Living Buildings

Detailed overview of innovation with sample startups and prominent university research

What it is

Living Buildings are buildings designed to operate as self-sufficient and regenerative ecosystems, mimicking the natural world in their resource use and environmental impact. The Living Building Challenge (LBC) is a rigorous building certification program that sets ambitious performance standards for buildings to achieve this goal.

Impact on climate action

Living Buildings under the Energy-Efficient Buildings theme revolutionize climate action by creating structures that generate more energy than they consume. By integrating renewable energy sources, maximizing efficiency, and promoting sustainable design principles, these buildings mitigate carbon emissions, reduce energy demand, and pave the way for sustainable urban development.


  • Net-Zero Energy: Living Buildings generate all of their energy needs from on-site renewable energy sources, such as solar PV and wind power.
  • Net-Zero Water: Living Buildings collect and treat all of their water needs on-site, using rainwater harvesting, greywater systems, and water-efficient fixtures and appliances.
  • Healthy and Sustainable Materials: Living Buildings prioritize the use of healthy and sustainable building materials that are non-toxic, locally sourced, and have a low environmental impact.
  • Site and Place: Living Buildings are designed to integrate with their surrounding ecosystems and promote biodiversity.
  • Equity and Beauty: The LBC emphasizes the importance of creating buildings that are accessible, equitable, and aesthetically pleasing.

TRL : 6-7

Prominent Innovation themes

  • Regenerative Design: Living Buildings go beyond sustainability and aim to be regenerative, meaning they have a positive impact on the environment. This involves incorporating features such as green roofs, living walls, and on-site wastewater treatment systems.
  • Biophilic Design: Biophilic design principles are used to create buildings that connect occupants with nature, improving health and well-being.
  • Circular Economy Strategies: Living Buildings incorporate circular economy principles, such as closed-loop manufacturing and waste-to-value solutions, to minimize waste and resource consumption.
  • Advanced Building Technologies: Smart building technologies, such as AI-powered energy management systems and advanced sensor networks, are used to optimize building performance and resource use.

Other Innovation Subthemes

  • Net-Zero Energy Systems
  • Water Self-Sufficiency Solutions
  • Sustainable Material Sourcing
  • Ecosystem Integration Design
  • Aesthetic and Equitable Architecture
  • Regenerative Building Practices
  • Biophilic Design Principles
  • Circular Economy Strategies
  • AI-Integrated Building Technologies
  • Living Building Certification Programs
  • Ecological Restoration Services
  • High-Performance Building Design
  • Innovative Research in Building Regeneration
  • Urban Planning Integration
  • Case Studies of Living Buildings
  • Renewable Energy Integration
  • Water Management Technologies
  • Waste Reduction Strategies
  • Community Engagement in Sustainable Building

