Ultimate Construction

By Nicole D. Smith

Sixteen requirements set by the Cascadia Region Green Building Council (CRGBC) must be met to be deemed a “living building.” All must be sustained for one continuous year or a building will not receive the living building certification, a task seemingly daunting but obtainable for the Living Learning Center, which, if successful, will be named the first living building in North America.

What exactly is a living building? To some, it’s a building that is the closest standard to being a model of sustainability. To CRGBC, it’s a vision like no other before its time.

CRGBC’s Living Building Challenge has established prerequisites for the site selection of a building. By strategically choosing the site of the living building, developers can stop sprawl, displacement of wild animals, diminish the concept of “prime land” for construction, prevent the weakening of ecosystems and much more. Prerequisites, or “petals” as they are called in the Living Building Challenge, in the site category lucidly map where it is acceptable to build structures, how to protect the structure and how to restore a building once it has been developed and degraded.

1. Responsible site selection. You may not build on or adjacent to sensitive ecological habitats such as: wetlands, primary dunes, old growth forest, virgin prairie or prime farmland.

2. Limits to growth. Projects may only be built on a greyfield or a brownfield site, and they must have been developed prior to Dec. 31, 2007. Project teams must document conditions prior to start of work.

3. Habitat exchange. For each acre of development, an equal amount of land must be set aside for at least 100 years. This is designed to create a habitat exchange.

4. Net zero energy. One hundred percent of the building’s energy must be supplied by an on-site renewable energy source on a net annual basis.

5. Materials red list. Many of the materials used to build the structure where people work and live contain and release harmful toxins. The intent of prerequisites five, six, seven, eight and nine is to eradicate the most damaging and toxic materials. Some of the materials or chemicals that the project cannot contain include: cadmium, formaldehyde, halogenated flame retardants, lead, mercury, petrochemical fertilizers and pesticides.

6. Construction carbon footprint. The project must account for the embodied carbon footprint of its construction through a one-time carbon offset. The offset must be tied to the square footage and general construction type of the building.

7. Responsible industry. All wood must be certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), a non-profit that promotes management of forests.

8. Appropriate materials/services radius. Source locations where materials and services must adhere to various restrictions in zoning and distance spans.

9. Leadership in construction waste. Construction waste must be diverted from landfills to low levels. Metals, paper and cardboard, soil and biomass, rigid foam, carpet and insulation all fall into this category.

10. Net zero water. One hundred percent of the water people use must come from either captured precipitation or a closed loop water system that accounts for downstream ecosystem impacts. The water must be appropriately purified without the use of chemicals.

11. Sustainable water discharge. One hundred percent of storm water and building water discharge must be managed on-site and integrated into a comprehensive system to feed the project’s demands.

12. A civilized environment. Every space that can be occupied must have operable windows, providing access to fresh air and daylight.

13. Healthy air: source control. All buildings must meet the following criteria:

  • Entryways must have an external dirt track-in system and an internal one contained within a separate entry space.
  • All kitchens, bathrooms, copy rooms, janitorial closets and chemical storage spaces must be separately ventilated.
  • The building must be a non-smoking facility.

14. Healthy air: ventilation. The building must be designed to deliver air change rates in compliance with California Title 24 requirements.

15. Beauty and spirit. The project must contain design features intended solely for human pleasure. The features must encourage the celebration of culture, spirit and place in a way that is appropriate to the function of the building.

16. Inspiration and education. Educational materials about the performance and operation of the building must be available to the public. This requirement allows the owners of the building to share successful solutions and to motivate others to make change as well. Also, non-sensitive areas of the building must be open to the public at least one day per year, allowing direct contact with a living building.

© 2016 Institute of Industrial Engineers. All rights reserved.