NORTHAMPTON, Mass.—Smith College’s Bechtel Environmental Classroom, a 2,300-sq.ft. learning center set in Whately, Mass., has become the fifth building in the world to be certified as a Living Building.
To do so, the building met the rigorous performance guidelines of the Living Building Challenge, overseen by the International Living Future Institute, considered the most comprehensive design- and performance-based set of standards related to the environment, exceeding LEED Platinum.
To meet the Living Building Challenge, buildings must be certified under seven “petals”—equity, beauty, health, site, water, energy and materials—that encompass issues of sustainability, aesthetics and social justice.
“The Living Building Challenge is straightforward, but immensely difficult,” says Bruce Coldham, one of the building’s architects. Coldham and the contractors incorporated things like composting toilets and solar panels that return to the grid 50% more energy than the building uses. They used local materials and sited the classroom in an area that required clearing mostly invasive species. All materials used were certified free of carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting chemical agents.
Since the classroom opened, students have monitored a range of data points around the building’s electricity and water usage to demonstrate that it operated over its first year of occupancy as a net-zero facility.