Inspired Building for A Living Future

Wolf Ridge Earns the Highest Environmental Certification in the World for the Margaret A. Cargill Lodge

The Margaret A. Cargill (MAC) Lodge at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center—an internationally recognized leader in environmental education—is the first renovation project in the world to receive full Living Building Challenge (LBC) certification by the International Living Future Institute.

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    By design, each space is simple, nothing is unnecessarily additive or excessive – stemming from a basic principal that this building should only take from the earth what is required.

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    The building is a living laboratory of learning. Wolf Ridge engages all the occupants as learners teaching them how to live a net zero energy experience.

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    A Solar PV array is installed that covers 100% of the electrical load at the building.

  • Students outside on the Wolf Ridge campus
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    Environmental citizenship for our future generation is born out of lived learned experiences in sustainability.

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    The MAC Lodge building does not seek to disrupt the nature it lives in, but rather to become another teaching tool to help visitors understand their effect on the planet, and ultimately how to become better stewards of the land.

The International Living Future Institute (ILFI) defines living buildings as:

  • Regenerative buildings that connect occupants to light, air, food, nature, and community.
  • Self-sufficient and remain within the resource limits of their site.
  • Create a positive impact on the human and natural systems that interact with them.

National interdisciplinary design firm HGA was brought on to redesign and renovate the Lodge to meet the highest international standards for sustainability. To achieve this rigorous standard, the 22,000-square foot Wolf Ridge MAC Lodge has proved its ability to achieve Net Positive Energy and Net Positive Water over a 12-month period, generating more energy than it consumes. The Lodge is the 30th Living Building worldwide to receive this certification, and the 1st in the upper Midwest region (MN, WI, ND, SD). It is located in the coldest design climate so far to achieve LBC certification.

The highest environmental certification in the world.

“Wolf Ridge is a place where people learn about the natural systems we all depend on, in a manner that creates an understanding of what we must do to interact responsibly with our environment and safeguard natural resources for future generations,” said Peter Smerud, Wolf Ridge Executive Director. He continued, “The entire ethos of our organization is at work within the MAC lodge building, as it does not disrupt the nature it sits within, but rather becomes another teaching tool to help visitors understand their effect on the planet, and ultimately how to become better stewards of the land.”


Sometimes the greenest building is the one that already exists.

It took an entire community of planners, contractors and donors to make this project happen. All 27 contractors involved received training in LBC standards, which required all materials be locally sourced. LBC standards also prohibit the use of red list chemicals known to impact human and environmental health.

As a result:

  • No metals went to the landfill. 100% of all metals were reused or recycled.
  • Only 4 trees were removed from the construction site giving contractors space for 8 dumpsters to recycle everything used or removed for the renovation. There were 8 new climate-adaptive trees planted as replacements.
  • The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-harvested wood was sourced from the Finland, MN area by Louisiana Pacific (LP) and processed in their plant located in Two Harbors, MN
  • Products were adapted to higher material health standards. Benjamin Moore changed a line of commercial interior paint to meet LBC compliance for use in the MAC Lodge.

“Sometimes the greenest building is the one that already exists,” said Lindsay Baker, CEO, International Living Future Institute. “Wolf Ridge proves that a renovation project can deliver just as much holistic impact as new construction.”

A project that embodies the core mission of Wolf Ridge.

The HGA design meets all 20 of these Imperatives while also focusing on the human experience within the interior spaces and celebrating Wolf Ridge’s core principle: connect with nature to care about nature. The interior design promotes all six features of Biophilic Design: Environmental Features, Place-Based Relationships, Light & Space, Natural Patterns & Processes, Natural Shapes & Forms, and Evolved Human-Nature Relationships.

Because LBC projects are required to contribute to the expansion of a regional economy rooted in sustainable practices, products, and services, the MAC Lodge put an estimated $8.4M into the regional economy during seven years of planning and construction. Today, it serves as an example for thousands of school children each year what sustainable building of the future looks like today.

“The live-learn design concept for the MAC Lodge engages the occupants as learners and teaches them how to live a sustainable lifestyle. For example, students and visitors can see their contributions to net-positive energy and water,” said Ariane Laxo, Sustainability Director at HGA. She continued, “Display monitors in the dorm rooms and lobby show each group’s impact on the water and energy consumption of the building—a rare instant visual representation that inspires everyone to change their behavior to have a smaller impact on the environment.”

Read the full press release and case study.

Wolf Ridge would like to thank Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies for their generous support. This project is part of the Wolf Ridge Making Waves capital campaign.


Media Contacts

Jolene Brink, Wolf Ridge Marketing & Communications Manager: jolene.brink@wolf-ridge.org
Michelle Nelsen, HGA PR Director: mnelsen@hga.com