Living Building Challenge

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The Living Building Challenge is an international sustainable building certification program created in 2006 by the non-profit International Living Future Institute.[1] It is described by the Institute as a philosophy, advocacy tool and certification program that promotes the most advanced measurement of sustainability in the built environment.[2] It can be applied to development at all scales, from buildings – both new construction and renovation – to infrastructure, landscapes, neighborhoods and communities and differs from other green certification schemes such as LEED or BREEAM.[2][3]


The end goal of the Living Building Challenge is to encourage the creation of a regenerative built environment. [4] The challenge is an attempt to raise the bar for building standards from doing less harm to contributing positively to the environment. It "acts to rapidly diminish the gap between current limits and the end-game positive solutions we seek" by pushing architects, contractors, and building owners out of their comfort zones. [5]

Flower metaphor[edit]

The representation of a flower with seven petals is used for the Living Building Challenge's framework.

The Living Building Challenges employs the use of a flower metaphor for the framework. According the McLennan, flowers are an accurate representation of a truly regenerative building which receives all of its energy from the sun, nutrients from the soil, and water from the sky. Similar to a flower, they simultaneously shelter other organisms and support the surrounding ecosystem. They also serve as beauty and inspiration and adapt to their surroundings. [4] Meanwhile, the petals of the flower represent each performance area in the framework. These petals include Materials, Place, Water, Energy, Health and Happiness, Equity, and Beauty. [6]

Performance areas[edit]

Living Building Challenge comprises seven performance areas: site, water, energy, health and happiness, materials, equity and beauty. Each performance area has its own intention and are subdivided into a total of twenty Imperatives, each of which focuses on a specific sphere of influence.


This petal is created with the purpose to have designers analyze the location of a site and the impacts the construction will have on the nearby environment and society before being built and during its operation. It focuses on creating a connected community that is more pedestrian focused, protecting and restoring existing nature, and encouraging a healthy level of density. [7]


This petal directly addresses the scarcity of water. A certified building is required to be designed to only use the amount of water that can be harvested onsite and purify the water without the use of chemicals.[6] Projects achieving this petal often employ rainwater catchment cisterns, greywater or closed-loop systems, compostable toilets, and other techniques to reduce and recycle water.[8]


This petal focuses on the reduction and efficiency of energy by requiring the building to produce on-site 105% of the energy it needs year round. It also aims to shift the grid the building is connected to towards more renewable energy. [9]

Health and happiness[edit]

This petal focuses on improving on the source of health problems such as indoor air quality, thermal comfort, visual comfort, and integration of nature in order to increase the quality of human health and productivity. [10] Projects often employ biophilic design, daylighting, operable windows, and other techniques to achieve this petal. [11]


This petal's intention is to focus on eliminating the use of construction materials that have adverse environmental, health, and social impacts. These impacts include pollution, resource depletion, habitat loss, deforestation, toxic chemical use, and large embodied energy use. The goal is to push the industry towards transparency and transform extraction and production practices. This is done by requiring projects to avoid all materials on the Red List, and to report all materials used and their manufacturer and extraction information. [12] Additionally, projects achieve this petal by creating a materials conservation management plan, using salvaged materials, tracking the location sources of the project's materials, using products with Declare labels, among other tasks. [13]


This petal aims to change society's mindset in which property ownership allows owners to externalize negative environmental impacts onto others. This is done by creating spaces where people of all capabilities, disabilities, ages, and economic status have equal access. It also requires that the project must not disturb another site's access to sunlight, fresh air, and clean water.[14]


Lastly, the Beauty petal focuses on encouraging project teams to put in genuine and thoughtful efforts into beautifying the project. Although beauty is not subjectively defined in the framework, it is stressed that beauty should be a goal in order to inspire and elevate the lives of the occupants, visitors, and neighbors. [15]


Certification is based on actual, rather than modeled or anticipated, performance. Therefore, projects must be operational for at least 12 consecutive months prior to evaluation. Types of projects which can be certified include but are not limited to existing or new buildings, single-family residential, multi-family residential, institutional buildings (government, education, research, or religious), commercial (offices, hospitality, retail), and medical or laboratory buildings. [5] There are 3 certification pathways, Living Building Certification, Petal Certification, and Zero Energy Certification a project can pursue, all of which are awarded on performance.

