Phipps Conservatory executive director since 1994, Richard Piacentini said the impetus toward green building started with Phipps' multiyear expansion plan and the design of the Welcome Center. The Welcome Center, which broke ground in 2003, became the first LEED-certified visitors center and public garden in the world, with a silver rating.
The building cut energy use by more than 40 percent and features a gift shop as well as the Phipps Cafe, which serves local, organic and sustainable food, composts its food waste and uses biodegradable utensils.
"Before that process, we didn't know much about LEED," said Mr. Piacentini. But he added that he and the Phipps board learned quickly and started seeing the importance of being a leader in green building to the conservatory's mission.
Next was the 2006 Tropical Forest Conservatory, which took green building and sustainable principles much further. Its innovative heating and cooling systems, roof design, and educational mission to highlight the connections between ethnic and biodiversity were part of what made it the site of the welcome dinner for the 2009 G-20 Summit.
Just before the Tropical Forest opened in December 2006, Mr. Piacentini said he found himself in a pivotal conversation with Jason F. McLennan, CEO of the Cascadia Green Building Council, when both attended that year's Green Building Conference.
"He listened to what we were hoping to do in Phase III, and he said, 'You're doing a living building,' " said Mr. Piacentini.
While Mr. Piacentini was now familiar with LEED building standards, he had heard little about the Living Building Challenge, which had just been announced in November 2006. The challenge program was launched by the Cascadia Green Building Council, itself a chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, the organization that developed the LEED program.
LEED is an internationally recognized green building certification program with point-based levels from Certified to Silver, Gold and the highest level, Platinum Point can be earned in several areas such as energy savings, water efficiency and indoor air quality.
But the Living Building Challenge is even more difficult to achieve: Since its inception in 2006, only four buildings in the United States have met its requirements in all areas. Meeting the challenge requires both net-zero energy and net-zero water, and it has strict guidelines as to the impact made on the surrounding ecosystem and the use of locally sourced and environmentally safe materials. The challenge also requires attention to the social justice elements of a project as well as the beauty of its design.
The center is also a pilot project for the international Sustainable SITES Initiative, a set of guidelines created by the American Society of Landscape Architects, the Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center at The University of Texas at Austin and the United States Botanic Garden to create national guidelines for sustainable land design, construction and maintenance.
For more information on Phipps' Center for Sustainable Landscapes, including a full list of the project's partners and consultants, go to http://phipps.conservatory.org and click on the "Phipps & Sustainability" tab. For more information on the Living Building Challenge, go to https://ilbi.org/lbc .
First Published December 12, 2011 5:00 AM