When Being LEED Isn’t Good Enough

For some buildings, LEED Platinum isn’t enough.

The newest, most exalted green-building certification just might be “Living Building” status, conferred by the Seattle-based International Living Building Institute (ILBI). We noted that the Tyson Living Center at Missouri’s Washington University won Living Building acclaim with a 2,900-square-foot facility that houses a computer lab, classrooms and administrative offices. But another building — the Omega Center for Sustainable Living in Rhinebeck, N.Y. — also got full Living certification, while a private home in Victoria, B.C., received partial certification.

image via Omega Institute

“These are, quite simply, the greenest buildings in the world,” ILBI CEO Jason F. McLennan said in a press release.

The New York building is a wastewater processing plant, although it also functions as a classroom and yoga studio at the 195-acre Omega Institute for Holistic Studies. The key distinction of Living Buildings is their ability to use net-zero energy and be water independent — and not just theoretically. They need to demonstrate that over the course of a year. Skip Backus, the CEO at Omega, called the Living Building an example of a “truly integrated approach to creating built environments that are in harmony with the natural world.”

The third winner was Ann and Gord Baird’s home on Vancouver Island. That’s a rainy place, but the house is made of cob — a mixture of sand, straw and clay — and designed to take full advantage of passive solar. There’s also roof-mounted solar panels, geothermal heating and cooling and as for water, the Bairds use well water for drinking only; all the other water they need is captured and filtered through their rooftop garden. The house earned “Petal Recognition” from the ILBI for site, water, health and beauty, falling short of full Living Building status only on energy and materials.

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Pete Danko is a writer and editor based in Portland, Oregon. His work has appeared in Breaking Energy, National Geographic's Energy Blog, The New York Times, San Francisco Chronicle and elsewhere.