Types of certification[edit]

Living Building Certification[edit]

This is full certification where projects have achieved all imperatives applicable to their typology (see Table 1 for this breakdown). Projects must meet all assigned Imperatives and have proven performance through at least 12 consecutive months of operation. [16]

The table below shows the breakdown of each petal and each building type's required imperatives:

Note: All imperatives are required unless "not required" is listed in the cell. If a project has scale jumping applicable for an imperative, the imperative is still required. Scale Jumping allows multiple buildings or projects to operate in a cooperative state – sharing green infrastructure as appropriate and allowing for Living Building, Site or Community status to be achieved as elegantly and efficiently as possible. This table is updated to reflect Living Building Challenge Version 3.1.[17]

Table 1: Breakdown of required imperatives for project typologies[edit]
Petals Imperatives Communities Building Landscape+Infrastructure Renovation
Place Limits to Growth All imperatives required
Urban Agriculture Scale Jumping Scale Jumping not required
Habitat Exchange Scale Jumping Scale Jumping
Human-Powered Living not required not required
Water Net Positive Water Scale Jumping Scale Jumping
Energy Net Positive Energy
Health & Happiness Civilized environment not required
Healthy Interior Environment not required
Biophilic Environment
Materials Red List
Embodied Carbon Footprint Scale Jumping Scale Jumping
Responsible Industry
Living Economy Sourcing
Net Positive Waste
Equity Human Scale + Humane Places not required
Universal Access to Nature + Place not required
Equitable Investment Scale Jumping Scale Jumping
JUST Organizations
Beauty Beauty + Spirit
Inspiration + Education

Petal Certification[edit]

This is a certification that is awarded to a project if it achieves at least 3 complete petals (with all of the petal's applicable imperatives) out of the 7 total petals. One of the 3 completed petals must be the Energy, Water, or Materials petal. In addition, regardless of completed petals, imperatives "Limits to Growth" and "Inspiration and Education" must be achieved. [16]

The headquarters for the David and Lucille Packard Foundation located in Los Altos, California is a certified Net Zero Energy building.[18]

Net Zero Energy Certification[edit]

The certification and International Living Future Institute's definition of a net zero building as:

"One hundred percent of the building’s energy needs on a net annual basis must be supplied by on-site renewable energy. No combustion is allowed." [19]

To receive this certification projects must achieve at least four imperatives, "Limits to Growth", "Net Positive Energy" (reduced to one hundred percent), "Beauty + Spirit", and "Inspiration + Education". The Net Positive Energy imperative's requirements are changed from producing 105% of the building's energy consumption, to 100% so it is only net zero and not net positive.

Certification steps[edit]

In order for a project to achieve certification, it needs to be registered and a registration fee has to be paid according to its typology. The project team then continues documentation for the certification and operation and occupancy for at least 12 consecutive months. During this occupancy and operation, project performance data is measured. After the operation period, the team submits all data and documentation for auditing. The auditing process is performed by an independent third-party. This independent auditor performs a preliminary audit and a final audit where imperative performances are checked with data and extra documentation. During the final audit, the auditors will do another documentation audit along with a site visit of the project and an audit report for the team. [20] If the auditor concludes that the project achieves all of the applicable imperatives and the site visit is satisfactory, the project will be awarded its certification.The first Living BuildingsSM were certified in October 2010, and by March 2013, only six had achieved certification.[21]

Resources for project teams[edit]

Since the design and certification process of a building can bring up many questions and obstacles, there are multiple streams of access for guidance and help.

The Dialogue[edit]

Only members of registered Living Building Challenge projects can access The Dialogue. It is an online platform that provides a direct path of communication between project teams and the International Living Future Institute's technical staff.[22] Teams can asks questions concerning imperatives, clarifications, temporary exceptions, among other information, and see answers from the staff. The questions and responses help mold future versions of the certification. [23]

Petal handbooks[edit]

The handbooks provide a source of consolidated and clarified rules for meeting the imperatives. They are updated continuously based on new Dialogue posts and innovations made by new Living Building Challenge projects. They are used as reference tools but recommended in conjunction with the Dialogue since they are not always up to date. [24]

Technical assistance[edit]

Other sources of technical assistance include webcasts and workshops hosted by the International Living Future Institute, charrette facilitation by the institute, and LBC collaboratives, where members from different LBC projects can discuss their work and learn from each other. [25]


The Living Building Challenge was launched by the Cascadia Green Building Council (a chapter of both the U.S. Green Building Council and Canada Green Building Council). It was created by Jason F. McLennan and Bob Berkebile, of BNIM. McLennan brought the program to Cascadia when he became its CEO in 2006. The International Living Building Institute was created of and by Cascadia in May 2009 to oversee the Living Building Challenge and its auxiliary programs.

