November 8, 2007

First LEED Platinum Carbon Neutral Building!

by Jorge Chapa

leed, platinum, carbon neutral, energy efficient, wisconsin, aldo leopold foundation center, environment, fsc, forest, stewarship, council

Carbon-neutral buildings are not new news, but the first-ever LEED-platinum carbon neutral building certainly is. The Aldo Leopold Foundation Headquarters, located in Wisconsin, has been certified as the the first ever, fully LEED-platinum certified, carbon neutral building in the world, making it the greenest building ever built, with zero footprint and great design.

leed, platinum, carbon neutral, energy efficient, wisconsin, aldo leopold foundation center, environment, fsc, forest, stewarship, council

The building is located in Fairfield, Wisconsin. Built for $4 million dollars, the 12,000 square foot center is as green as they come, with the project obtaining 61 out of the 69 available LEED points. The building was designed by Kubala-Washatko Architects and Boldt Construction.

The building produces 15% more energy than what it consumes by using 198-panel 39.6 kilowatt solar electric system, the second largest in Wisconsin. To save on energy costs, heating and cooling will be done via a radiant system installed within the concrete floors. Proper insulation of the building, use of geothermal energy, good passive design to allow for daylighting and heating during winter and shading during summer, cross ventilation, and operable windows all contribute towards achieving this remarkable goal. Even the design of the site was carefully thought out to properly differentiate between high use and low use areas, thus diminishing the wasted energy required to heat or cool sections of the complex which would not be needed.

leed, platinum, carbon neutral, energy efficient, wisconsin, aldo leopold foundation center, environment, fsc, forest, stewarship, council

Energy wasn’t the only focus in this remarkable building. Built to honor the vision of famed conservationist Algo Leopold, the center has not only been awarded LEED platinum certification, but will be honored by the Forest Stewardship Council during the third annual Designing and Building with FSC Award at the 2007 GreenBuild conference and expo in Chicago, for its use of sustainable timber for almost 100% of its structure.

“This building does things that people are dreaming about,” said Rick Fedrizzi, president of the U.S. Green Building Council. “There are people out there saying, ‘Somehow, somewhere a building will be able to do that.’ This building is doing it today.”

+ The Aldo Leopold Legacy Center
+ Aldo Leopold Legacy Center Wins FSC Award

leed, platinum, carbon neutral, energy efficient, wisconsin, aldo leopold foundation center, environment, fsc, forest, stewarship, council

leed, platinum, carbon neutral, energy efficient, wisconsin, aldo leopold foundation center, environment, fsc, forest, stewarship, council

50 Responses to “First LEED Platinum Carbon Neutral Building!”

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The greenest building EVER built? Are you wanting to nail your colours to that mast?!

Anyway, that’s beside the point - this is a great building so congratulations to the architect, another step in the right direction…

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C Towers Says:

It is not saying it is the greenest Building EVER built.. Some time concentration while reading is needed to understand an article.
It is a great achievement and a goal to look forward… Congrats.

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Scott Says:

C Towers, maybe you should concentrate a little harder:

“making it the greenest building ever built”

An unambiguous claim that is almost certainly false. It is, however, likely the greenest LEED certified building ever built.

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jimmy Says:

@Scott - “Unambiguous”? Why don’t you just say unique…

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Scion Says:

I dont think its the greenest building ever built. It just looks like a normal house with a bunch of PV on the roof. The proposed one in San Francisco is in my oppinion the greenest ever.

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Fred Says:

I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that some of the Sod houses that the pioneers built may have this house beat.

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RW Says:

I believe a tee-pee is the greenest building ever built, but it must not count since it was not “market driven”. This one is nice though.

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pat Says:

Where’d they get all that fine lumber? and metal roofing? and howd they get those nice stones out of the ground and to the site? looks real pretty and im sure the result is green, but im guessing the whole damn thing had a nice and big carbon footprint. if they are going for the whole ‘one with mother earth’ deal, they couldve spent a whole lot less than $4 million on some thatch huts or teepees.

