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Creating the Ideal Sustainable Building

Phipps and the Living Building Challenge

Posted by Joseph Nagy

We’ve been excited to participate in the Living Building Challenge as we help guide the Phipps Conservatory Center for Sustainable Landscapes toward meeting its requirements. Now that construction has begun, we’re excited to see some of the sustainable strategies take shape. Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens has been involved in in an ongoing effort to develop a sustainable campus that has included an implementation of organizational sustainability throughout their operations and facilities over the last decade. evolveEA has helped Phipps successfully integrate sustainable operating practices, evaluate and upgrade the performance of existing facilities, and pursue LEED for existing buildings certification. In an effort to achieve a greater level of sustainability, Phipps has begun constructing a significant research, educational and office project that meets the requirements of the Living Building Challenge, LEED Platinum and SITES Pilot certifications.

Most of you are probably familiar with LEED. SITES is a checklist system, similar to LEED, that addresses site and landscape issues in a significantly more detailed and comprehensive way. The Living Building Challenge asks us to build the ideal sustainable building. A building that is like a flower… rooted in place, yet: harvests its own energy and water; is adapted to climate and site; operates pollution free; is composed of simple integrated systems; respects its neighbors and neighborhood; and is beautiful. This is a daunting task that significantly elevates sustainable design beyond the comprehensive checklist of best practices provided by LEED and SITES certification.

As the project’s sustainability consultant, evolveEA has worked on this project since early 2007 to help Phipps define the project goals, select the project team, and enable an integrated design process. The design team has achieved the project’s program, budget and schedule goals while designing a net zero energy building. This was accomplished with low toxicity, regionally produced materials and a sustainably landscaped site that recycles all building and storm water. You can imagine what it took to do it! We are fortunate to have team members that are committed to sustainability and willing to make the persistent effort required to achieve the projects extensive sustainability goals. You can see a detailed list of the project’s goals at the Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes website.

Currently, Turner Construction has awarded most of the construction subcontracts and we are in the throes of submittal review. The difficulty of documenting the Living Building Challenge lies in the requirements to use no “Red List” materials and to comply with the local sourcing requirements. This is a major effort for subcontractors and those of us responsible for submittal review. We worked to familiarize the project contractors with these requirements, so the considerable additional effort required was not unexpected, and we are learning many of the nuances of this progressive system as we proceed. We have three separate submittal cover sheets to track how each submittal complies – one each for LBC, LEED, and SITES . We also use an extensive material tracking spreadsheet that lists all materials in each subcontract and documents each products compliance and contribution to the three sustainability certifications. The spreadsheet is an essential tool to highlight documentation gaps and assure that nothing is falling between the cracks.

All Living Building Challenge requirements must be met or the Challenge is not achieved! Although there are challenges when applying the Challenge’s ideals to specific project decisions, we’re fortunate that our extensive experience with sustainable projects gives us the necessary perspective to make these critical decisions. We’re excited to see such an important civic project meet this great challenge!