Living Building Challenge kicks off

November 11, 2015 by Emma Zehner, Executive Editor

The living building challenge for the ’66 Environmental Center will take place this year.

The living building challenge for the ’66 Environmental Center will take place this year. Emory Strawn/Photo Editor

Following the completion of the Class of 1966 Environmental Center last spring, the College started the Living Building Challenge (LBC) this fall, a year-long performance period which asks users to work with net-zero water and net-zero energy. On Tuesday, faculty and students hosted an official launch ceremony at the center.

“Getting everyone to care and be intentional about how we use resources in this building will be challenging,” Mike Evans, assistant director of the Zilkha Center for Environmental Initiatives, said. “This is an incredibly high standard of sustainability that we are aiming for … It’s going to take people taking the extra second or two to think about and be willing to close the window that is ajar that they are studying next to in the early winter to make sure we don’t heat the outside air.”

The center currently houses the offices of 11 faculty and staff members. Students also can take advantage of the facilities of the center, including its classroom, study space, meeting space, ter-race and kitchen (with training) 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

The LBC outlines seven “petals” that a building must meet to earn the certification of a living building: place, water, energy, health and happiness, materials, equity and beauty.

According to the standards for net-zero energy and net-zero water, the building must collect all of the water used from the roof and all of its energy for electricity from solar panels. 

“The solar is connected to the grid and when our panels are harvesting more than we are using (typically [in] summer), the excess is sent back to the grid,” Evans said. “And when we are using more than we are harvesting ([in] winter), we will take from the grid.  Over the course of the year, we have to not use more than we collected.”

There are also site requirements for the building. LBC standards outline that edible landscaping or urban food production compose 35 percent of the center’s site. The center’s landscaping includes berry bushes, a fruit orchard and vegetable and herb gardens.

Evans says that meeting the water and energy requirements will be most difficult: “The most challenging are net-zero energy, net-zero water and the materials which must be locally sourced or produced and must have minimal negative impact on human and ecosystem health in their extraction and production.”

There are eight certified living buildings in the world, including Smith College’s Bechtel Envi-ronmental Classroom. In addition, according to Evans, there are about 100 other projects in the works. The College is one of three colleges to have an LBC project.

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