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It`s time to leave the trees alone…then maybe we can start to call green houses.
Stop wood from trees. No more framing houses.

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kent Says:

it got to start from somewhere and hopefully the world will have more in the near future

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doubletake Says:

yeah, EVER is a big call. I mean they didn’t even paint it green,

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Aaron Burr Says:

What about an igloo? I guess that’s white, not green… or brown in some cases :-\

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Tim Says:

Excuse me, but am I the only one thinking the mathematics of “greenness” are a little skewed here. How was the 4 Million USD generated? Does *it* have a green footprint too? I’d be more impressed if the materials and entire process were a home grown initiative rather than thowing a huge pile of money at a problem to make it ‘green’!

That said the building looks very nice, I just wish the yard stick for greenness took into account all the factors involved.



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evan Says:

I was going to side with the “this is not the greenest building ever” guys, but I remembered one thing that was mentioned in the article: “The building produces 15% more energy than what it consumes. . .” Which means that there is a net gain of energy. Last time I checked, tee-pees don’t create energy. In fact, I’d say that the owners could go so far as to say it is carbon negative, although that would not take into account the carbon created through the building of the structure. I’m sure it would take a while for that 15% to cover for the carbon that’s already been produced, but it could happen eventually. And by the way jimmy, he said ‘unambiguous’ instead of ‘unique’ because if he said ‘unique’, it wouldn’t make him sound smarter than C Towers.

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Steve A. Says:

I would wager that this may be one of, if not the, greenest buildings ever. For those claiming that pioneer’s sod homes and American Indians tee-pee are greener, how did they heat their homes? From what I recall they consumed more resources (wood) than they gave back.

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nytooz Says:

i think the claim it’s the greenest building EVER is dubious at best but it could be the greenest modern building(s) of this size.

Note to the editor, it’s Aldo Leopold, not Algo Leopold

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melp Says:

so you spread out the building as much as you can, sealing all this beutifull landscape off, create the biggest possible building envelope and put the building out there in the wilderness so everybody has to drive there. Way to go, way to go….

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tygern Says:

Everyone that has posted ridiculing this project is an absolute idiot. Instead of finding fault with every aspect of the construction, let’s focus on what is done right. I guarantee that nobody that has posted so far (myself included) lives anywhere that is even half this “green”. You people need to learn to recognize something special when you see it. Get a life.

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Scott Says:

And by the way jimmy, he said ‘unambiguous’ instead of ‘unique’ because if he said ‘unique’, it wouldn’t make him sound smarter than C Towers.

No, I said unambiguous because that is what I meant. Since when is “unique” a synonym of “unambiguous”? Are the schools really that bad?

Anyone who’s ever built their own house using local materials and manual labor, and heated it with any non-fossil fuel*, has built a greener building than this. That includes pretty much every structure erected before 1800 or so, and a large proportion built during the 19th and early 20th centuries.

*When you cut a tree down, a new one usually grows to replace it, so wood burning is generally a net carbon neutral process until you start completely clearing forests. There were other pre-industrial carbon neutral fuels available, like agricultural waste, or dung. By the way, nobody seems to have noticed that the building in this article has a huge chimney, with a wood burning stove attached to it.

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[...] First LEED Platinum Carbon Neutral Building! Produces 15% more energy than it uses. Extremely energy efficient. Radiant heating/cooling system installed in floors. Used 100% sustainable timber. Very friggin’ cool (tags: design environment green building) posted this entry on Friday, November 9th, 2007 at 12:24 am. Posted in the category Links You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site. [...]

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Nate Says:

I was going to let loose a torrent of shaming vitriol onto a whole bunch of you for confusing two completely unrelated words and criticizing somebody for properly used vocabulary of 2000+ words, but I realized that Scott had already pointed out that indeed, he actually meant what he wrote. Amazing.

That being said, having just spent a semester in the Adirondack park on conservation biology and “living with wilderness,” I must say, LEED certification strikes me as being rather thoroughly political and, honestly, fairly gamy. In one building that was certified, the curator walked around for almost an hour talking about all of the innovations and “green” building techniques being used, not as an indicator of environmental concern, but rather as a source of points that he was racking up for the goal of “silver” certification.