The Evolution of the Living Building Standard[edit]

Dates Event
October 1999 McLennan & Berkebile publish “The Living Building” [26]
2005 McLennan begins to write the Living Building Standard.[27]
May 2006 McLennan becomes CEO of Cascadia Green Building Council.[28]
November 2006 Cascadia announces the Living Building Challenge at Greenbuild. [4]
April 2007 Living Building Challenge Version 1.2 is published.[4]
May 2009 The International Living Building Institute is formed by Cascadia Green Building Council. [29]
August 2009 Living Building Challenge Version 1.3 is published. [30]
November 2009 Living Building Challenge Version 2.0 is published. [30]
Fall 2010 The first 3 projects earn Living certification.[4]
April 2011 The International Living Building Institute was renamed the International Living Future Institute.[27]
January 2012 The 100th project registers for the Living Building Challenge. [4]
May 2012 Living Building Challenge Version 2.1 is published. [30]
June 2012 The Living Building Challenge receives the Buckminster Fuller Challenge. [31]
2013 Net Zero Energy Building Certification is released. [32]
May 2014 Living Building Challenge Version 3.0 is released. [33]
May 2014 The 200th project register for the Living Building Challenge. [4]
November 2015 The 300th project registers for the Living Building Challenge.[4]
2016 Living Building Challenge Version 3.1 is published. [5]

Figure 1: Number of Registered Living Building Challenge Projects worldwide from 2006-2017[edit]

It was reported in April 2016 that a total of 331 registered Living Building Challenge projects yielded a total of 14.1 million square feet of registered total floor area. [34] According to the International Living Future Institute, as of May 2017 there are 380 registered projects. [35]

International Living Future Institute[edit]

The International Living Future Institute is a non-governmental organization (NGO) committed to catalyzing a global transformation toward true sustainability. The Institute seeks partnerships with leaders in the public, private and not-for-profit sectors in pursuit of a future that is socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative.

The Institute is the umbrella organization for the Living Building Challenge and the Cascadia Green Building Council, along with The Natural Step US and Ecotone Publishing.


Exterior view of the Old Oak Dojo located in Jamaica Plain, Boston, MA, USA.
Gardens at the Old Oak Dojo.

Example of use[edit]

The Old Oak Dojo in Jamaica Plain, Boston, MA, USA, is an example of a certified Living (full certification) project. Certified in 2016, the dojo serves as a multi-purpose space for community members to host educational events, fitness classes, or just gather to eat or celebrate. The project employs technology such as water cisterns, radiant heating in the floor, operable windows, stack effect, energy recovery ventilator, composting toilets, solar energy, and a living roof.[36]

See the table below for descriptions of some of the project team's actions in order to comply with the project's applicable imperatives.[37]

Imperative Action taken to achieve [37]
Urban Agriculture Four raised soil beds were created from salvaged and local materials. One of the plots is offered to neighbors as a free community plot while the others grow vegetables and fruit.
Habitat Exchange The project partnered with the New England Forestry Foundation to create an offset for habitat exchange.
Human Powered Living The site already exists between two major subway stations, is near multiple bus routes, and near a park containing a bicycle network and pedestrian paths. An additional pedestrian pathway runs through the project's property, encouraging connections to local schools and commerce.
Net Positive Water The project contains a low flow faucet, a low flow valve, a compostable toilet, and a UV filter for rainwater. The building is also raised off the ground with footings in order for proper stormwater infiltration. A variance was awarded by the State of Massachusetts Board of Plumbers and Gas Fitters for the compostable toilet.
Net Positive Energy A nearby off-site PV array provided the site with 5,030 kwh of energy in 2015. Technology such as a super insulated envelope, passive solar design, electric radiant heating, an energy recovery ventilator, among other aspects all reduce energy consumption allowing the building to function net positive for energy.
Civilized Environment Operable windows allow for fresh air and daylight to enter the space. It is also required for visitors to take off their shoes on the entryway matt to help improve indoor air quality and cleanliness in the space.
Healthy Interior Environment A high-efficiency Zhender energy recovery ventilation (ERV) system is installed in the space. The ERV pulls outside air into its air exchanger and is filtered, its temperature and humidity is then changed to match indoor thermal conditions to maximize indoor thermal comfort for occupants.
Biophilic Environment The design of the whole building was inspired by the three old oaks located on the site. The large windows allow for the views of the oaks to infiltrate the space while the wooden floors and interior bring in nature.
Red List All materials and products used on the project were researched in depth to avoid red list materials.
Embodied Carbon Footprint A large amount of the project was built with salvaged materials from on-site, reclaimed surplus materials from the construction process, and materials from the owner's deconstructed family residence in Newton, MA.
Responsible Industry FSC certified wood was purchased from the Sterritt Lumber Company. Other salvaged materials and wood was bought from Boston Building Resources, a charitable nonprofit company.
Living Economy Sourcing From the design team to contractors, the project tried to limit the distance traveled for each person working on the project. Almost everyone working on the project was from within a 5-10 km radius of the site. Almost all workers (except for 1) used public transportation or biked to the project site.
Net Positive Waste All materials were kept on-site until it was determined to be not of use and a full load of waste was generated. Materials were sorted and stored to encourage reuse and salvaging for the builders.
Universal Access to Nature + Place The project is designed with accessible spaces with the installation of an accessible sink, accessible storage areas, a ramp, and an ADA-accessible restroom. The owner also partners with nonprofits, community organizations, and neighborhood organizations to host free events and educational or social gatherings. Operational emissions are minimal and one tree was relocated to prevent shading on a neighbor's yard.
Beauty & Spirit The layout of the project promotes openness and awareness for the occupants. Visitors in one room can look outside and into other rooms encouraging connections with nature and others. The views outside the windows look onto the gardens, water filtration equipment storage, and waste storage areas, reminding occupants of where their nutrients are coming from and where they are going.
Inspiration & Education The Dojo has educational signage in the building which explains the Living Building Challenge features used in the design. The dojo also hosts a celebration "Village Week" annually to bring together the community and encourage resiliency and inter-community support.

