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The Living Building Challenge (LBC) is, certainly, a green building standard, but it's also a very different system. The LBC has a simple philosophy: "the most advanced measure of sustainability in the built environment possible today," according to its website.
"Basically, we're looking at nature as the ultimate measuring stick," says Eden Brukman, vice president, International Living Future Institute. That's reinforced by the rating system itself. The system has seven categories subdivided into a total of 20 Imperatives. Five of the categories — Site, Water, Energy, Health and Materials — would be right at home in any green rating system.
But the LBC also includes a category for Equity, which includes Human Scale and Human Places; Democracy and Social Justice; and Rights to Nature. The last category is Beauty, which includes Beauty and Spirit along with Inspiration and Education.
Education is a big part of the standard, says Brukman. The LBC focuses on how each project, regardless of size, has an impact on its community and its inhabitants.
"The standard is not just about buildings," she says. "None of the projects are inward-looking."
The purpose of the LBC is to be a leader in green buildings, says Mark Frankel, technical director, New Buildings Institute, and board member of the International Living Future Institute, which manages the LBC. By setting a high bar now, the hope is that other standards will catch up over time, thereby elevating the sustainability levels of all buildings. That can't come soon enough, says Frankel.
"If you look at the amount of progress we need to make in the built environment to reduce the impact on carbon generation and global warming, the building sector is a very important aspect," Frankel says. "Forty, 45 percent of carbon generation in the U.S. from energy use is in the building sector. So, if we talk seriously about reducing our energy use and carbon generation, we have to address the building sector."
The LBC aims to meet those goals with a demanding, performance-based standard. Before any facility can be certified, it must first provide operating data for a year to ensure that the practice is meeting the theory. And while the standard is very open-ended on exactly how goals should be met, there are some requirements structured in such a way as to reinforce best practices.
"We don't say 'thou shalt submeter,' but they can't provide us with the energy breakdown without it," says Brukman. "It's a choose-your-own-adventure with a good guide."
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