Now, I realize that I’m not a perfect example of green living, but I do feel like I can still criticize people who hold themselves out as being standards of environmental excellence, and yet seem to focus on “winning” some sort of silly game. Maybe that’s what the US Green Building Council wanted when they designed LEED - a big competition for silly developers and competitive architects - but I’d really like to see someone design a building as green as this without even going for LEED certification. Isn’t being carbon neutral/negative a worthy goal on its own?

Still, I have to applaud the work that has been done here. A carbon neutral building (if it’s really true) is an awesome thing.

To answer pat’s question, one of the ways to earn points (which this building, being platinum certified, has more than 80% of) is to use only local materials, thereby reducing transportation cost and carbon footprint. My (educated) guess is, since it’s platinum, it probably is almost exclusively local construction.

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AJ Says:

I can’t believe this thread of comments. How was the 4 Million USD generated? Are you for real? The Aldo Leopold Foundation raised the money through a fund drive. Also, what about the inspiration a building like this gives to other people. Think about the people who come away from the foundation and decide they want to build green homes for themselves. And Scott, the structures were built using mainly locally harvested wood. Only 7 sticks in the administration area were not locally grown. For all of you feeling that the greenest building claim is dubious, at least check out their website and more thorough information before you start slinging your poorly made critiques: The foundation buildings are built on Aldo Leopold’s land. They are doing it to honor someone who inspired countless people to appreciate nature so much more. I appreciate a good critique but give praise where praise is due!

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kenneth Says:

Some of the above comments really do alarm me as to who happens to read this sites entries and where they come from (education and location). Resist the temptation to post something if you have nothing accurate, constructive or interesting to say - I know I will.

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joel Says:

This building was not built to win awards…. it was built to provide a home for those working to further the Land Ethic. A place like this needs to ‘walk the talk’. The project ‘grew greener and greener’ thru the design process. LEED helped to keep the team on track….. you can’t know if you are doing well unless you measure… But for those that built the building the LEED platinum is a bonus. No one on the design team has ever called this the greenest building… what it is, is a great effort that the owner allowed to unfold… It is a laboratory.. hopefully we all learn from it and apply this learning to other stuff. Face the fact that the carbon discussion is necessary and real and will not go away. It’s tough to measure but we need to start somewhere.

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AJ, don’t despair of people who have nothing constructive to say about anything green and especially the concept of an Leed rating for the built enviroment. The smug ones will have nothing to say when it really hots up. (Admitedly, it is mildly ironic that the Leed rating system uses refined metals for its ratings marks, but we know what they mean)
Bravo to the Aldo Leopold Foundation and exactly the same to all those who come away inspired to do the same. I so can’t wait for some of the folk around me here in Australia to grasp the nettle and get on with what has to be done. You might like what I have to say in the thread two doors down.

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Steve Says:

Green is a relative term. This project demonstrates that “we” modern people need to have a better understanding of our choices and how they impact the environment. “We” cannot allow our decisions to be based upon unfounded claims, marketing ploys, and rumors.

We will never be truly green and carbon neutrality is simply a single measure. Declaring carbon neutrality as a holy grail of green-ness is absurd. Proclaiming to be in some form better than another because of this arbitrary measure is also absurd. Self-satisfaction and smugness about being green is silly.

Let me put forward several thoughts

1) PV cell arrays are made from rare earth and other minerals (see wiki link below if you want more) that are extracted from the earth. Solar arrays do not themselves burn fossil fuels - calling them environmentally friendly is a whole different argument.

2) I’m pretty sure form looking at the legacy center website fasteners were used in construction (nails, bolts, metal plates) and some other metal based products (tools, forklifts, copper wiring, conduit, etc.) Most of those were not likely ‘local’ and they are also made from minerals extracted from the earth and refined in an industrial processes.