Sample Global Startups and Companies

  1. International Living Future Institute (ILFI):
    • Technology Enhancement: ILFI is a non-profit organization dedicated to advancing regenerative design and sustainable building practices. They administer the Living Building Challenge (LBC), a rigorous certification program that promotes the creation of buildings that operate as self-sufficient, regenerative systems. The LBC emphasizes net-zero energy, water, and waste, as well as the use of non-toxic materials and biophilic design principles.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: ILFI stands out for its leadership in defining and promoting the concept of Living Buildings. Through the LBC certification program, they encourage architects, designers, and builders to push the boundaries of sustainable design and construction, aiming to create buildings that give back more to the environment than they take.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: ILFI serves a wide range of stakeholders involved in the built environment, including architects, developers, building owners, and communities. Their certification program provides a roadmap for creating Living Buildings across various sectors, including commercial, residential, educational, and institutional projects.
  2. Biohabitats:
    • Technology Enhancement: Biohabitats is an ecological restoration firm that specializes in integrating natural systems into the built environment. They offer design, planning, and consulting services focused on restoring ecosystems, enhancing biodiversity, and promoting sustainable land use practices. Biohabitats incorporates principles of biophilia and ecological resilience into their projects to create living buildings that harmonize with the surrounding landscape.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Biohabitats stands out for its holistic approach to ecological design and restoration. They combine scientific expertise with creative design solutions to create buildings and landscapes that function as living systems, providing habitat for native species, improving water quality, and enhancing human well-being.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Biohabitats serves a diverse clientele, including government agencies, non-profit organizations, developers, and private landowners. Their projects range from urban parks and green infrastructure to ecological restoration projects and sustainable development initiatives, demonstrating the broad applicability of their living building principles.
  3. Terrapin Bright Green:
    • Technology Enhancement: Terrapin Bright Green is an environmental consulting and strategic planning firm that specializes in biophilic design and sustainable building practices. They offer research, consulting, and educational services aimed at integrating nature into the built environment to enhance human health, well-being, and productivity. Terrapin Bright Green develops innovative design strategies and guidelines for creating living buildings that promote connections to nature and foster environmental stewardship.
    • Uniqueness of the Startup: Terrapin Bright Green stands out for its focus on biophilic design and its commitment to advancing sustainable building practices through research, education, and advocacy. They collaborate with architects, developers, and policymakers to promote the adoption of biophilic design principles in building projects worldwide, aiming to create healthier, more resilient, and sustainable built environments.
    • End-User Segments Addressing: Terrapin Bright Green works with a wide range of stakeholders involved in the built environment, including architects, designers, developers, building owners, and policymakers. Their research and consulting services help clients incorporate biophilic design strategies into projects across various sectors, including healthcare, education, hospitality, and commercial real estate.

Sample Research At Top-Tier Universities

  1. University of California, Berkeley:
    • Research Focus: UC Berkeley is at the forefront of research on Living Buildings, focusing on developing sustainable building designs and technologies that prioritize occupant health, well-being, and environmental stewardship.
    • Uniqueness: Their research encompasses interdisciplinary collaborations between architects, engineers, environmental scientists, and social scientists to integrate biophilic design principles, passive heating and cooling strategies, renewable energy systems, and water reuse technologies into building projects. They also explore innovative materials, sensors, and control systems to create responsive and regenerative built environments.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in residential, commercial, and institutional buildings. By advancing the concept of Living Buildings, UC Berkeley’s research contributes to creating healthier, more resilient communities and reducing the environmental impact of the built environment.
  2. Stanford University:
    • Research Focus: Stanford University conducts pioneering research on Living Buildings, leveraging its expertise in sustainable design, energy efficiency, and human-centered architecture to develop innovative approaches for creating living, breathing structures that harmonize with nature.
    • Uniqueness: Their research involves exploring biomimetic design principles, advanced building materials, and integrated systems thinking to emulate the functions and processes of natural ecosystems within the built environment. They also investigate the social, cultural, and economic dimensions of Living Buildings, including user behavior, community engagement, and policy incentives for sustainable development.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work find applications in green building certification programs, urban planning initiatives, and eco-district developments. By promoting Living Buildings, Stanford’s research addresses key challenges related to climate change, resource depletion, and urbanization, fostering a more symbiotic relationship between people and the environment.
  3. University of Washington:
    • Research Focus: The University of Washington is engaged in innovative research on Living Buildings, leveraging its expertise in environmental science, architecture, and building performance analysis to advance the state-of-the-art in sustainable building design and construction.
    • Uniqueness: Their research encompasses field studies, simulations, and prototype testing to evaluate the performance, resilience, and adaptability of Living Buildings in diverse climatic conditions and occupancy scenarios. They also explore community-based approaches to Living Building design, including co-creation processes, stakeholder engagement, and knowledge sharing platforms.
    • End-use Applications: The outcomes of their work have applications in affordable housing, educational facilities, and public infrastructure projects. By promoting Living Buildings, the University of Washington’s research supports the transition to a more equitable, resilient, and sustainable built environment, enhancing the quality of life for present and future generations.

commercial_img Commercial Implementation

There are a growing number of Living Buildings around the world, demonstrating the feasibility and benefits of this ambitious building standard. For example, the Bullitt Center in Seattle is a certified Living Building that generates all of its energy needs from on-site solar PV and collects and treats all of its water needs on-site.