The importance of the Living Building Challenge

I’m writing to introduce The Living Building Challenge (LBC). This collaborative’s mission is to encourage the creation of Living Buildings, Landscapes and Neighborhoods around the world while inspiring, educating and motivating a global audience about the need for fundamental and transformative change.

The Cascadia Region Green Building Council (CRGBC)—the Pacific Northwest chapter of the USGBC—defines a living building as a structure that “generates all of its own energy with renewable nontoxic resources, captures and treats all of its water, and operates efficiently and for maximum beauty.”

So what exactly is this exciting program and how can you learn more? Here’s the detailed explanation:

The LBC is comprised of seven performance areas, or ‘Petals’: Site, Water, Energy, Health, Materials, Equity and Beauty. Petals are subdivided into a total of twenty Imperatives, each of which focuses on a specific sphere of influence. Follow this link to read a description of these imperatives for these petals.

There are also four Typologies: Building, Infrastructure, Landscape and Community Development. Project teams must identify the one that aligns with the project to determine which Imperatives apply.

Each project must also identify its Living Transect, or intensity of development surrounding its site. There are six Living Transects, ranging from Natural Habitat Preserve to Urban Core.

In order to achieve full certification 1 – all Imperatives assigned to the identified Typology must be met and 2 – the project must be operational for 12 consecutive months and will be based on its actual performance data.

Did you get all that?

Yeah, neither did I the first time – so here’s a broken-down description in a handy-dandy outline format:

1 – Pick a project type: building, infrastructure, landscape or community development.
2 – Identify the Living Transect or site density:
L1. Natural Habitat Preserve (Greenfield sites)
L2. Rural Agriculture Zone
L3. Village or Campus Zone
L4. General Urban Zone
L5. Urban Center Zone
L6. Urban Core Zone
3 – Look at the chart to see which Imperatives must be met for each of the seven Petals: Site, Water, Energy, Health, Materials, Equity and Beauty.
4 – Meet all the required Imperative
5 – Complete the project and then wait a year to be sure the building performs up to the design.

Ok. Not very simple, but if each new project achieved even one of the LBC Petals, the effects would be astounding.

Just think of about it: buildings that produce as much energy as they use (Net Zero Energy), that reuse all their water (Net Zero Water), that feel good to be in with natural light and vegetation (Health / Indoor Air Quality), and are built with non-toxic materials (no Red List items such as formaldehyde or PVC).

By the way, a project can achieve Petal Recognition, or partial program certification, for achieving all of the requirements of at least three Petals when at least one of the following is included: Water, Energy and/or Materials.
A project can also achieve Net Zero Energy Building certification.

Currently four projects have achieved Living Certification by meeting all Imperatives of the Living Building Challenge, three projects have achieved Petal Recognition, and four projects have achieved Net Zero Energy Building certification

For more information on the Living Building Challenge visit their website at and be sure to like the Living Building Challenge Collaborative Asheville Facebook page:

About the author:
Emily Coleman-Wolf, LEED AP, AIA, is a project architect at Padgett & Freeman Architects. She is passionate about green building and served on the WNCGBC Board of Directors from 2006 to 2010. She is now an Ambassador for the Living Building Challenge and is helping establish the Asheville Collaborative.