Buildings Come to Life And The Challenge of Existing Ones

The next giant step in sustainability is now literally alive at the Omega Center for Sustainable Living (OSCL) in Rhinebeck, NY. Having achieved full certification under the Living Building Challenge by The International Living Building Institute, "a non-governmental organization (NGO) dedicated to the creation of a truly sustainable built environment in all countries around the world," the OSCL is now an icon for sustainable building.

Comprised of the leading green building experts, futurists and thought-leaders, The International Living Building Institute believes that providing a compelling vision for the future is a fundamental requirement of reconciling humanity's relationship with the natural world. The Living Building Challenge "defines the most advanced measure of sustainability in the built environment possible today and acts to diminish the gap between current limits and ideal solutions. This certification program covers all building at all scales and is a unified tool for transformative design, allowing us to envision a future that is socially just, culturally rich, and ecologically restorative," according to its mission plan. The OSCL achieved this designation last week having already achieved LEED Platinum status by the United States Green Building Council after a year-long certification process.

In terms of how the OSCL functions as a living building it supplies its own energy needs through geothermal and photovoltaic energy and is carbon neutral. It also turns Omega's 5 million gallons of wastewater per year into clean water to restore the aquifer. Quite an impressive structure.

Of course, this breakthrough in new construction is great and will certainly pave the way for future development. However, the real issue we have today is our existing building stock and how to bring this to an acceptable level of sustainability. According to Skip Backus, Omega's CEO and the general project manager of the OSCL, Omega has 152 buildings and finding the proper balance in bringing the entire campus to sustainable standards is not a simple task. And this mirrors much of the struggle we all face in terms of this nation's building stock. Seventy percent of all greenhouse gases come from existing structures and finding a way to modernize them to be much more energy efficient and lower their carbon footprint is just as important if not more than creating these new beautiful living buildings.

Omega should be congratulated on accomplishing such a marvelous feat. Now is the time to take this to the next level and begin the heavy lifting on what we already have.

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Jonathan A. Schein is CEO/ScheinMedia and publisher of