Notable projects[edit]

Over 100 project teams (mainly in the US and Canada, but also one in Ireland)[21] are pursuing the Challenge, most of which have officially registered with the Institute, including:

Project Location Status Owner/Developer Project Team Members
Class of 1966 Environmental Center Williamstown, MA, USA occupied Williams College Black River Design, Architects; Integrated Eco Strategy
Binghamton University Nuthatch Hollow Binghamton, NY, USA design Binghamton University Ashley-McGraw, Architects; Binghamton University
Hitchcock Center for the Environment Amherst, MA, USA occupied Hitchcock Center for the Environment designLAB Architects; Wright Builders, Inc.; Integrated Eco Strategy; Buro Happold Engineering; Berkshire Design Group; Dobbert Heating and Air Conditioning; PV Squared; Crocker Communications; Ichthys IT Services
Omega Center for Sustainable Living Rhinebeck, NY, USa certified: Living Omega Institute Chazen, Conservation Design Forum, Tipping-Mar + Associates, BNIM Architects, BGR Consulting Engineers, Planet Reuse, Natural Systems International (now Biohabitats), John Todd Ecological Design, David Sember Construction
Tyson Living Learning Center Eureka, MO, USA certified: Living Washington University Grimes Consulting, Williams Creek Consulting, Lewisites, ASDG, LLC, Hellmuth + Bicknese Architects, Solutions AEC, Clivis Multrum, Straight Up Solar, Bingman Construction Company
Eco-Sense Victoria, BC, Canada certified: Petal Ann + Gord Baird C.N. Ryzuk, Kris Dick, Building Alternatives, Byron Merriam (A-Tech Plumbing), Mike Isbrucker (Alternative Electric)
Painters Hall Salem, OR, USA Certified: Energy Petal Pringle Creek Community Opsis Architecture, Sustainable Development Inc., Spectra Construction, Tanner Creek Energy
The Mosaic Centre Edmonton, AB, Canada construction Dennis and Christy Cuku Mosaic Family of Companies, Manasc Isaac Architects
Hawaii Preparatory Academy Energy Lab Kamuela, HI, USA certified: Living Hawaii Preparatory Academy Belt Collins Hawaii Ltd., Walter Vorfeld & Associates, Flansburgh Architects, Hakalau Engineering, LLC, Buro Happold
EcoCenter at Heron's Head Park San Francisco, CA, USA occupied Literacy for Environmental Justice Land Development Solutions, Fulcrum Engineering, Toby Long Design, Rick Miller, Occidental Power, Eckman Environmental, John Todd Ecological, Helix Wind Power, Warm Floors
UniverCity Childcare Burnaby, BC, Canada occupied Simon Fraser University Space2Place Design, Fast + Epp, RADA, Hughes Condon Marler, Cobalt Engineering, Ledcor Construction Limited (part of Ledcor Group of Companies)
Deep Green Residence Hall Berea, KY, USA occupied Berea College Hastings + Chivetta Architects, Hellmuth + Bicknese Architects, Messer Construction, Davis & Plomin Mechanical, CMTA Consulting Engineers
Alice Ferguson Foundation Accokeek, MD, USA certified: Living Alice Ferguson Foundation Andropogon Associates, Ann Rothmann, Re:Vision Architecture, M2 Architecture, AKF Engineers, Biohabitats
Center for Sustainable Landscapes Pittsburgh, PA, USA certified: Living Phipps Conseratory and Botanical Gardens Andropogon Associates, Atlantic Engineering, The Design Alliance, CJL Engineering, evolveEA
VanDusen Botanical Garden Visitors Center Vancouver, BC, Canada occupied VanDusen Botanical Garden Association Cornelia Oberlander, landscape architect; Perkins and Will Canada, architects; Morrison Hershfield energy consultants, Fast + Epp structural engineers, StructureCraft timber design-builders, Ledcor Construction Limited
Bertschi School Living Science Classroom Seattle, WA, USA occupied Bertschi School KMD Architects, Skanska, GeoEngineers, GGLO, Quantum Engineers, Rushing, 2020 Engineers, Smalling Civil Engineering, Morrison Hershfield
