How does Living Building Challenge (LBC) certification differ from LEED certification?
LBC is a green-building certification that’s more difficult to achieve than LEED. It covers seven categories or “petals”—materials, energy and water being the big three. For LEED, you get points for installing solar panels that cover 15% of your energy use. For LBC, you’re required to produce 105% of your annual energy needs, so that’s a lot more panels. And it has to be renewable technology on site; you can’t purchase credits. As for water, you’re required to treat and re-use all your own water and gather the water you need on your site. You’re not allowed to connect to the water utility.
The materials petal requires you to vet every single building material for about 800 toxic chemicals, like BPA, neoprene and lead. I personally vetted about 3,500 materials. A lot of manufacturers don’t want to disclose everything, so you have to find alternatives. In the end, we were very successful in eliminating some not-so-great chemicals, and you could tell because, when we were done with construction, the building did not have that “new building smell.”
Tell us about some of your materials choices.
The exterior siding for the winery and the tasting room is salvaged redwood. It came from barrels that used to be owned by Robert Mondavi Winery. They phased them out and the staves had been stacked and under cover for years. The interior of the tasting room and parts of the offices are salvaged oak from fire-damaged trees. For most of our walls, we used recycled denim for insulation. It’s just as efficient as fiberglass.
Even your landscaping choices got scrutinized.
The landscape is irrigated entirely with recycled water and uses only native or adapted plants. We have bay laurel hedges, a lot of California native fescues and bio-swales on either side of our entrance that capture and filter rainwater that runs off from the hardscape.
“Health and happiness” is one of the LBC petals. How are you tackling that part?
Indoor air-quality testing is part of that petal. Another part is selecting interior materials—carpets, furniture, paint—that meet California Department of Health criteria for emissions. Every work station has to be within 30 feet of an operable window or door. We have a giant break room and two large outdoor patios for employee use. Everybody in the offices has a view. We definitely wanted to design around making employees happy, and I think the employee consensus is only positive.
All this investment sounds very costly. Does it make business sense?
Some of the largest investments make a lot of sense financially. We all know solar panels have a good ROI. The bioreactor was a significant investment, but its footprint is smaller than a wastewater-treatment pond, so we were able to plant more vines. The battery is cutting-edge technology and supposed to save us a lot on our energy bill.
Our first priority is always wine quality. That was the constant theme during construction, but we want to be proactive. We know laws are changing, so it made sense to invest the time and resources now and be a leader rather than wait until it’s a requirement.
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