Wolf Ridge

Building a Sustainable Future


by Patrick Thibaudeau, HGA Vice President & Project Leader and Shannon Walz, Wolf Ridge Education Director

Forty-five years ago inspiration for Wolf Ridge sprung out of the first Earth Day and a need – a need to shape a future where humans live sustainably on this planet. For forty-five years we have been working hard to meet this need through modeling and education.  That is why when we decided to build a new naturalist house and renovate the West Dorm we knew we had an opportunity to carefully consider how the built environment impacted the natural world and educate about it in the process.

We considered LEED Certification which is a well-respected standard for environmentally conscious building; however, in our search process we learned about the Living Building Challenge (LBC). LBC’s mission is “to encourage the creation of Living Buildings, Landscapes and Communities in countries around the world while inspiring, educating and motivating a global audience about the need for a fundamental and transformative change.” We knew we had found a standard that resonated perfectly with our mission and quest to shape a sustainable future.

A Transformative Experience and New Thinking

Wolf Ridge connects people with an experience in the natural world so impactful they are deeply transformed.  LBC is working to transform the impact buildings have on the planet in a way that is also transformative to the people interacting with the buildings. Through the LBC principles, Wolf Ridge is going to use the renovated West Dorm and the new naturalist house as an integral part of the environmental learning process with visible, interactive sustainability features that help change attitudes and behaviors.

New, challenging experiences spark new thinking. LBC has forced us to change the questions we ask when designing and building. LBC asks, “What if every single act of design and construction made the world a better place?” For example, instead of asking how to end at net zero energy we asked what if we started at zero and worked toward net positive. This idea is called Zero-Plus.  Three guiding principles of Zero Plus include: human experience, target performance and financial value. Seven goal areas were developed within these principles. Below are preliminary goals for the project to be supported by seeking Living Building Challenge Certification.

To help achieve these overarching goals the project is pursuing Living Building Challenge (LBC) 2.1 certification.

Living Building Challenge Overview

So WHAT exactly is Living Building Challenge? It is the new international sustainability certification system and perfect fit with the world-class aspirations of Wolf Ridge. LBC certification consists of earning seven Petals – site, water, energy, health, materials, equity and beauty – and focuses on regenerative design rather than doing “less bad” as other environmental certifications do. One key difference from other third party certifications is that LBC certification focuses on actual building performance verification rather than accumulating a checklist of features in a building.

Living Building Challenge is focused on establishing behaviors that lead to a living future rather than an incremental reduction compared to existing building or a theoretical baseline. LBC is very rigorous in its performance requirements. Instead of optional points and various certification levels, in order to get LBC certified everything must be done. All actions are considered imperatives. A building receives LBC certification once it performs according to LBC standards for twelve consecutive months.

Educating People and Industry

With Living Building Challenge, Wolf Ridge has an opportunity to educate not only the participants that come to our campus each year but the building industry as well. An important part of the LBC philosophy is transformation of the marketplace so advocacy is integrated into each imperative. If there is a policy barrier LBC requires advocacy for the policy to be changed. If a material does not meet the requirements then advocacy with the manufacturer to get them to change it is required. Whenever a barrier is encountered in the process, steps must be taken to advocate for a living futures approach to help accelerate change.

Already Wolf Ridge’s choice to pursue LBC is making ripples in the building industry. PVC is a material that is not allowed by LBC due to toxic qualities.  Currently, there are no vinyl clad windows available to Wolf Ridge that meet the PVC-free LBC Materials Petal requirements. Wolf Ridge is currently in conversations with Andersen Windows to see if changing their product line to support LBC requirements is an option.

We are still in the early stages of the building process and meeting LBC requirements has already required lots of hard work. We have encountered some bumps in our road; however, we are committed and excited to embrace the CHALLENGE of Living Building Challenge. As Patrick Thibaudeau, HGA Vice President and Project Leader, routinely says: “It isn’t called a challenge for nothing.” We will embrace challenge in pursuit of modeling and educating for a sustainable future.