3) The people who built the building came in cars, wore manufactured clothing, and ate food likely bought from a grocery store - all inherently not green

In sum - Carbon neutrality can have some benefits, but is in large a marketing gimmick to make people feel better and sell products (see second link below - PV cells are big business). Greener buildings, and living, is an admirable goal in itself. The need for self-sanctified ‘green-ness’ actually hurts overall progress. I guarantee that most people who love ‘green’ topics dislike heavy industry and mining without understanding that they are essential to our current life on earth. Working together we can make progress to better the environment - chasing carbon neutrality is not the answer. To deride the legacy center because it is not “green” is a waste of time. To admire its goal of using materials in a more efficient manner is a good thing. It is about progress, small incremental steps of progress.

Falsehood often lurks upon the tongue of him, who, by self-praise, seeks to enhance his value in the eyes of others. - Arnold Bennett

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Paul Says:

$333.00 / sq. ft. construction cost (published cost, not necessarily the actual cost). That’s one expensive building. As an architect, I can tell you the idea> of LEED is good. The Green Building Council and LEED systems are political, and self-serving. The goals are good, but LEED is not the best way to go (which is a topic for a different discussion).

Otherwise, the building looks pretty decent… but it better for that much coin.

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[...] has a story on the greenest LEED building ever built. The building produces 15% more energy than what it consumes by using 198-panel 39.6 kilowatt solar [...]

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Todd Says:

Want the greenest building? Stop breeding, stop building, live in shelter that’s already standing.

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[...] read more | digg story [...]

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Craig Says:

LEED, USDA Organic, FSC… none of these are perfect, but they are setting up “certain cogs and wheels” in the economic Juggernaut, as Aldo Leopold had hoped more than 70 years ago.

Here’s an excerpt from his essay, “Game and Wild Life Conservation,” published in 1932.

“…I realize that every time I turn on an electric light, or ride on a Pullman, or pocket the unearned increment on a stock, or a bond, or a piece of real estate, I am ’selling out’ to the enemies of conservation. When I submit these thoughts to a printing press, I am helping cut down the woods. When I put cream in my coffee, I am helping to drain a marsh for cows to graze, and to exterminate the birds of Brazil. When I go birding or hunting in my Ford, I am devastating an oil field, and re-electing an imperialist to get me rubber. Nay more: when I father more than two children I am creating an insatiable need for more printing presses, more cows, more coffee, more oil, and more rubber, to supply which more birds, more trees, and more flowers will either be killed, or what is just as destructive, evicted from their several environments.

What to do? I see only two courses open to the likes of us. One is to go and live on locusts in the wilderness, if there is any wilderness left. The other is to surreptiously set up within the economic Juggernaut certain new cogs and wheels whereby the residual love of nature, inherent even in Rotarians, may be made to recreate at least a fraction of those values which their love of ‘progress is destroying. A briefer way to put it is; if we want Mr. Babbitt to rebuild outdoor America, we must let him use the same tools with which he destroyed it.”

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As a Senior and ex-military wife stationed in japan for three years, I was given a great glimpse of how the Japanese utilize nature as part of their living and culture. That of course was in 1955, but the homes were designed to incorporate all the essences of nature. I have realized that seniors needing retirement housing are being left behind and discover they cannot afford to live on these places on their limited retirement income. How about designing green living quarters with residential senior living in mind?

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Mark Says:

Can those panels be recycled if they become damaged, deteriorate, or loose significant efficiency over time? Panels don’t last forever, since they, too, rely on a finite supply of energy released within the panel itself. Besides that, platinum is a scarce metal. Can’t someone just figure out a more subtle way of deriving energy?? like extracting atoms from objects and releasing their energy in a controlled manner without chemical or radioactive intervention? This all just seems to be prolonging the inevitable… too many people consuming resources on a tiny planet. The population is growing exponentially, and the natural lifespan being unnaturally protracted by amazing medical and technological advances. More people are being born than are dying.

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Nate Says:

Green is fantastic, don’t get me wrong. I would love to see every building LEED certified, if only so they measure their carbon footprint and think about what damage they are doing to the environment when they needlessly use such opulent and excessive materials. Leopold would have certainly hoped for this.

