What if a new home could not only avoid inflicting harm on or even burdening its site but also play a role in actively healing the land? What if the beautifully designed structure could be environmentally net-positive, creating enough energy and harvesting and storing enough water to exceed its occupants’ needs? What if an owner of such a building never again had energy or water bills?
These questions and others came to Jason McLennan in 1998 when he used the phrase “Living Building Standard,” a culmination of his study of the ecological damage being wrought by the construction industry—and his realization that mimicking nature’s own architecture was key to stemming widespread harm. By the end of 2005, the architect and environmentalist had summed up his audacious thinking in a 30-page manifesto. The document dared builders to think way beyond the once-ambitious LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) “green” building standards, to problem-solve their way toward a built world that has no carbon footprint, uses zero carcinogenic materials, and operates in harmony with its natural environment. McLennan proposed a new approach: “We don’t want to be less bad. We want to figure out what good looks like.”