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What’s Even Greener Than LEED? The Omega Center

An educational center in New York might be the world’s first building to earn a tough, ultra-green designation.

Omega Center for Sustainable Living

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Tomorrow brings the official opening of the Omega Center for Sustainable Living, an educational retreat which has a the grand ambition of becoming not only LEED Platinum certified, but Living Building Certified–a relatively new designation meant to test the limits of green building, which has never been met before.

Located in Rhinebeck, New York, the 6,500-square-foot building sits on 195 acres of land. It was designed by BNIM, but the center’s marquee feature is a a 4,500-square-foot greenhouse–a so-called “Eco-Machine” responsible for recycling and treating all of the center’s wastewater, using a series of tanks loaded with bacteria, and a simulated wetland comprising plants, algae, snails, and fungi. The daily capacity is an impressive 52,000 gallons–which should be more than enough for the center’s 23,000 visitors.

The system was invented by Dr. John Todd, a pioneer in creating “living machines.” All of the center’s energy needs will be met with a PV array, and the heating and cooling are provided geothermally.

Meanwhile, the Living Building Challenge–invented by Jason F. McLennan and operated by the
Cascadia Green Building Council (a founding chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council)–was intended to emphasize the total performance of a building. So while LEED relies on a lengthy checklist with features that can earn a building points towards a LEED designation, the Living Building standard mandates that a building have zero impact: It has to generate its own energy, use no outside water, and be produced using local materials. Will the Omega Center pass muster? It’ll take a little while to see, and it depends if the metrics prove the bona fides of the technologies involved. Stay tuned.

You can read more about the building’s features in our July issue.

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Continuing coverage of Green Bulding.

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About the author

Cliff was director of product innovation at Fast Company, founding editor of Co.Design, and former design editor at both Fast Company and Wired.

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