Simply because someone criticizes something good doesn’t mean that they want it destroyed, or hate it, or even dislike it. Do I really think anyone is going to read my comments and seriously think about going green for green’s sake? Probably not. I’m in college, living in a dormitory that runs it heat off electricity in the winter straight from the local grid, eating fresh produce daily from halfway around the world, driving a mini-van by myself, and basically continually adding to all the carbon and energy waste that I care so much about NOT producing. I try to be as green as I can, but to fit in as a healthy member of society who can enact some real change, I need to go to college, and I need a car, and I need to eat. So I am well aware that I am open to hypocrisy. If I could, I would go green tomorrow, or at least, that’s what I’d like to think. But I don’t really know if I believe that. Would I really give up all those comforts of modern life that I’ve come to depend on?

So, yeah, I could be called a cynic, a hypocrite and an ignorant kid. Maybe I am. But I really think that as human beings we’re going to go with what’s easiest. We’ve already raped the earth pretty thoroughly, and we can go on denying it, or we can start to act. I say we act now to save what we can and fix what we’ve destroyed, if at all possible. But we need to be aware of how we tend to operate. We want what’s easy. It’s easy to be green and to keep green things in mind when building a new center in honor of Aldo Leopold by following LEED guidelines. But what we really need to do is learn to fight that tendency towards cultural and personal laziness (my own battle), and build all of our buildings green, in honor of people who DONT remind us of how we’ve failed as a race, in places that aren’t pristine and make us feel good about ourselves, in ways that solve the problem, not just meet the criteria.

So, no, I’m not bashing the Aldo Leopold Foundation Headquarters. It is a beautiful building heading strongly in the right direction. I just wish that it was a common incident indicative of a trend, and not something so rare as to be fascinating news.

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Nate, mate. your personal struggle for green credability IS honouring Aldo Leopolds ethos. any small task is a contributing factor in the task ahead. Check out Craig’s nov 9th post.
The dichotomy between the ‘individual’ and the fact that our existance on this earth is one inherently indivisible from that earth and all creation, is a religious problem. It is not a science problem or a production problem or even a social problem. The answers could be found in all those disparate fields of research, but until humanity regains its instinctive emotional engagement with the world around it, the application of those ‘answers’ will be a task indeed.
BUT, though the problem was religiously created by inventing the consept of a ‘personal salvation’ directly in conflict with the indivisible nature of our existance ‘in tune with’ the earth, which in turn created the consept of individuality (and loneliness, and notions of ineffectiveness and ultimately providing the basis for the political reality of ‘divide and rule’); the fact remains that we are not individuals in the effect that each and every one of ‘contributes’ to the effect on the whole. (eg climate change)
To paraphrase the words of Ghandi “You must be the change that you want to see in the world around you.” And that is the least that you have to do because you can do even more simply by letting other people see you. That is the importance of an LEED rating and the Leopolds of this world. The sum of a green consciousness amongst thinkers, regulators and designers and ‘little itty bitty’ people is greater than the whole not because we contribute to the whole but because we are the whole and we cannot avoid it.

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miles Says:

Something funny in that claim of carbon neutrality don’t you think? Read more here:

* Total emissions: 13.42 tonC/yr
* Offset from renewable energies: -6.24 tonC/yr
* Forest sequestration: -8.75 tonC/yr
* Net result: -1.57 tonC/yr

They only get there by including carbon sequestration in a local foundation owned forest! So I guess the secret to building a carbon neutral building is to buy or already own an adjacent forest. While this is true, it is not practical for most people.

The whole carbon offsets and carbon credits business leaves a bad tasted in my mouth. People fly in airplanes and then pay guilt money, indulgences, to companies that claim to somehow somewhere invest in projects that emit carbon at a lower rate than it would otherwise be emitted. You get the idea. An accounting scam… and such scams are multiplying. Is this another one? Hard to say, but we should all be skeptical.

I applaud green design, but as others have mentioned an analysis of the carbon emissions embedded in the construction process and in the materials would also put these claims of greenness in perspective.

