By Barry Stiles

The Living Building Challenge calls on engineers, architects, and designers to create buildings that have a positive net effect on their surroundings. Built using only nontoxic, low-impact materials, living buildings are meant to be both healthy and beautiful. They produce more energy than they consume, collect and treat all water on-site, and incorporate elements of the local culture and natural surroundings in an aesthetically pleasing design.

The Frick Environmental Center in Pittsburgh is the most recent of only 22 buildings worldwide to earn the International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge certification, a classification that requires more sustainability work and documented performance than even the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Platinum designation. In addition to net-zero energy and water, LBC building standards include nontoxic construction materials – a significant challenge, given that there’s only one source in the world for nontoxic carpet. Still, the project leads have found the arduous process worthwhile, and so has the city of Pittsburgh.

Rethinking how buildings are constructed has a major impact on the environment. Today, buildings consume 41% of the total energy in the U.S. and are responsible for almost 40% of carbon dioxide emissions – outpacing the industrial and transportation sectors in both categories. However, in recent years, the market is driving a dramatic change. LEED-certified buildings consume 25% less energy, reduce carbon dioxide emissions by one-third, and have kept 80 million tons of waste out of landfills.

As green building activity continues to increase, almost half of industry respondents from around the world anticipate that most of their upcoming projects will be green buildings. It’s worth noting that the financial returns are proving to be worth the investment. The average increase in value for a green building is 4%, while maintenance costs for LEED buildings are nearly 20% less than non-green commercial properties.

Four Ways to Bring Buildings to Life
With eco-friendly building on the rise, architects, engineers, and builders are taking on the challenge of combining the ecological and financial benefits with aesthetically pleasing designs. Increasingly, engineers and designers are turning to a range of green construction strategies starting with these:

  1. Control the Light.
    Custom sunshades and light shelves add to a building’s curb appeal, but their main purpose is lowering energy costs and reducing a building’s carbon footprint. The shades are also part of “daylighting strategies” that enable occupants to rely on natural light.
  2. Help the Building Breathe.
    Clay plasters are a high-performance building product that combine unfired clay and sand to add an attractive element to a building’s design. At the same time, they bring breathability to a structure by maintaining relative humidity between 40% and 70%, significantly reducing airborne bacteria.
  3. Add Warmth, Literally and Figuratively.
    As the best mainstream material for thermal insulation, wood outperforms concrete, brick, and steel. Using Forest Stewardship Council-certified wood for a building’s exteriors and interiors does more than increase the environmental benefits: Research shows that wood is perceived as warm and welcoming, which enhances feelings of well-being.
  4. Pave with Style.
    Think of paving requirements as more than just an infrastructural component of a project. With the range of permeable pavement solutions available, today’s pavers are designed to add to a building’s aesthetic appeal. In addition, many municipalities provide incentives to use permeable pavers because they offer an economical, functional way to meet building code requirements for on-site stormwater capture.

By embracing the challenge of meeting and exceeding environmental building standards, the building industry plays a vital role in how people view their surroundings. With a unique combination of imagination and practicality, green buildings are transforming the built environment.


Barry Stiles is the founder and CEO of TRUEGRID Pavers, the 100 percent permeable paving alternative to concrete and asphalt that instantly absorbs stormwater and detains water below the surface. TRUEGRID is a green, permeable Lego-like paver system for the real world, made in the United States from 100 percent post-consumer recycled plastic and filled with gravel or grass for a natural aesthetic. As an engineer and as a dad, Barry is passionate about TRUEGRID’s mission to provide green paving solutions to build a safer and cleaner environment for our kids. For a complete guide to managing stormwater with permeable paving, download TRUEGRID’s whitepaper.

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