Green Buildings Live Up to the Challenge

Washington University in St. Louis has opened the doors to one of the greenest buildings in the U.S, and aims to meet one of the toughest green building standards -- the Living Building Challenge. At the Tyson Research Center is the Living Learning Center, a building that will not only provides its own water and power, but also be built from reclaimed wood.

The building will capture and store all of the water it needs and harness energy from wind turbines or solar panels. The Living Learning Center will have a roof that will catch rainwater, which will be filtered and stored in a 3,000-gallon tank underground.

The Learning Center will monitor all building processes as well as displaying avoided emissions. The Center's specifications seem fit for Bruce Wayne, complete with a "bat house" for research, though the composting toilets might not be mansion-worthy.

The Living Building Challenge measures sixteen stated characteristics, including the use of nontoxic materials, habitat exchange and beauty. "In order to be certified as a Living Building, it must be fully operational for at least twelve consecutive months; this program demands proof that the occupants engage the project as anticipated. After all, an empty building serves no purpose," said Eden Brukman, research director at the Cascadia Region Green Building Council. Buildings are also required to use materials within 500-miles to reduce transportation-related emissions.

The Cascadia Region Green Building Council launched the Living Building project three years ago, and over 60 proposed structures have been registered since. The International Living Building Institute was recently created to serve international needs, and plans to triple the number of international registered projects in the next year.

One such project is expected to become the first recipient of the Living Building designation, the Omega Center for Sustainable Living (OSCL) in New York, which will house an Eco Machine, wastewater treatment facilities and classrooms. Another living building due to finish by the end of the year is the Energy Lab at the Hawaii Preparatory Academy, which will be almost entirely naturally circulating; the system will use air to chill water at night which is then later used to provide air-conditioning.

According to a study earlier this year, living buildings are cost efficient and in areas with high utility costs, payback periods were estimated to be shorter. The study also cited a university classroom building in Oregon, which was modified to the rigorous standards of a living building for "basically no cost."

Living buildings are a step beyond current green building requirements such as LEED certification, and are expected to be the high performance buildings of tomorrow.