With its human-centric approach, the LBC has the potential to be a ‘next generation’ sustainability metric

Simon Sturgis

As carbon advisers for the UK HQ for a major US company we have got to know a bit about the Living Building Challenge (LBC). This is a metric devised by the International Living Future Institute based in Seattle. The LBC is still evolving but provides a holistic social and environmental framework for assessing the sustainability of buildings. The LBC offers certification against various “petals”. These include the obvious items such as site, water, energy, and materials. They also include health, equity and beauty. Grouped within each “petal” are “imperatives”, which is where it starts to get interesting.

These cover diverse issues such as healthy materials, civilized environment, social justice, embodied carbon, appropriate sourcing and urban agriculture. What is refreshing about LBC is that it takes a human-centric view of sustainability rather than the more mechanical Part L, and the LEED and BREEAM metrics. These together have made huge progress over the years in achieving more sustainable buildings with improved energy performance, and in raising awareness of sustainability generally. The problem is that they are really only understood by (some!) design and construction professionals, and are not “tactile” in a human user sense.

LBC takes a human-centric view of sustainability rather than the more mechanical Part L, and the LEED and BREEAM metrics

The Living Building Challenge is accessible to all. It will make sense to anyone who uses a building. The LBC does have a strong West Coast USA flavour, which can read oddly to us. It will also need some adaption for a UK or European user in response to climatic and built environment differences.

Personally I would also like to see it incorporate an economic prosperity petal as I think the key triangle is social, economic and environmental to achieve full sustainability. Consideration should be given to the whole life of a site, ie to include long-term thinking on materials, use and ultimately the disposal of a building. There needs to be more direct linkage between some of the petals, as some of these ideas are interdependent. Eg, embodied carbon footprint, energy, responsible industry and appropriate sourcing should all be strongly interlinked. Separate consideration of these can lead to unintended consequences.

Overall though I think this has the potential to be a “next generation” sustainability metric. Huge progress is still needed in the traditional areas of sustainability and emissions reduction, but a reorientation to a more people-focused approach would be a good thing. The Living Building Challenge is definitely worth a look: http://living-future.org/lbc

Simon Sturgis is managing director of Sturgis Carbon Profiling