The Living Future Conference


I’m just back from Portland, Oregon, where I attended, and presented at, the annual Living Future Conference.

The Living Future Conference was created by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI) initially to provide a networking and learning venue for designers and builders involved in creating buildings that are being certified through the Living Building Challenge.

Unlike its better known cousin, the LEED Rating System (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) of the U.S. Green Building Council, the Living Building Challenge is not a points-based system, but rather a collection of very specific, very challenging requirements.

To achieve full Living Building Challenge (LBC) certification, buildings must:

-- Operate on a net-zero-energy basis -- using no more energy, on an annual basis, than is collected by the building (certification can not be earned until a full year of data is collected proving that it is actually operating to be zero-net-energy);

-- Operate on a net-zero water basis -- using no more water on an annual basis than is collected on the site;

-- Contain no "red list" chemicals -- LBC maintains a long list of chemicals that cannot be used, including polyvinyl chloride (PVC), brominated flame retardants, and heavy metals like the mercury found in fluorescent lights; and

-- Address various other requirements related to place, health, equity, and beauty (yes, beauty). These requirements (energy, water, materials, place, health, equity, and beauty) are referred to as "petals" in the rating system.

In addition to full certification, buildings can be certified for achieving just a portion of the requirements -- referred to as "petal certification" -- or buildings can be recognized for net-zero-energy performance -- just one of the petals. The latter certification is the fastest growing of the LBC certification options.

Needless to say, achieving LBC certification is very hard. Since the launch of the program eight years ago only a handful of buildings have achieved full certification (five and counting), another four have been recognized as petal-certified projects, and eight projects have been certified as net-zero energy.

Broadening the scope of
Living Future

Even as ILFI signs up more and more projects for the Living Building Challenge (just over 200 projects are currently registered), the organization is pushing the envelope by expanding its scope. A number of new programs and initiatives were announced at the Living Future conference.

First, the Living Future Challenge was announced by ILFI founder Jason McLennan. This will expand beyond buildings to address all industries and scales, according to ILFI. This will be a sort-of umbrella program that houses not only the Living Building Challenge, but also various new programs to be rolled out over the next few years: Living Communities, Living Products, Living Enterprises, Living Lifestyles, and Living Food.

"As our pioneering Living Building Challenge project teams have discovered in the past seven years," notes Jason McLennan, CEO of the Living Future Institute and primary author of the Living Building Challenge, "green buildings do not exist in silos. They are part of the web of influences moving from the materials we use to build to the structures we create and maintain, on to the communities we inhabit and the lives we ultimately live."

While the Living Building Challenge will remain a building certification program, a new version, 3.0, was rolled out at the Living Future Conference. The update makes some important clarifications and addresses resilience more directly than in earlier versions.

The Living Community Challenge is focused on planners and developers, and it will help them rethink how they design community-scale projects. Certification will be available at the master-planning stage as well as for fully built community or campus projects. Elements of the Living Community Challenge were previously included in the Living Building Challenge, but they will gain emphasis through this separate program.

The Living Product Challenge, to be launched later this year, will seek to transform not only building products, but products of all types, including consumer goods and clothing.

Other programs, like the Living Food Challenge, are still very much at their formative stage. In the conference keynote presentation, McLennan said that visionary and author Paul Hawken encouraged him to take on these new challenges. "We have become very adept and skillful and imagining the end of civilization," said McLennan, "but not so good at envisioning it’s transformation."

McLennan is well aware of how audacious ILFI’s plans are. "If anyone thinks we’re overreaching, [expletive]-yeah, we’re overreaching," he said. "We all need to be overreaching."

Certification for
our home in Dummerston?

I’d like to better understand the Living Building Challenge and the various other initiatives within the ILFI Living Future Challenge. Toward this end, Jerelyn and I are considering certifying our new home through the LBC’s Net Zero Energy certification program.

The Net Zero Energy certification requires that "one hundred percent of the building’s energy needs on a net annual basis must be supplied by on-site renewable energy." It will take a while to know whether we can get there -- as well as some other program requirements -- but we’d like to find out. And in the process, perhaps I can help to advance these initiatives.

Alex Wilson is the founder of BuildingGreen, Inc. and the Resilient Design Institute (, both based in Brattleboro. Send comments or suggestions for future columns to


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