The Positive Impact of Buildings: The Living Building Challenge

By Emily Andrews, LEED AP O+M
Executive Director, USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter

Last year, our article in honor of World Green Building Week explored Net Zero buildings - a building that produces as much energy as it uses over the course of a year. Now, let’s take net zero to the next level with the Living Building Challenge. The idea behind Living Buildings is that they give more than they take, creating a positive impact on human and natural systems. Instead of just net zero, we are talking about net positive energy. Now add net positive water and waste into the equation, and imagine a building that is designed and constructed to function like a flower. A building that generates all of its own energy with renewable resources, and captures and treats all of its water. Like a flower, it operates efficiently and for maximum beauty; informed by and responding to the characteristics of its bioregion.

No one said this would be easy, that is why it’s called the Living Building Challenge. It is meant to challenge and inspire all of us to think beyond the four walls of a building. How do our buildings impact the environment and climate? How do they impact our day to day lives, our mental and physical wellbeing? How can buildings, landscapes and communities be a solution to climate change while providing inspiration and beauty?

The Living Building Challenge encourages us to stop doing “less bad” and start moving towards buildings that provide positive and regenerative impacts. Instead of thinking about reducing our negative impact, or footprint, on the environment; Living Buildings strive to give back by creating a larger, positive impact, often referred to as a handprint.

Formally launched in 2006, the Living Building Challenge is a rigorous green building standard that was developed by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI). Using principles of social and environmental justice, ILFI seeks to counter climate change by pushing for an urban environment free of fossil fuels. ILFI is the parent of several rating systems. The Living Building Challenge was the first, but ILFI oversees a Zero Energy and Zero Carbon certification, as well as the Living Product Challenge, the Living Community Challenge, and Reveal, Declare and JUST. Reveal is an energy efficiency label for buildings, Declare is a green nutrition label for products, and JUST is a social justice program for companies and organizations.

In recent years, the International Living Future Institute has branched out from its Northwest base and started Collaboratives in other states and cities. These Collaboratives are advocates for inspiring community leaders and citizens to implement deep green building strategies and policy. There is a lot of synergy between the mission of IFLI and the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). The overlapping vision to transform the built environment and communities into healthier, prosperous, and more environmentally responsible spaces has led to a blooming partnership between USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter and ILFI’s St. Louis Collaborative. USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter is proud to be the home of ILFI in St. Louis.

To initiate this partnership, the ILFI – St. Louis Collaborative hosted a Kick-Off Event in August at the Jan Phillips Learning Center, which is owned by The College School and is seeking Living Building Certification. Shortly after the Kick-Off, the local Collaborative’s Steering Committee held its first meeting. The Steering Committee is co-chaired by Ian Cook, with Hellmuth+Bickenese Architects, and Lance McOlgan, with BatesForum. They are busy meeting regularly to plan for Collaborative activities in the coming year. Expect to see USGBC-Missouri Gateway and the ILFI – St. Louis Collaborative working together. By combining resources, USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter and ILFI will collaborate to continue promoting the importance of green building design, construction, and operations, with an increased focus on buildings and communities that create positive impacts on our planet and the people who live here.

St. Louis is home to two Living Building Challenge projects. The Tyson Living Learning Center was completed in 2009 <picture above>. In 2010 it was one of the first two buildings in the world to achieve Living Building Challenge certification. Tyson is the environmental field station for Washington University in St. Louis. Their 2,000-acre landscape provides opportunities for research and teaching, including research experience in the natural and environmental sciences for pre-college and undergraduate students. The aforementioned Jan Phillips Learning Center <pictured left during the ILFI-St. Louis Collaborative Kick-Off> is located in the LaBarque Watershed near Pacific, MO. The building is designed to connect people with nature and advocate a sustainability ethic for our region, promoting The College School’s values of conservation and sustainability. Living Building Challenge certification requires actual performance data over twelve months, so the Learning Center is in documentation process now.   Editor’s note:  The Jan Phillips Learning Center was an AGCMO 2017 Construction Keystone Award project recipient.

We are lucky to already have two excellent local examples of Living Buildings. Working together, we hope to catalyze change in the greater St. Louis area, linking new and complementary ideas from ILFI and USGBC-Missouri Gateway to pursue additional Living Buildings. We may still have a lot to learn, and barriers to overcome, but let’s envision a future where instead of leaving a negative footprint, our buildings create a positive handprint.

Contact:  Emily Andrews, LEED AP O+M, Executive Director

USGBC-Missouri Gateway Chapter

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