The International Living Future Institute (ILFI) 2014 “unConference” once again gathered the innovators and leading voices in the sustainable development industry. Similar to previous years, the conference I attended last month focused on continuing the momentum of the Living Building Challenge (LBC) – a certification and advocacy program that is the benchmark for the world’s most sustainable buildings.

This year the unConference presented a unique evolutionary path for the program through the theme of “Beauty and Inspiration.” ILFI also announced the release of Living Building Challenge 3.0 that moves beyond sustainability to a model of interdependence and shared resources.

Informing Sustainability with Beauty

The conference theme was how beauty and inspiration can transform our movement and ourselves.

As both a green building practitioner at Paladino and volunteer with ILFI partner Cascadia Green Building Council, I came to the unConference to explore beauty and inspiration through different lenses. The LBC program is an inspirational tool that I already use to set the horizon for projects seeking the highest performance criteria.

Talking with project teams at the conference that have overcome the technical challenges inspired me to advocate for even deeper collaboration and greater resolve in pursuing innovative strategies. The stories and small victories I shared with peers at the volunteer summits reminded me that finding our personal connection to sustainability – the beauty – is critical to broadening the impact of what we do.

Living Building Challenge 3.0

The big news of Living Future 2014 was the release of Living Building Challenge 3.0. The latest version represents an evolution of the certification program, including key updates to the following elements:

  • Net Positive Thresholds. Imperatives under the Energy, Water, and Materials petals now require projects to generate more resources than they consume. For example, renewable energy must be generated to cover 105% of the building annual needs, any treated water effluent must recharge natural water flows, and excess material resources generated throughout a project’s lifespan must be returned to the industry loop.
  • Two new reporting programs. Declare and Just are now highlighted in specific imperatives that require program participation to achieve LBC certification. Nine additional Red List chemicals have been added that must now be avoided or reported.
  • New offset exchanges for Habitat, Carbon, and Equity are now available that allow program participants to pool funds to create a greater impact.

At first glance it may be surprising to imagine how the Living Building Challenge could be more stringent – indeed it is! But on closer inspection, a common thread emerges from these advancements: the intention to create built projects that create resource, information, and monetary abundance.

This is an intentional move beyond sustainability of individual projects to an interdependence model, where resources are shared with partners both locally and system-wide. This approach opens the door to a host of opportunities, such as scale jumping (which allows co-located projects to share green infrastructure) and cross-organizational collaboration to achieve goals that were previously unattainable.

In effect, the Living Building Challenge now becomes less of a yardstick and more of a leveraging tool.

Living Future Expansion

Another significant announcement at Living Future was the removal of the Neighborhood Typology from the Living Building Challenge program. Instead, neighborhoods are now addressed through a new program called the Living Community Challenge that includes additional planning-based strategies.

While this is an important step in addressing a different project scale, it also introduces the vertical sustainability framework that ILFI is calling the Living Future Challenge.

ILFI’s vision for this new program includes separate rating systems for the following, in addition to Living Building and Living Community:

  • Living Products
  • Living Food
  • Living Enterprises
  • Living Lifestyles

The goal of this framework is clear: to expand beyond buildings and address sustainability on a societal level. This is an ambitious charge to say the least, as it asks our industry to influence broader change to the food we eat, the ways we live, and the structure of our economy.

But this is precisely the point: if we truly want to change the world, we must engage those beyond our building industry comfort zone.

First, it’s about the scale of impact. Previously on this blog, we’ve discussed the importance of influencing sustainability at the organizational level to create lasting change. Too often, the building industry focuses on the changes that are made within the property boundary rather than the exponential impact that can occur when we work to change behavior and mindsets.

Our mantra at Paladino is that it’s not about the buildings – it’s about the people. The new framework from ILFI embraces that approach and sets it as the target for our profession – to use our projects as vehicles for change rather than just artifacts of good design.

Second, it’s about creating solutions that benefit all rather than some. During one of the volunteer summits, Patti Southard from King County GreenTools recast this challenge by asking the audience, “Who is not in the room?”

Noting the conference was primarily attended by building industry professionals, she highlighted that the people that need the change and can help us meet the challenges are too seldom engaged in the discussion. This is a fresh reminder that sustainability cannot exist without Equity — to provide access, investment, and voice to the community of stakeholders around a project, not just those who design or own the building.

What’s Next?

Seeing the changes at Living Future and the associated momentum in the industry leaves me with tremendous optimism for what is coming. Only ten years ago our conference discussions focused on how to make buildings less harmful, and now we are seeing projects emerge that are restorative to their place.

We previously gathered with peers to share the technical skills to craft better systems, whereas now our charge is inspire each other to be better agents of change at the community or organizational level. This shift is exciting because it redefines our role from technical advisor to trusted guide, giving us opportunity to create change at many scales and with multiplied effect.

At Paladino, we are launching the Abundance Leadership Network — creating change for both an organization and the individuals inside. As a volunteer with Cascadia, I’m helping our organization partner with the City of Seattle and other peer organizations to drive forward common advocacy goals that are more accessible to our region.

We know that not every building can be a Living Building, but if we use the philosophies of the program to inspire people we can go further and faster towards a future that is beautiful, equitable and sustainable.

International Living Future Institute (ILFI) 2014 “unConference





Andrew Lee is a Green Building Consultant, LEED® AP BD+C in Paladino Seattle

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