Understanding the Living Building Challenge

ML Vidas Sustainability Consultant

Understanding the Living Building Challenge

This week we had a special Living Building Challenge presentation and tour of Desert Rain (the custom home we’re building in Bend, Oregon that aims to meet the Living Building Challenge). We had a great turn out and some solid enthusiasm for making green construction greener.

ML Vidas, a local architect and sustainability consultant, has been giving presentations on the Living Building Challenge to all of the trades professionals involved on this project as well as giving community presentations. Her presentations summarize the thought behind Living Building Challenge – a program of the International Living Future Institute – and the seven performance areas.

Site Petal

The Site Petal requires: Limits to Growth, Urban Agriculture, Habitat Exchange, and Car Free Living.

The Site Petal provides guidance for determining acceptable areas for people to build. It articulates how to protect and restore a place once it has been developed. The concept of “site” goes beyond the physical footprint of a home or building; it encourages the creation of communities that are based on pedestrian traffic as opposed to car and truck traffic. Communities should also be supported by local and regional agriculture, since no truly ‘sustainable’ community can rely on globally sourced food production.

The program focuses on compact, connected communities – inherently conserving the natural resources that support human health and the farmland that feed us. As previously disturbed areas are restored, the trend is reversed and nature’s functions are invited back into a healthy interface with the built environment.

Water Petal

The Water Petal requires:
Net Zero Water and Ecological Water Flow

The Water Petal acknowledges that water is a precious resource and strives to realign how people use water and redefine ‘waste’ in the built environment.

Collecting sufficient water from the site for the building to be net-zero. Water can be used and purified and then used again and again, but net-zero water practices are often illegal due to health, land use and building code regulations.

Energy Petal

The Energy Petal requires:
Net-Zero Energy

The Energy Petal signifies a new age of design, wherein the built environment relies solely on renewable forms of energy and operates year round in a pollution-free manner. It prioritizes reductions and optimization before technological solutions are applied

Health Petal

The Health Petal requires 
Civilized Environment,
Healthy Air, and

The Health Petal focuses on creating robust, healthy spaces. A civilized environment includes that windows open and allow for light and fresh air.  The guidelines for ensuring healthy air include entryways with an external dirt track-in system, separate venting for kitchens, bathrooms, copy rooms, janitorial closets and chemical storage spaces. Biophilia design includes environmental features, natural shapes and forms, natural patterns and processes, light and space, place-based relationships, and evolved human-nature relationships.

Materials Petal

The Materials Petal requires that no
Red List items are included, an Embodied Carbon Footprint,
 Responsible Industry, 
Appropriate Sourcing, and
 Conservation and Reuse.

The Materials Petal promotes a materials economy that is non-toxic, transparent and socially equitable. Throughout their lifecycle, materials are responsible for many adverse environmental issues including illness, squandered embodied energy, pollution, and resource depletion. The Red List aims to remove the worst known offending materials and practices.

The Living Building Challenge envisions a future where all materials in the built environment are replenishable and have no negative impact on human and ecosystem health.

Equity Petal

The Equity Petal requires Human Scale and Humane Places, Democracy and Social Justice, and 
Rights to Nature.

The Living Building Challenge envisions communities that allow equitable access to all people regardless of physical abilities, age, or socioeconomic status.

Beauty Petal

Mandating beauty is, by definition, an impossible task. And yet, the level of discussion and, ultimately, the results are elevated through attempting difficult but critical tasks. In this Petal, the Imperatives are based merely on genuine efforts. We do not begin to assume we can judge beauty and project our own aesthetic values on others. But we do want to understand people’s objectives and know that an effort was made to enrich people’s lives with each square meter of construction on each project.