Jason McLennan

2 November 2011 – There are signs that some in the property sector may be outgrowing current sustainability ratings schemes, with several organisations signing up for certification programs that are pushing the sustainability boundaries further or that are recognised globally.

A scheme that seems to be attracting interest, particularly from the education sector, is the Living Building Challenge, developed by Canadian architect and sustainable development expert Jason McLennan, chief executive of the International Living Future Institute.

Projects signed up for the Living Building Challenge include the Sustainable Buildings Research Centre at the University of Wollongong’s Innovation Campus, the University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute building and the Transformational Technical Training facility at TAFE’s Yallah campus. The SBRC and TAFE project are part of the Retrofitting for Resilient and Sustainable Buildings program funded by the Federal Government through its Education Investment Fund and a collaborative effort between the University of Wollongong and TAFE NSW.

Former principal at US green architecture firm BNIM Architects and recently named one of the top 40 under 40 most influential individuals in the design and construction field by Building Design and Construction magazine, Jason McClennan is touring Australia during November to deliver a number of workshops on his scheme.

The workshop series will be run across Australia from 7-15 November in partnership with environmentally sustainable design consultancy Viridis E3. They are designed to challenge the property industry to use nature as the ultimate measuring stick for the performance of the built environment.

In addition to founding the Living Building Challenge McLennan is co-creator of Pharos, an advanced building material rating system in North America and the author of several books on sustainable design, one of which is used as a textbook in more than 40 universities.

He describes The Living Building Challenge as a philosophy, advocacy tool and certification program that addresses development at all scales.

Rather than a checklist of best practices, says McLennan, the Challenge leads teams to embrace regional solutions and respond to a number of variables, including climate factors and cultural characteristics.

“The Living Building Challenge is the world’s most stringent and progressive green building certification program. It is applicable to both new and existing projects that seek to reach much further than any existing green building program in terms of water, energy, materials and a host of other factors. Projects that successfully complete the program can be seen as the world’s greenest buildings,” McLennan says.

With a goal to increase awareness, the program tackles critical environmental, social and economic problems including the rise of toxic chemicals, climate change, habitat loss, and urban sprawl. It comprises seven performance areas – site, water, energy, health, materials, equity and beauty.

McLennan says takeup of the scheme in the US has been rapid and it is now used in nine countries. But he believes the property industry has barely begun to push the boundaries of what is possible in sustainable practice.

“If you take a look at global issues such as climate change, water and resource scarcity, habitat loss and the rise of persistent toxic chemicals it is clear that we need transformational change in a short time span rather than incremental change,” McLennan says.

There are now four registered projects in the Living Building Challenge in Australia and lots of interest – not bad given there has been no marketing here to date.

The scheme doesn’t compete with Green Star but can work alongside it to elevate the discussion and pull people into the system, McLennan says.

“It is as much philosophy as it is a certification system. The Challenge is much more difficult to achieve than any other program – so it has the effect of making other programs like Green Star seem more reasonable. It should actually increase that program’s uptake and at the same time it will build incredible models of true sustainability to inspire others.

“The program stimulates innovation and incredible synergies. I think it will make your design and construction sector more competitive – and your building stock higher performing and less wasteful. Most importantly, it will change the nature of the discussion around green building.”

Professor Paul Cooper, Director, Sustainable Buildings Research Centre, University of Wollongong, says the centre chose the Living Building Challenge because of the scheme’s holistic approach and because it pushes sustainability boundaries.

“The Sustainable Buildings Research Centre will be at the cutting edge of retrofitting and sustainable building technologies research. So when it came to the building itself, we were keen to create a building of the future ­– one we could look back on in 10 or 20 years and know we pushed the boundaries of sustainability at that time.

“Our decision to pursue the Living Building Challenge was driven by our desire for the building to be an inspiration to researchers, industry and the community,” Cooper says.

Another attraction for the SBRC was that the Living Building Challenge is not prescriptive in suggesting particular solutions but a holistic framework driving building designers to set new benchmarks.

“A great example of this is that the Living Building Challenge requires net zero energy usage. This means the building must produce as much energy on site as it imports. Our starting point here should be to design a building where energy consumption is minimised – in doing this we then reduce our need for expensive low emissions on-site energy generation technologies,” Professor Cooper says.

Jason McLennan will deliver workshops and free public lectures around Australia from 7-15 November. Details www.ve3.com.au

lblundell@thefifthestate.com.au