The Living Building Challenge: a new standard for eco-friendly building that gives LEED a run for it’s money

By Jim French

As I live and breathe, Living Buildings are coming to Utah!! A Living Building is a building that collects rainwater, has its own sewage treatment plant and produces and stores all the power its inhabitants need. This, according to Kenner Kingston, President of Arch Nexus and lead architect for the Living Building Challenge project under way in Moab.

Arch Nexus, headquartered in Salt Lake City, is working with Community Rebuilds, a licensed contractor in Utah and Colorado. Their goal is to construct four certified Living Buildings. That’s quite an undertaking, considering that there are just 19 such buildings on the planet. Unlike the better known LEED program, which certifies after a building is completed, a Living Building must meet stringent performance criteria for 12 months before receiving certification.

“Living Buildings should function like a flower growing in nature,” Kingston says. “In fact, the metaphor of the flower is the central organizing concept of the Living Building Challenge. A flower in nature operates off of only renewable energy, uses only the resources available to it on-site, is a composition of integrated place-based solutions that elegantly work together, and is beautiful.”

The Challenge addresses seven petals, or performance areas: site, water, energy, health, materials, equity and beauty. A Living Building and the property around it improve everything associated with it: soil, water, air, food and quality of life. No toxic Red List materials, such as PVC and formaldehyde, are allowed on the project and at least 30% of the property must be devoted to food production. When can I move in?!!

The contractor, Community Rebuilds, has spent eight years perfecting the construction of affordable, energy-efficient, low-carbon homes. These structures feature straw bale insulation, earthen plastered walls, compacted adobe floors and passive and active solar design.

Community Rebuilds is a part of USDA Rural Development’s Mutual Self Help Program where families work together to build each other’s homes. This forward-thinking general contractor also incorporates a fascinating program model that lets a diverse group of student interns (as seen on this month’s CATALYST cover) gain hands-on experience in natural building. So far, they have completed 36 homes in Moab, Bluff, on the Hopi Reservation (Arizona) and in Gunnison Valley (Colorado).

A Community Rebuilds—Arch Nexus partnership in successful Living Building construction and certification makes perfect sense. Arch Nexus has experience with the Living Building Challenge . They designed California’s first Living Building, their Sacramento office. Community Rebuilds is all over the art of building affordable, energy-efficient homes made from natural materials.

Kenner Kingston projects that the four homes in Moab will be occupied in early 2020 and certified as Living Buildings in 2021. These homes and the Living Buildings to follow will allow Mother Earth and her inhabitants to breathe a lot easier.

Learn much more about the Living Building Challenge and other things regenerative and sustainable at the 10th Annual Intermountain Sustainability Summit on March 21-22 at Weber State University in Ogden. Kenner Kingston will present a four-hour Living Future workshop on the 22nd.

Paul Hawken, editor of the NY Times bestseller Drawdown: The most comprehensive plan ever proposed to reverse global warming, will give the keynote on Thursday.

(Psst, check out Living Buildings in the “Coming Attractions” section of Drawdown.)

The Intermountain Sustainability Summit is presented by the Weber State University Sustainability Practices and Research Center. CATALYST is a longtime enthusiastic sponsor.  and attendee. Information:

This article was originally published on March 1, 2019.