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Quite agree Miles. ‘Indulgences’ is the perfect description for such false accounting. But, it’s better than no accounting as it has been for generations since the inception of the industrial revolution. My post above yours contains the phrase “the fact remains that we are not individuals in the effect that each and every one of us ‘contributes to the affect on the whole”. So to to for every step forward in accounting.

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[...] LEED’s certified carbon-neutral building was recently finished in Wisconsin. According to Inhabitat, the building scored a 61 of a possible 69 LEED points, which includes producing 15% more [...]

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Andy G Says:

I’m not sure how green the aluminium roof and quarried stone are…but well done. good effort

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[...] Here are some great photos and details on the First LEED Platinum Carbon Neutral Building. It’s located in Wisconsin, what is it about Wisconsin and innovative architecture? Inhabitat: First LEED Platinum Carbon Neutral Building. [...]

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[...] First LEED Platinum Carbon Neutral Building [...]

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margaret Says:

forgotten are the cave dwellers

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Michael Says:

This building is very nice looking but as an example of green home building it is of little practical value.

Build a carbon neutral house not a “center”. Build it in the city or better yet the suburbs on a plot of land next to all the other existing carbon… positive(?) houses. That is where all the most wasteful construction occurs so exemplify how it can be done differently there, not in the woods. Build it for as much as or less than existing homes, not for millions of dollars. Build it for a family who will then live in it and tell us what they think not what the builders want us to believe.

This site is nothing more than a millionaires compound in a forest populated by new age hippies being used as window dressing for the press in another politically motivated stunt.

Prove the technology in the real world or nobody in the real world will take it seriously.

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marco Says:

The greenest building ever built is an exaggeration, for sure! :) Anyway, the designers made a great job.
The point is to consider the overall flows of raw materials used (wood, metals, chemical compounds) and also all the flow of energy needed for running all the facilities inside. That could be a good starting point. Then, for all these flows, we should consider how such flows can impact the surrounding environment, where all the wastes go, etc. I’d love to know if they have an in depht analysis of all the sustainability impacts.
Thanks, Marco.

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teus Says:

wow, people like to nit pic. I’m sure its not the greenest building ever built, and people should be careful when making these kinds of statments, but at least this building is a step in the right direction.

and since we are picking nits, since when has ‘unique’ been a synonym for ‘unambiguous’ ? Must be american English

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vagen Says:

the overall health of the forest (the leopold memorial reserve) was taken into consideration prior to the construction of the legacy center. the forest, which was planted by the leopold family, had reached a level of maturation where the trees were actually suffering from over competition, thus limiting their ability to sequester carbon. selectively harvesting the poorest trees in the forest improved the overall health of the forest and yielded the majority of the structural and finish materials. the logs used in the trusses were bucked on-site by the hands of many volunteers. milling of lumber and finish materials was done by a small, on-site operation (and a local business). it is the product of the local community and they are proud of it.

it is great to see people looking critically at both operating energy and embodied energy.

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[...] of the biggest tenets of living a sustainable life is doing more with less, and as we grapple with reducing our carbon footprints we have to take a closer look at how we equip the world we live in. These beautiful [...]

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akrueger Says:

@ Scott, and others who seem to be concerned on the matter…

My dad designed this building, and I would like to say that this is not an arbitrary title. While the term “greenest building” leaves a lot of room for question on its exact definition, the entire building was created with the conservation of energy and resources carefully considered. The materials for this building were all supplied locally. The vast majority of the lumber used was cut down on site, and they even used horses to drag the fallen trees. The work that went into the design that allowed the great efficiency that it has, and to create the internal system that collects the energy produced was no easy feat.


The fact that the building is a center not a home is not really important. The building was created for a client, and not intended to be making any sort of strive to win awards and ratings. The architect is simply an environmentalist who takes into consideration all that he can when designing his buildings. His goal is simple, to make a difference in whatever small ways he can, and although I am very bias, I think he has done a great job, and a lot more than many others out there.

Thanks for all the kind words. I think the fact that a building is out there that produces more energy than it uses should be praised, not scrutinized. Isn’t that why we are all here? Because we want more people to take the time and energy to think about the environment?

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