Living buildings is one of the 20 carbon reduction options that Drawdown lists as Coming Attractions—strategies that weren’t ready for prime time when the book was published, but looked like promising approaches through mid-century.
Drawdown says the concept of living buildings goes beyond the idea that buildings can be “less bad”, asserting that they can actually “live” and revitalize the environment as well as communities. It’s a more advanced version of the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification program.
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The origin of living buildings dates back to the period after the LEED certification program was developed. That was when architect Jason McLennan, in partnership with the Cascadia Green Building Council in the northwestern United States, created the Living Building Challenge (LBC).
The LBC is also a building certification program, based on seven key categories referred to as petals: Place, Water, Energy, Health and Happiness, Materials, Equity, and Beauty. The framework “is based on regeneration, buildings that can reanimate and renew the environment, for both the natural world and human communities,” Drawdown states.
Some examples of how, exactly, a living building can renew the environment include producing local food and generating renewable energy. But the summary says living buildings take green building design further still: They offset emissions by producing more energy than they use, operate extremely efficiently, and use onsite renewable energy sources like solar.
The process of mainstreaming living buildings faces several challenges, and initially requires significant financial investment and technical knowledge. However, Drawdown says the cost of living buildings has been falling, and 400 of the structures are now completing the LBC certification process around the world.