment. Specifying products for Living Building projects is going to be more competitive now that all product manufacturers are being asked for these documents for LEED. This should make life easier for the Architects and Designers specifying products for a Living Building Challenge candidate.

For more information about the Living Building Challenge, visit the reference guide

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