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Understanding the Living Building Challenge and Its “Petals”

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The Living Building Challenge (LBC) is a certification program that defines the most advanced measure of sustainability—providing a framework for design, construction and the symbiotic relationship between people and all aspects of the built environment. It is one of most rigorous performance standards in the industry, as it requires net-zero energy, waste and water by every project.

Each facet of the Living Building Challenge is performance-based so every building must measure for 12 consecutive months after completion before receiving certification. But when projects achieve this level of performance, they can claim to be the ‘greenest’ anywhere and will serve as role models for future construction.

The Seven “Petals”

The LBC is comprised of seven performance areas, or “Petals” – Materials, Site, Water, Energy, Health, Equity, and Beauty. Here’s a brief overview of each Petal to help understand the goal and intentions of the certification.

1. Site Petal

This petal clearly articulates where it is acceptable to build, how to protect and restore a place once it has been developed and how to encourage the creation of communities that are based on the pedestrian and not the automobile. One of the Imperatives of the Site Petal is “Habitat Exchange,” which requires that for each hectare of development, an equal amount of land away from the project site must be set aside in perpetuity.

2. Water Petal 

The intent of this petal is to realign how people use water and redefine “waste” in the built environment. With the scarcity of potable water becoming a serious issue in many countries, the LBC envisions a future whereby all forthcoming buildings are configured based on carrying capacity of the site—in other words, being a net-zero water facility and using 100% of storm water onsite for internal water needs.

3. Energy Petal

The Energy Petal requires all buildings to rely solely on renewable forms of energy and operate year round in a pollution-free manner. Therefore, the LBC requires all projects to have net-zero energy, which can be attained by methods like photovoltaic solar panels, natural daylighting and other systems.

4. Health Petal

The intent of the Health Petal is to create robust, healthy spaces and encourage a highly productive indoor environment. For example, this Petal requires that every occupied interior space in the building must have operable windows to provide fresh air and daylight.

5. Materials Petal

This Petal strives to have a successful materials economy that is non-toxic, transparent and socially equitable. This is one of the most challenging Petals of the LBC because every project cannot contain any of the identified Red List materials, including PVC and Formaldehyde. Therefore, a detailed record of how each material is made by the manufacturer must be kept and turned in before certification can be achieved. They’re also a lot of specifications on the type of timber that can be used and where the materials can be sourced.

6. Equity Petal

The Equity Petal is focused on creating communities with equitable access to all people regardless of physical abilities, age or socioeconomic status. One Imperative of this Petal is “Rights to Nature” that states that a project “may not block access to, nor diminish the quality of, fresh air, sunlight and natural waterways for any member of society or adjacent developments.”

7. Beauty Petal 

The purpose of this Petal is to design buildings that elevate our spirits.  This Petal is based merely on genuine efforts to create aesthetically pleasing designs, so there are currently no limitations or restrictions for this Petal.

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