More precious than Platinum (LEED’s highest honor)

What’s on the other side of Platinum? Those who feel that even LEED’s highest honor isn’t quite precious metal, or green, enough—or who feel it could use a supportive cousin to raise the bar for green building aficionados everywhere—have designed the Living Building Challenge.

In 2006, the Cascadia Region (Portland, Seattle, Vancouver, and such) Green Building Council set out 16 prerequisites for buildings, as opposed to the 69 possible credits, post-construction, that LEED buildings can seek to attain. Buildings, they asserted, should “operate as elegantly and efficiently as a flower,” which translates into three main tenets:


  • They generate their own energy with renewable resources
  • They capture and treat all their own water on site
  • They efficiently use resources and maximize beauty.


That last tenant seems up for debate—if only we could all agree on what constituted beauty (or, more accurately, if only everyone would defer to me on what constitutes beauty). But the rest are important. Even as LEED 3.0—which will address criticisms long leveled against it, like its lack of focus on bioregionalism and oddly weighted credits—gets ready for its big debut at Greenbuild this November, programs like LBC are setting future-friendly goals. Buildings don’t just have to be less bad, they assert; they can actually have a net benefit. They can go beyond zero carbon, and become electricity generators of their own.


Living Buildings will have to be in operation for a year before they can be certified; hence, there aren’t any yet. But there are winners of the Living Building Challenge, including the Omega Center for Sustainable Living, planned in Rhinebeck, NY. The project includes a new septic system based on the natural flow of estuaries—it’s called the Eco Machine. Materials include local wood rainscreen siding, a standing seam metal room, concrete with local aggregates… you get the idea: local and long-lasting.


The Living Building Certification is intended to be a compliment to LEED, if folks choose to use it that way. It’s not, originators assure, a competitor. But we’ll find out if it will take off on its own, or give LEED 3.0 a run for its money. Either way, making zero-energy building the new bottom line can’t be bad.