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.

Green Team Meeting #3

Today’s Green Team meeting at MHLS was a little bittersweet.

I’ll start with the sweet, there was lots of it!
1) We reviewed the content for the new staff web page that will orient staff to what we did with their 300+ ideas they submitted as part of the “MHLS Goes Green” Initiative we launched earlier this year.

  • I noticed a bunch of suggestions were for things we already do so I found a gentle way to convey this and coupled that with a list of short term and long term items we’re acting on that people suggested. These are things that take more research or a bucket load, or even handful, of cash that we just don’t have right now. (Thanks NYS Budget.)
  • Summarized the “Recycling Rules” for the building so there’s one central place to double check if it’s ok to recycle paper with staples (it is).
  • A “Demystification of Myths” Q&A for things we’ve heard that people misunderstand – whether it saves more energy to turn off an office light for an hour or leave it on (turn it off); do we really recycle paper or does it just go in the dumpster (we really recycle it!); why we don’t use vinegar and baking soda to clean; and an explanation of how power is still being used even when things are “turned off” to encourage smart strip usage.
  • Two “personal responsibility” tip lists – the first on paper consumption, what they can do personally to reduce, reuse and recycle paper the second, their top 10 suggestions for conserving energy.

I’ll post the staff page once I finish so you can see what I’m talking about.

2)We agreed on small signs that can go in various spots around the building to reinforce the info on the tip sheets for conserving energy and paper. They will all be branded with the same logo, a green leafy thing with the words “MHLS Goes Green” so they are easily recognizable and to help promote to our members and trustees that we’ve done a coordinated conservation effort. Signs will go on the copy machines to remind people to double side copies, near light switches to remind people to shut off lights as they leave for a meeting or for the day, etc.

3) We planned a staff education event with two parts, classroom time to go over the conservation tip sheets / recycling rules and a walk-thru of the building so everyone can learn how to “use” the building together. We’re planning to integrate opening and shut down procedures for security along with the conservation and recycling rules to help everyone get on the same page. We decided on 4 offerings, max of 6 people in each session to get through it in an hour or less. Our staff is super friendly and likes to chat and joke around when they get together so we figured 6 would be easiest to keep focused!

So the not-so-sweet part? We had a frank discussion about whether or not we could pledge ourselves to the Sustainable Hudson Valley’s 10% Challenge: to reduce our fossil fuel usage and to educate 10% of our constituents about energy efficiency options. While I know for sure we could slam dunk the education challenge the group came to the disappointing conclusion that we could not meet the 10% reduction in fossil fuel usage in the next year.

We’ve probably met the 10% challenge in past years (weatherization, turning down thermostats, water heater, wrapping the water heater) but have plateaued to some degree. At the moment, we are stymied by our budget woes.Since we’ve already implemented the free options and, right now, can’t afford even our next low cost solutions (lamp replacement, water cooler upgrade, etc.) the group felt we’d be setting ourselves up for failure. Next on our list is new windows or at least storm windows and we’ve been unable to come up with a match for the State Construction grant due to our budget situation. Solar panels are on the list, but again, grants cover half and we have no capital budget at this point.

While this may be a short term set back I’m not convinced we can’t do the 10% this year. I’m going to crunch some numbers, call some folks and take a hard look at what 10% looks like and maybe re-pitch this opportunity to the group. Stay tuned!!

Welcome to Sustainable Libraries

Welcome to Sustainable Libraries. Libraries + Green/Sustainable Buildings is something I strongly believe in.

Libraries connect communities, provide opportunity for anyone interested and are in just about every community in the country – what better place for people to learn how sustainable building practices can change the world.

My day job involves helping libraries find sustainable support to keep their doors open in the form of funding and people power. So it’s all related for me: Sustainable Libraries are libraries that invest in themselves and their legacy throughout their organization – the facility, community connection, collection, technology and staff.

I hope you’ll join me as we watch and collaborate with libraries around the country who are doing their best for their local and global communities.