In the world of green architecture, no project has more stringent design criteria than the Living Building Challenge, a rigorous certification system that requires that structures follow 20 design “imperatives” across seven categories, from water and energy use to social
equity and beauty. While the better-known LEED standards pre-certify buildings based on conformance of design specifications with best practices, the Living Building Challenge also judges buildings on actual performance, requiring a documented 12-month occupancy phase. Projects must also prove that they exclude 14 banned materials, including halogenated flame retardants and PVC plastics, through supplier audits for every product used in construction. Since its inception in 2006,the challenge has fully certified only three buildings and partially certified two others, raising questions of whether it will have real-world impact. But program director Amanda Sturgeon says the project’s standards are already pushing architecture and design to be more progressive, sustainable, and accountable. “When teams start to ask their suppliers for every ingredient of every product, the message moves up the chain,” she says.