16.2 Certification Systems: Living Building Challenge

Author: Jasmeet Rattan

ABSTRACT: The Living Building Challenge (LBC), is a grading system for sustainable buildings that aim to minimize the resources used to construct and maintain these spaces and promote sustainability through empathetic design.


Founded by world-renowned Jason F. McLennan, the Living Building Challenge (LBC) is a building rating system that aims to promote sustainable living through architecture that eliminates the depletion of natural resources. This system aims to create zero waste, energy, and water for spaces such as homes, offices, and recreational areas. This certification system focuses on seven key areas or “petals” that work together to create a green building by implementing guidelines around the site, water, energy, health, materials, equity, and beauty. These petals are further organized into 20 specific imperatives that must all be completed in order for a structure to be certified as a living building. Therefore, this rating system aims to promote development of sustainable architecture that cannot only reduce the detrimental impacts of climate change on the environment, but also regenerate ecosystems that positively contribute towards the planet and those living within those spaces.

The first petal to developing a sustainable site includes four imperatives which state that a living building must restrict growth, promote urban agriculture, provide habitat exchange, and function without the use of cars. Structures that aim to follow these criteria must develop their projects on land that has previously been manipulated by human construction such as greyfields or brownfields. These spaces must respect all the species that currently inhabit those areas alongside respecting the Indigenous land and ecosystems that are pre-existing in that region. Moreover, the structures must be constructed with equal spacing for agricultural development and habitat exchange to ensure that the project is fostering a sustainable environment for current and future generations. Finally, each site should contain accessible pathways for pedestrians to walk throughout the building, thus eliminating the need for cars, parking lots, gas stations, etc.

The second petal of water contains two imperatives stating that all water used throughout the building must be from a natural system such as rainwater and should only be cleansed naturally without the use of harmful chemicals. Additionally, all water found on site must be accommodated naturally to promote net zero water usage and eradicate negative ecological impacts on the surrounding environment.

The third petal of energy consists of a singular imperative affirming that all energy used on site is self-generated and is solely from renewable resources.

The fourth petal of health includes three imperatives articulating that the space should have a positive impact on human and plant health. The site must contain openings such as windows and doors that are accessible and can easily be regulated using simple opening and closing actions. Moreover, the air quality of the building should be exceptional with well-ventilated areas, constraint on smoking, and tools to monitor carbon dioxide levels throughout the premises. Finally, the site must be designed using biophilic components to make the environment captivating and positive for those inhibiting the space.

The fifth petal of materials uses five imperatives that state that the building being constructed cannot use any chemicals that are red listed by the LBC and must be accountable of their carbon footprint when constructing the site. Each project is responsible for providing sources to promote sustainability, advocating for several other green building certifications, and putting together a Material Conservation Management Plan which will explain how the team will mitigate the waste produced throughout the construction process.

The sixth petal of equity contains three imperatives geared towards the integrity of all humans and resources connected to the project. This criterion demands that projects be designed keeping the human scale in mind where everyone can walk through any distance of the site versus designing for a space large enough for cars to fit through. Moreover, each aspect of the project must be designed to ensure that it is an accessible and brave space for all individuals that can inhibit the area with comfort and ease. Finally, each building is required to not further damage the environment and instead promote the space with areas of fresh air, plenty of sunlight, and preserve any natural waterways present on site without affecting their movement.

Lastly, the seventh petal of beauty consists of two imperatives highlighting the importance of a space to please human nature and provide joy while educating individuals about the positive changes the space is consistently making towards the environment.

Accordingly, the Living Building Challenge is a certification system that is working towards zero waste and sustainable architectural development that can positively impact its surrounding environment and support the efforts of reversing climate change.


Clements, J. S. (2018). Two case studies of acoustical design in new construction using sustainable criteria: The living building challenge and WELL building design at the georgia institute of technology. The Journal of the Acoustical Society of America, 144(3), 1661-1661. https://doi.org/10.1121/1.5067409

Harris, G., & Littlemore, R. (2019). living up to the living building challenge. The Canadian Architect, 64(2), 23-49. Living Building Challenge. International Living Future Institute. (2020, February 20). https://living-future.org/lbc/

Ryn, S., & Allen, F. (2013). Design for an empathic world: Reconnecting people, nature, and self. Island Press/Center for Resource Economics.

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