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, Equity, and Beauty. [6]

Performance areas[edit]

Living Building Challenge comprises seven performance areas: site, water, energy, health, 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. [5]


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]


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. [7]


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. [8]


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. [9]


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.[10]


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. [5]


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. [11]

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.[5]

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 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. [11]

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." [12]

To recieve 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 Process[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 than 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. [13] 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.[14]

The targets are rigorous and set at the highest conceivable; every project must meet each of its 20 strict requirements to achieve the certification. This 'ceiling' is where far fewer than 1% of buildings assessed under BREEAM would fall and in excess of 'Outstanding' rating.[2]


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” [15]
2005 McLennan begins to write the Living Building Standard.[16]
May 2006 McLennan becomes CEO of Cascadia Green Building Council.[17]
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. [18]
August 2009 Living Building Challenge Version 1.3 is published. [19]
November 2009 Living Building Challenge Version 2.0 is published. [19]
Fall 2010 The first 3 projects earn Living certification.[4]
April 2011 The International Living Building Institute was renamed the International Living Future Institute.[16]
January 2012 The 100th project registers for the Living Building Challenge. [4]
May 2012 Living Building Challenge Version 2.1 is published. [19]
June 2012 The Living Building Challenge receives the Buckminster Fuller Challenge. [20]
2013 Net Zero Energy Building Certification is released. [21]
May 2014 Living Building Challenge Version 3.0 is released. [22]
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]

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.


Over 100 project teams (mainly in the US and Canada, but also one in Ireland)[14] 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 certified: Living 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]


  1. ^ Roddy Scheer; Doug Moss (January 6, 2013). "The Living Building Challenge". EarthTalk. Archived from the original on 2015-09-23.
  2. ^ a b c Starrs, Mel (13 July 2012). "Deepest green credentials". Building magazine. Retrieved 22 April 2013.
  3. ^ Leedham, Amy. "Beyond LEED and BREAM: The Living Building Challenge – Part 1". Archinect: Sustainable Design Weekly. Retrieved 22 April 2013.
  4. ^ a b c d e f g h author., Thomas, Mary Adam,. The living building challenge : roots and rise of the world's greenest standard. ISBN 0997236817. OCLC 959276262.
  5. ^ a b c d e f Living Building Challenge, 3.1, International Living Building Institute, 2016, pp. 1–6
  6. ^ a b Retrieved 2018-12-08. Missing or empty |title= (help)
  7. ^ Living Building Challenge: Energy Petal Implementation Guide (PDF), DLR Group, 2016, pp. 8–9
  8. ^ "How health factors into green building rating systems: Living Building Challenge - AIA". Retrieved 2018-12-08.
  9. ^ "Hampshire College Defies Amenities Arms Race with R.W. Kern Center". Make Buildings Last. 2017-10-20. Retrieved 2018-12-08.
  10. ^ "Equity and the Living Building Challenge | Trim Tab". Trim Tab Online Magazine. 2015-12-15. Retrieved 2018-12-08.
  11. ^ a b "Living Building Challenge Certification |". International Living Future Institute. 2016-11-04. Retrieved 2018-12-09.
  12. ^ "Zero Energy Certification |". International Living Future Institute. 2016-11-30. Retrieved 2018-12-09.
  13. ^ DeTorres, Dustin. "Living Building Challenge Certification 101". Retrieved 2018-12-09.
  14. ^ a b Hartman, Hattie (15 March 2013). "Twitter brings the Living Building Challenge to the UK". Architects' Journal. Retrieved 22 April 2013.
  15. ^ Berkebile, Bob,and Jason McLennan. 1999. The Living Building. The World and I magazine. Washington, DC: Washington Times Publication.
  16. ^ a b "A Brief History of The Living Building Challenge | Living Future". Retrieved 2018-12-08.
  17. ^ "Jason of Cascadia: Green Warrior". Healthy Building Network. Retrieved 2018-12-08.
  18. ^ "FAQ | International Living Future Institute |". International Living Future Institute. 2016-11-08. Retrieved 2018-12-08.
  19. ^ a b c "Prior Versions of the Living Building Challenge Standard | Living Future". Retrieved 2018-12-08.
  20. ^ "The Living Building Challenge | The Buckminster Fuller Institute". Retrieved 2018-12-09.
  21. ^ "Net Zero Energy is dead, long live Zero Energy". Living Building Chronicle. 2017-05-31. Retrieved 2018-12-09.
  22. ^ "Living Building Challenge 3.0 | Living Future". Retrieved 2018-12-09.

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