Last fall I attended the Living Product Expo in Pittsburg, PA, put on by the International Living Future Institute (ILFI). I was curious about what type of products would be exhibited and how they would vary from the ‘sustainable’ products that I have been specifying for years. I also wanted to find out what manufacturers are stepping up to the plate to be leaders in the development of healthier building products. The International Living Future Institute has a rating system called the Living Building Challenge (LBC) (similar to how USGBC has the LEED rating system). My quick definition of the Living Building Challenge is ‘LEED on steroids’. It not only incorporates LEED standards but goes beyond their requirements and requires testing of the building performance during a twelve-month period after occupation. I’ll back up a little for those who aren’t familiar with the Living Building Challenge.
The Living Building Challenge is a green building certification program and sustainable design framework that visualizes the ideal for the built environment. It uses the metaphor of a flower because the ideal built environment should function as cleanly and efficiently as a flower. It is organized into seven performance areas called Petals. Each Petal is further sub-divided into imperatives, which address specific issues through detailed requirements. (living-future.org) The Petals are Place, Water, Energy, Health + Happiness, Materials, Equity, & Beauty.
Besides the LBC rating system, ILFI has developed the ‘Declare’ label, which is essentially a nutrition label for products. It provides answers to the questions:
1. Where does a product come from?
2. What is it made of? And
3. Where does it go at the end of its life?
Declare is a transparency platform and product database that is changing the materials marketplace. Manufacturers use the Declare label to let Architects and Designers know that their products contain healthy materials, especially for the use in documenting Living Building Challenge, WELL and LEEDv4 projects. Declare is a single attribute label that only looks at material health, nothing else.
While at the Living Product Expo I also learned about the Living Product Challenge, which looks at multiple attributes, like the manufacturers production, supply chains, employee health, and it is third party certified. This ‘challenge’ is a framework to rethink the way products are made. Instead of trying to be ‘less bad’, they are creating goods that have a positive impact. The Living Product Challenge is similar to the Living Building Challenge in that there are seven ‘Petals’, or performance areas, some of which are required and others which are optional. What I thought was most impressive is that in lieu of considering the product ‘footprint’, which concerns the negative aspects of a product and its’ production, they have created a product ‘handprint’ which reflects the positive attributes the product, throughout its lifecycle, has on the greater community whether it be social or environmental. How can what is produced make the world a better place? What a great thing! The best example of this was Humanscale who has achieved the first Fully Certified Living Product with their Humanscale Diffrient Smart Chair and their Humanscale Float Table.
One other item of note, that I’ll close with, is the Living Product 50 (LP50). This is a collaboration among fifty leading manufacturers that are working to create the world’s first Living Products. These manufacturers are working hard to provide product transparency, healthier, non-toxic products while reducing the environmental impacts of their production and life-cycles. They have asked us, the A&D community, to continue using our voices and our specifying powers to invest in these products and to advocate to our customers the positive impacts that the various certification platforms (Living Building Challenge, LEED and WELL) Please check out these products and how ILFI is working to make the planet, and our buildings, safer and more energy efficient for the future!