The Omega Center for Sustainable Living

14 October 2013 — The Omega Center for Sustainable Living, a solar and geothermal powered wastewater treatment plant, uses biomimicry to clean sewage and provide clean, drinkable water.

The facility, created by the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in Rhinebeck, New York, was recently profiled by website Treehugger.

Treehugger wrote:

The Omega Center for Sustainable Living may be the most beautiful wastewater treatment plant in the world. It is powered by solar and geothermal power, so it requires no additional power to operate. Unlike other wastewater treatment plants, the OCSL does not use chemicals to treat the water, but rather mimics the processes of the nature world, such as using a combination of microorganisms, algae, plants and gravel and sand filtration to clean sewage water and return clean drinkable water back to the aquifer.

“In addition to doing all of this, the OCSL also functions as a classroom, to help educate and inspire people about the power of nature to provide solutions.
As the CEO of the Omega Institute, Skip Backus says, the OCSL purifies, beautifies and educates, all at the same time.

“The OCSL is a dynamic, living and breathing demonstration of how interconnected we all are with the world around us,” says Backus. “Our goal is to help people reexamine how they relate to the world by showing them what’s possible in terms of environmental sustainability, green energy, and regenerative design.”

The reason this building works so well is because of good design, but also data and science.

The idea that “what gets measured gets managed” is a popular maxim in business, but the principle has proven itself to be an influential aspect in sustainability, as well. By measuring the efficiency and sustainability of buildings, for example, LEED was able to create a hierarchy of Silver, Gold and Platinum levels of certification, which gave the building development industry new goals to which to aspire beyond simply aesthetics and low construction costs.

But one certification won’t work for all levels of aspiration and while it is still important, LEED is not the only way we measure the sustainability of buildings. The Omega Center for Sustainable Living was built as part of the Living Building Challenge (LBC), which is the most intense green building certification program around.

Currently, there are only four Living Building Challenge Certified buildings in the world and the OCSL is the first building in the United States to gain both LEED Platinum and Living Building Challenge certification. What makes the LBC certification so difficult to attain is that rather than the building being rated upon completion of construction, the LBC certification is only granted after the building has been in operation for 12 months and has proven it has met the 16 prerequisites, one of which is that a building must process all of its wastewater on-site. It can’t simply be pumped away.

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