June Key Delta House Portland, OR, USA construction Piedmont Rose/Delta Sigma Theta sorority Nye Architecture LLC, TM Rippey Associates, Colas Construction
Oregon Sustainability Center Portland, OR, USA pre-construction Green Building Services, Portland State University Gerding Edlen, SERA Architects, GBD Architects, Skanska Construction, Biohabitats
Jim Pattison Centre of Excellence in Sustainable Building Technologies and Renewable Energy Conservation Penticton, BC, Canada occupied Okanagan College CEI Architecture, True Consulting Group, Site 360, Fast + Epp, AME Consulting Group, Applied Engineering Solutions, PCL Construction Westcoast
Phinney Neighborhood Center Seattle, WA, USA design Phinney Neighborhood Association
Robert Bateman Centre for Art + Environmental Education Victoria, BC, Canada design Royal Roads University Iredale Group Architecture
Bullitt Center Seattle, WA, USA occupied The Bullitt Foundation Point32, developer; Schuchart, general contractor; The Miller Hull Partnership, architect; PAE Consulting Engineers, mechanical and electrical engineering; DCI Engineers, structural engineering; RDH Group, envelope engineering; Haley and Aldrich, geotechnical engineering; Springline, civil engineering; 2020 Engineering, water supply and reuse systems; Solar Design Associates, solar technology; BRC Acoustics & Technology Consulting, acoustical engineering; Bush Roes & Hitchings, surveying
Jasper Junior Senior High Living Classroom Jasper, Alberta, Canada design JSCY (Jasper Sustainability Club for Youth KMD Architects
IDeAs Z2 Design Facility San Jose, CA, USA certified: Energy Petal Z2 Design Facility IDeAs
Mission Zero House / Kelly & Matt Grocoff Residence Ann Arbor, MI, USA Certified Net Zero Energy Building Matthew Grocoff / THRIVE THRIVE, BLUElab University of Michigan
Brock Environmental Center Virginia Beach, VA, USA Occupied The Chesapeake Bay Foundation SmithGroupJJR, WPL, Hourigan Construction, Skanska, Janet Harrison
Cope Environmental Center Centerville, IN, USA Construction Cope Environmental Center [1] Heapy Engineering, LWC, Thor Construction, Cope Environmental Center, [2] [html] [3]

LBC in building codes[edit]

The Living building challenge has appeared in a publication from the Seattle Department of Construction and Inspections on Seattle's Climate Strategies. According to the publication, these programs allow developers to “request additional departures from the Seattle Land Use Code through Design Review for either. They provide height and floor area incentives for buildings in exchange for meeting high-performance green building requirements.”. By achieving certification, the project can build up to 25% more floor area than regulations in certain zones allow, and in some cases more building height. [38]

In many cases, projects have to request variances or alternative compliance pathways for building codes due to their design choices for the Living Building Challenge. Regulators often require evidence of the proposed performance of the new or innovative materials and technologies LBC project use, which create further obstacles and documentation requirements from project teams. [39]


Some criticisms from the field include the standard's need for more guidance for teams, the subjectiveness of some imperatives, the need for life cycle analysis, the energy measurement unit to change to carbon emissions, and the lack of regional considerations. [40] In addition, there are criticisms of a project's large number of obstacles due to building code regulations that have not been changing in time to adapt to climate change. In turn, this has caused a decrease in the rate of newly registered Living Building Challenge projects. [41]


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External links[edit]