Living Building Challenge

A local organization, the Omega Institute, just accomplished what many people have said was impossible – they are one of the first two projects to be certified by the Living Building Challenge (LBC).

The LBC goes way beyond LEED, “it defines the most advanced measure of sustainability in the built environment possible today and acts to diminish the gap between current limits and ideal solutions. This certification program covers all building at all scales and is a unified tool for transformative design, allowing us to envision a future that is Socially Just, Culturally Rich and Ecologically Restorative.”

A LBC building must be net-zero energy, net-zero water, non-toxic, provide for habitat restoration on adjacent sites, and urban agriculture is mandated.

One of the most important features of LBC is that it measures the actual performance of buildings. Basically this means that a year after a building was built, measurements are taken to ensure that it is, in fact, net zero in terms of energy and water, etc. This is a big distinction from existing requirements like LEED and CA’s Title 24 which measure performance models and do not hold projects accountable to live up to those models.

LBC has seven performance categories, or ‘Petals’: Site, Water, Energy, Health, Materials, Equity and Beauty. Petals are subdivided into a total of twenty Imperatives:

  • Limits to Growth
  • Urban Agriculture
  • Habitat Exchange
  • Car Free Living
  • Net Zero Water
  • Ecological Water Flow
  • Net Zero Energy
  • Civilized Environment
  • Healthy Air
  • Biophilia
  • Red List
  • Embodied Carbon Footprint
  • Responsible Industry
  • Appropriate Sourcing
  • Conservation + Reuse
  • Human Scale + Humane Places
  • Democracy + Social Justice
  • Rights to Nature
  • Beauty + Spirit
  • Inspiration + Education

The project cannot contain any of the following Red List materials or chemicals:

  • Asbestos
  • Cadmium
  • Chlorinated Polyethylene and Chlorosulfonated Polyethlene
  • Chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs)
  • Chloroprene (Neoprene)
  • Formaldehyde (added)
  • Halogenated Flame Retardants
  • Hydrochlorofluorocarbons (HCFCs)
  • Lead (added)
  • Mercury
  • Petrochemical Fertilizers and Pesticides
  • Phthalates
  • Polyvinyl Chloride (PVC)
  • Wood treatments containing Creosote, Arsenic or Pentachlorophenol

When I visited Omega this summer they mentioned the Red List and how they had to consult an eight page list of banned materials when buying carpeting for their classroom space. I asked if this was burdensome, “not at all, it’s what is best for the people who use our space.”

Bravo to Omega for taking this leap and being a leader. Showing others what could be is a powerful thing.

Pyramid of Conservation

Ever read something that makes you go “YES! That’s what I’ve been trying to say!”? Well that happened to me recently when I was perusing an article by Lloyd Alter on when I saw him describe what I’ve been calling the “Sustainability Spectrum“:

Billions of dollars are being, if not wasted, at least not effectively used as the salesmen come around trying to sell windows and solar panels. Everyone wants the sexy stuff and governments are subsidizing it with tax credits, but as we said earlier, the people handing out tax credits should insist that you don’t get money for fancy photovoltaics unless you do the cheap low hanging fruit first.

To support his point, Mr. Alter provides links to:

Milwaukee Public Library Rooftop Solar

Interesting tidbits from this article on the Milwaukee Public Library’s rooftop solar array:

  • The library’s solar electric system is projected to generate 40,000 kilowatt hours (kWh) of power a year for the next 40 to 50 years.
  • …the new system will produce less than 10% of its electricity needs per year.
  • …solar electric prices dropped 15–20% between the time the library contracted for the system’s installation and the writing of this case study (March 2010).
  • The library’s solar system will pay for itself over about 15 years, which is a third of its projected lifespan. About 75% of the savings will be from electricity generation and 25% from demand reduction.

Part of me wants to say “timing is everything!”

Louise & the Eco Machine

Can’t resist sharing my good luck, this past week I finally had a chance to check out the Omega Institute’s Eco Machine. An Eco Machine is a natural wastewater treatment system. Omega’s plan is to use the resulting graywater to irrigate gardens and flush toilets.

Omega is a pretty fascinating place all around, but their Center for Sustainable Living is pretty remarkable, they are expected to be the first building in the United States to receive the Living Building designation in addition to receiving LEED Platinum certification. Some highlights:

  • wastewater turns to greywater within 36 hours through constructed wetlands
  • 20 geothermal wells
  • concrete that complies with the Living Building Challenge’s Red List*
  • net metering from solar array
  • partial green roof
  • No PVC
  • plywood in mechanical room from Obama’s inauguration stage!

To top it off I got to meet Louise Schaper who traveled to New York (coming all the way from Arkansas) to visit family and added a stop into Omega to check out the Eco Machine with me. Not quite sure which I was more excited about!

*LBC Red List (The project cannot contain any of the following red list materials or chemicals.):

No added formaldehyde
Halogenated Flame Retardants18
Neoprene (chloroprene)
Chlorinated Polyethylene and Chlorosulfonated Polyethlene21
Wood treatments containing Creosote, Arsenic or Pentachlorophenol

Solar Thermal vs. Solar PV

Curious about the differences between solar thermal and solar photovoltaic? I was. Check out this explanation from the US Energy Information Administration:

Solar energy can be converted to electricity in two ways:

  • Photovoltaic (PV devices) or “solar cells” change sunlight directly into electricity. Individual PV cells are grouped into panels and arrays of panels that can be used in a wide range of applications ranging from single small cells that charge calculator and watch batteries, to systems that power single homes, to large power plants covering many acres.
  • Concentrating Solar Power Plants generate electricity by using the heat from solar thermal collectors to heat a fluid which produces steam that is used to power the generator. Out of the 11 known concentrating solar power generating units operating in the United States at the end of 2008, 9 of these are in California, 1 in Arizona, and 1 in Nevada.

EIA’s Energy Kids page on solar continues the explanation in language we can easily understand!

New York’s Solar Thermal Roadmap

Renewable Energy World is reporting on New York’s plan to become a leader in the solar thermal landscape:

“By unveiling a solar heating and cooling programme that could create 25,000 new green jobs, generate US$2.6 billion in revenue and see 2 GW of new solar thermal capacity installed in the state over the next decade, New York has revealed its ambition to become America’s national leader in solar heating and cooling.”

New York Solar Energy Industries Association‘s Roadmap’s proposed implementation would save an estimated 6 million gallons of oil, 9.5 million ft³ of natural gas and displace 320 GWh of electricity production annually by 2020, translating into consumer savings of more than $175 million per year.

Greening Presentation for Onondaga County Public Library 5.7.10

PLA @Portland

I just returned from the Public Library Association Conference in Portland, OR. I was really impressed with the city and convention center from a green perspective.

From the MAX light rail system (which clearly marks the stop for the library!) to the bike friendly features of the city to solar powered trash compactors – around every corner was a new piece of evidence of thoughtfulness towards the environment.

The Oregon Convention Center (LEED-EB Silver) was another refreshing experience – clearly marked recycling points throughout the building, dual flush toilets, a large rain garden to mitigate storm water run-off from the site… and they had great signage alerting attendees to the sustainable features of the convention center – something I am highly critical of is when LEED buildings do not take the opportunity to educate users of the facility to the green features of their buildings. OCC does a great job in this area.

They city is eclectic, fun and funky and I appreciated the opportunity to visit.