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The green certification that lives up to its name!

Air Quality and Odour By Hannah Morton, Associate Director, Sustainability – 09 December 2014

Exterior of the University of Wollongong Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC) against a blue sky


Hannah wearing suit standing in front of a plant

Hannah Morton

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The University of Wollongong’s Sustainable Buildings Research Centre (SBRC) will be one of the first projects in Australia to submit for Living Building Challenge (LBC) certification, joining the ranks of some of the most environmentally and socially responsible buildings in the world. And it certainly has been a challenge!

Meeting the challenge
The LBC requires buildings to generate more renewable energy than they use, supply and treat all of their own water, grow food on-site and offset all embodied energy from construction and maintenance over the building’s lifetime. All of this must be done without the use of combustion or chemicals… so no trigeneration or ozone disinfection.

Landscaping must emulate indigenous ecosystems and avoid the use of petrochemical fertilisers. An area equal to that being developed must be purchased as part of a habitat exchange program. Transport initiatives include cycling and pedestrian facilities, electric vehicle charging as well as a transit subsidy for occupants. Health and happiness criteria include biophilic design, operable windows for all spaces and high-quality indoor air quality.

The Red List
Materials must be sourced locally from responsible and transparent suppliers, and projects must be ‘waste positive’. A particular challenge is the ‘red list’ which requires that specific toxic ingredients are eliminated from construction materials. This list is updated as supply chains mature, and currently includes ingredients such as PVC, lead, mercury, cadmium, phthalates, halogenated flame retardants and PCB’s. This has come as a shock to certain industries and will hopefully in coming years have many manufacturers rushing to clean up their acts.

Social Impacts
The LBC also attempts to deal with issues of equity, offering a framework for scale and proportion, and mandating universal access to all members of the public, including the homeless, in an effort to create wider social benefits. Other initiatives include a donation to charity and assessment under the recently released ‘Just’ label, which measures an organisation’s record of safety, slavery and discrimination as well as their involvement with dodgy operations such as factory farming and munitions trading.

And since no one wants to be surrounded by ugly buildings, living buildings must provide inspiration, education and beauty.

Measured performance
A big difference between the LBC and other ratings is that nothing is awarded until performance is proven by measurement. This eliminates any potential for sustainability strategies to drop out during construction or ‘value-engineering’.

The SBRC was completed in mid-2013 and is currently undergoing a 12 month monitoring phase, to provide the actual performance data required to prove that it generates enough energy and water to qualify for living building status. Air quality is also tested, at pre-occupancy and nine months in, to ensure that source control and air quality management plans are achieving the desired results.

Beyond the building
The Living Future Institute quickly realised that Living Buildings, while bringing us closer to a ‘restorative’ future, won’t be enough. For this reason, there are now a number of other projects in action, include Living Communities (recently released) and Living Products, to be released later this year. In the pipeline are tools for food, lifestyles and enterprises.

The plan? To create a framework for the ‘remaking of everything’.