Green building consulting company Solid Green Consulting is the first company to be working on an actual Living Building Challenge (LBC) project in South Africa.
The programme was developed by nongovernmental organisation International Living Future Institute (ILFI), to lead transformation towards a socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative society.
“The LBC is possibly the most rigorous green building certification programme and sustainable design framework globally,” says Solid Green Consulting director and Living Future ambassador Marloes Reinink.
ILFI developed three main certification systems, namely the LBC, Living Community Challenge and Living Product Challenge. They also developed a number of transparency labels, such as Declare – construction products, Just – organisations and Reveal – energy consumption.
The LBC sets 20 imperatives, grouped into seven petals – Place; Water; Energy; Health and Happiness; Equity; and Beauty. To meet the full LBC, projects must meet all requirements. Certification is also based on actual, rather than anticipated performance, demonstrated over a 12-month performance period after completion of the project.
A project can also opt for Living Building Petal Certification, which means it must meet the requirements of three petals, one of which must be either Water, Energy or Materials. “This is to ensure that at least one of the most important environmental imperatives is being addressed,” explains Reinink. In addition, Imperative Limits to Growth and Imperative Inspiration and Education requirements must be met.
Distinctiveness of LBC
Whereas green building rating tools are creating market transformation within the built environment by setting challenging, but reachable environmental targets, the LBC is a philosophy and a tool for projects to encourage moving beyond merely doing less bad to becoming truly regenerative. LBC projects strive to have a positive impact on the environment.
Green building rating tools allow projects to create their point strategy and pick and choose which credits to target based on their sustainability goals. To fully meet the LBC, projects must meet all requirements in the imperatives.
Where the green building rating tools award points for simulated energy efficiency, the LBC requires projects to be net zero and to demonstrate this through one year of operation to confirm that the project has generated at least as much energy as it used, explains Reinink.
Green building tools give points for high-efficiency plumbing fixtures, while the LBC requires that the project is “net positive in terms of water – meaning that the project must harvest as much water as it consumes; and all wastewater (grey and black) must be treated on site and either reused or returned to its natural cycle”.
Further, green building tools allow for the use of any sort of material in the construction of a building; the LBC requires that projects do not use any Materials containing any of the Red List chemicals. The Red List is an imperative under the Materials petal, and probably one of the most challenging imperatives in the LBC. A building project may not contain any of the Red List chemicals or chemical groups as they either pollute the environment, bio-accumulate up the food chain until they reach toxic concentrations, and/or pose health concerns to construction workers or occupants.
Solid Green is involved in a residential LBC project in Cape Town, in the Western Cape. Reinink says the project consists of two residential buildings, each accommodating a two-family duplex in place of a single-family house.
Reinink explains that the project is still in the “re-zoning process, which can take up to 12 to 18 months in Cape Town”. This allowed the project team to have some additional design time to thoroughly explore the LBC imperatives one by one. “As this is the first project in South Africa, there is also quite a lot of time involved in communicating with the ILFI to clarify certain requirements in our context.”
She adds that construction is scheduled to start in 2020 and certification will most likely only be achieved in 2023, after a year’s worth of data becomes available.
The roof area is designed to maximise day-lighting, renewable energy and rainwater harvesting benefits, taking into account the correct solar orientation for the photovoltaic panels, south light penetration into the space and areas for rainwater collection, explains Reinink.
A series of filtration systems and gardens is being designed to allow for wastewater from the buildings to be purified using the landscape as a closed-loop filtration system that concludes in an aquifer from which the water is recycled back into the building or supplemental water is infiltrated back into the ground.
“A sufficient amount of solar panels will be installed to cover the full energy requirements of the buildings.” The LBC allows projects to use the grid as a battery; however, most South African municipalities currently do not allow feeding back of any renewable energy into the grid.
“Although Cape Town is in the process of changing this, and we hope that, by the time we finalise the project, these barriers will be lifted.” Having to provide massive battery storage would defeat the sustainability goals set by the project, explains Reinink.
As part of the Materials petal, each building material and fit-out material goes through thorough scrutiny in terms of the Red List. This list really pushes material suppliers to think and rethink their products, as one or more of the Red List chemicals is very likely to be present.
“A substantial amount of time goes into material research and finding suppliers who are willing to work with us to demonstrate that their products are compliant with the requirements.”
Reinink adds that another property developer is seriously investigating the possibilities of a Living Building Petal Certification for a commercial 2 500 m2 office development in Johannesburg – the project is scheduled to break ground early next year.