In March 2010 The United States Green Building Council (USGBC) announced that 5,000 buildings have become LEED certified with over 20,000 projects registered. LEED, Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, began in 1998 as a system to rate the sustainability of new architecture. Since then, the system has become widely subjected to political manipulation resulting in LEED certified buildings that are awarded LEED status with relatively little environmental benefit and based on modeled efficiency results rather than real-world tests. The Northland Pines High School, for example, was awarded LEED Gold certification. Now, several years after certification, many community members are working to have the certification revoked based on the school’s failure to meet the required energy and indoor air quality requirements. The Northland Pines High School is only one of many cases in which LEED buildings perform far below expected and certified requirements. Herein lies several of the key problems with the LEED system:
The system is point based, allowing for the manipulation of points to achieve certification without a great amount of environmental progress.
- The certification is based on modeled results rather than actual results
- LEED creates a false sense of accomplishment, enforcing the mindset that reaching a Silver, Gold or Platinum level is synonymous with the development of a sustainable building.
With these faults in-mind, I bring attention to the International Living Building Challenge (ILBC), hosted by our local Cascadia chapter of the Green Building Council. The ILBC exists not to challenge the political and environmental position and importance of LEED, but to go beyond it, creating buildings and communities that are truly sustainable without compromise.
ILBC consists of seven ‘Petals’ or imperatives that MUST be met in order for a project to be considered a Living Building or community:
- Site: Buildings cannot be constructed on virgin land and must include urban agriculture and habitat exchange.
- Water: All water used in a living building must come from the site and the project must not alter ecological water flow.
- Energy: All energy used in the project must come from on site sources such as wind, solar and water power.
- Health:Clean air and natural light must be prevalent throughout the building.
- Materials: Materials used are broken down into various categories each with its own sourcing requirements. For example, ideas can come from anywhere in the world while high density materials such as steel and concrete must come from within 500 km. Timber must be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, from salvaged sources or from onsite. Additionally, there is a red list containing materials that simply may not be used.
- Equity: A living building must foster a sense of community, creating spaces that are aware of surrounding areas and are human scaled ratherthan car scaled. ‘Citizen’ must be prioritized over ‘consumer’.
- Beauty: There must be design features that exist for no other reason than to inspire delight and to educate.
Assessment for meeting these requirements is completed one year after the building has been completed, ensuring that the building truly meets the seven petals that make up a Living Building.
While the two year old International Living Building Challenge may be too demanding for the majority of projects, to this day there are no certified Living Buildings, it creates the mindset that sustainability is something that must continuously be strived for; an idea that reaches beyond architecture and into every choice that we make, whether it be to forego a bag at the grocery store or to walk across campus rather than drive or even take a bus. Hopefully in the next year we will see the first of the Living Buildings. With that, I will leave you with the mission statement for the ILBC.
The International Living Building Institute issues a challenge:
To all design professionals, contractors and building owners to create the foundation for a sustainable future in the fabric of our communities.
To politicians and government officials to remove barriers to systemic change, and to realign incentives and market signals that truly protect the health, safety and welfare of people and all beings.
To all of humanity to reconcile the built environment with the natural environment, into a civilization that creates greater biodiversity, resilience and opportunities for life with each adaptation and development.