Paul Ahrns
Paul Ahrns
Program Director

Re-Imagining the Role of Buildings


Traditionally, buildings have been the places where we live and work. They take resources to build, energy and water to function, and produce wastewater and garbage during normal operation. What if, instead of consuming resources and producing waste, buildings produced benefits for our communities and environment? At the Sierra Business Council, we strive to implement our vision of the triple bottom line: community vitality, economic prosperity and environmental integrity. Buildings are the center of our communities and economy; why not make buildings a part of our environmental restoration efforts as well?COMM BullitBuilding PA Blog 2013 09

That’s the theory behind the International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge, to design buildings that provide more productive and comfortable places to live and work while at the same time regenerating our environment. A Living Buildings is required to be at a minimum net-zero energy, water, and waste; comprised of nontoxic, sustainably-sourced materials; and be beautiful and inspiring to all. A Living Building is not just an incremental improvement over traditional buildings but a radical shift to a truly sustainable and restorative built environment. Living Buildings have the potential to meet all three parts of SBC’s Triple Bottom Line mission: restoring our natural environment, providing a beautiful and inspiring built environment in our communities, and completely eliminating the costs associated with electricity and fuel use, keeping more money within our local economies.

I had the pleasure of attending the International Living Future Institute’s “Living Future unConference” held in Seattle this past spring. The experience was inspiring and educational. I was able to see first hand the latest building striving for Living Building certification, the Bullitt Center in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood. The Bullitt Center has been described as the greenest commercial building in the world; a six-story, 50,000 square-foot building that is a beacon of sustainability and innovation. The Bullitt Center shows that true sustainability is possible for all building types. 

While, the Living Building Challenge is a stringent and difficult to obtain standard that requires an extensive, integrated design process, the innovations developed will help to make all buildings more sustainable. Like all green building measures, the true cost savings come from the collaborative design process that treats the building as an integrated system instead of independent pieces, resulting in reduced upfront equipment costs and cost savings throughout the life of the building. 

In our region, we have numerous LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver, Gold and even Platinum certified buildings including the Tahoe Center for Environmental Sciences, which achieved LEED Platinum in 2007. While LEED is a valuable and rigorous standard, the Living Building Challenge is moving building to the next level - Creating buildings that are truly restorative. It’s important to remember that the projects we build today will be our homes and offices for the next 50 years. Why not have those buildings begin restoring our environment now instead of continuing to produce waste and pollution?

To learn more about the International Living Future Institute and the Living Building Challenge check out their website or consider attending the 2014 Living Future unConference in Portland, Oregon. If you would like more information on the Living Building Challenge or are interested in seeing innovative and restorative buildings in the Sierra you can contact me at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..