A Brief History of The Living Building Challenge

The idea for Living Building Challenge emerged in the mid-1990’s during an effort to produce the most advanced sustainable design project in the world: EpiCenter in Bozeman, Montana. This project was led by Bob Berkebile and Kath Williams and was funded by the National Institute of Standards and Technology. Working with Berkebile at BNIM, Jason F. McLennan guided the research and technology solutions for EpiCenter – in the process, he also began to conceptualize the requirements for what is now known as a Living BuildingTM. Following EpiCenter, Berkebile and McLennan continued to develop the idea and published several related articles.

In 2000, BNIM was hired by the David and Lucile Packard Foundation to examine the economic and environmental implications of a Living Building alongside the various levels of LEED® certification. The findings were presented in a document called the Packard Matrix, which demonstrated that a Living Building was the smartest long-term choice economically, although it carried a hefty first-cost premium. (In 2009, the Institute’s Living Building Financial Study proved that first-cost premiums have diminished, and certain building types make immediate financial sense.)

In 2005, McLennan began to turn the theoretical idea into a codified standard. He presented Living Building Challenge version 1.0 to the Cascadia Green Building Council in August 2006, and three months later the Challenge was formally launched to the public. In 2007, McLennan hired Eden Brukman to direct the ongoing development and international deployment of the Living Building Challenge. Together, they authored Living Building Challenge 2.0, rounding-out the requirements of the program and demonstrating how to apply the Imperatives to various scales of development and settings – from partial building renovations to whole structures, and from individual landscape and infrastructure projects to entire neighborhoods.

In response to an increase in global attention and interest, Cascadia founded the International Living Building Institute in 2009 as an umbrella organization for the Living Building Challenge and its auxiliary programs. The Institute certified the first projects in 2010, which changed the green building movement on a fundamental level. Groups from Mexico, Ireland, Australia, Germany, Israel and other countries around the world reached out to learn more about the Living Building Challenge and to forge formal ties with the Institute, underscoring the truth that people from all parts of the world are looking for hopeful, practical responses to environmental, social and economic difficulties.

At the beginning of 2011, the Institute was renamed as the International Living Future Institute, with a mission to lead the transformation to a world that is socially just, culturally rich and ecologically restorative. Living Building Challenge is the Institute’s flagship program for deep systemic change. The Institute offers global solutions for lasting sustainability, partners with local communities to create grounded and relevant solutions, and reaches out to individuals to unleash their imagination and innovation.