December 2006

Volume 15, Number 12

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Cascadia Challenges Green to Go Beyond Platinum

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The Cambrian College Sustainable Centre in Sudbury, Ontario, is being designed by BNIM Architects to meet Living Building standards.

Rendering courtesy of BNIM Architects

Hoping to transcend the prevailing mindset in the green building community, in which a Platinum score in the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) LEED® Rating System is the highest possible achievement, the Cascadia Region Green Building Council, a chapter of both USGBC and the Canada Green Building Council, used Member Day during the November 2006 Greenbuild conference in Denver to issue a new challenge.

The objective of the Living Building Challenge is simple: “to define a true measure of sustainability in the built environment based on the best current thinking possible,” according to the draft version 1.0 of the standard, authored by Jason F. McLennan, CEO of Cascadia. The draft continues, “Projects that achieve this level of performance can claim to be the most sustainable in North America.” Making the case for the standard, McLennan told EBN that “until something is published as a standard, people can’t respond to it. Now that it is codified, Living Buildings will emerge.” Cascadia expects the first Living Buildings to be certified within three years.

Achieving Living Building certification will not be easy. Based on 16 prerequisites (see sidebar), the Challenge offers no credits beyond those requirements. As a result, there are no levels of certification; a building either passes or it does not. “Our standard is much more rigorous [than LEED Platinum] from an environmental standpoint, but easier to document,” noted McLennan. That’s because the system is based not on prescriptions but rather on performance. In contrast to a LEED rating, where several prerequisites and credits are awarded based on modeling, a Living Building certification will not be awarded until a building has been operating and audited for at least one year.

Cascadia does not intend the Living Building standard as competition to LEED, said McLennan, and it hopes that USGBC will find a way to incorporate the new standard into its next major overhaul of LEED (see New Infrastructure for LEED), perhaps as a rating level above Platinum. “We are happy to give our standard to USGBC if they want to use it,” said McLennan. “Both Cascadia and USGBC want buildings to exceed Platinum—it’s the ultimate goal.” While Cascadia is prepared to manage the program itself, according to McLennan, it is currently seeking collaboration with USGBC.

Although McLennan said he has not yet heard any criticism of the system, he agreed that some individuals and industries will likely be unhappy with various requirements, a situation about which he’s not particularly concerned. “If people make toxic products, they won’t be happy [with parts of the Challenge]. But then again, we as consumers shouldn’t be happy with products that are toxic either,” he said. “We aren’t trying to make everyone happy, but rather to do the right thing.”

Response to the new system has been enthusiastic. In just the first week following the system’s Greenbuild debut, at least a dozen developers expressed interest in using the system on their projects, said McLennan. The standard’s technical development team, which includes EBN advisory board member Bob Berkebile, FAIA, of BNIM Architects; Kath Williams, Ph.D., of Kath Williams + Associates; and Tom Lent of the Healthy Building Network; among other big names in the green building realm, brings attention and credibility to the standard. In response to Cascadia’s challenge, USGBC president and CEO Rick Fedrizzi announced a competition based on the Living Building principles. Details on the competition will be forthcoming, and winners will be announced at the 2007 Greenbuild conference. The Cascadia Green Building Council and the Washington chapter of The American Institute of Architects, meanwhile, are planning a regional conference called “Living Future” for April 2007 in Seattle.

– Jessica Boehland

For more information:

Jason F. McLennan, CEO

Cascadia Region Green Building Council

Seattle, Washington

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December 5, 2006