Las Vegas Food Hub Series: Setting the Standard with the Living Building Challenge

In our initiative to create a viable Food Hub in Las Vegas we are subscribing to the design, social, and environmental parameters set by the Living Building Challenge.  The Living Building Challenge asserts itself as providing the  most rigorous performance standard for the built environment. With 5 petals and 20 imperative, they differentiate themselves from other sustainable standards in that they require a year long assessment of the the building’s actual performance to reach certification in addition to energy modeled estimates.

Some of the petals provide detailed guidelines for how you achieve them while others require a bit more research and consultation with the organization. In order to see how to apply this to our food hub project, we divided the research by imperative.

Embodied Carbon Footprint

My primary focus was number 11: embodied carbon footprint.  It requires that:

“The project must account for the total embodied carbon (tCO2e) impact from its construction through a one-time carbon offset in the Institute’s new Living Future Carbon Exchange or an approved carbon offset provider.

As you will notice it is bit vague on  how this is achieved so I performed some additional research exploring the definition of carbon foot print and its difference from embodied carbon.  Surprisingly, I found that they have evolved ubiquitously since the induction of the term ” carbon foot print” in Williams E. Rees and Mathis Wackernagel’s Our Ecological Footprint: Reducing Human Impact on the Earth.  With various definitions that slightly regarded the same thing, we accepted that:

“The Carbon footprint is a exclusive measure of the total amount of carbon dioxide emissions that is directly and indirectly  caused by an activity or is accumulated over the life stages of a product.”

How does this effect the food hub design?

I realized the relevance to our project could form in two ways: our physical building materials and also our actual aggregation, production, and distribution of our products (food).


In our preliminary designs, my team has  been considering which materials will serve best in the Las Vegas climate. Initially, we selected concrete and steel as our primary structure for their thermal and resiliency properties. But, through research have I concluded that both have high amounts of embodied energy and may not be suitable. Consequently, we are considering integrating other options like rammed earth in addition to seeing if we are able to simply source these initial material selections locally and with recycled components.



After a discussion with, Living Building Challenge’s Principal, Daniel Huard, it was made clear that its possibly  we could score some points toward certification by considering the embodied energy of the food. This  consideration could manifests itself in a a few ways: where we source our suppliers, how we choose to produce onsite, and how we choose to distribute (delivery vs in-house). We are in the process of creating a strategy. Much of the conversation surrounding this topic revolves around how much carbon is released in the delivery process, as well as the correlation of how much nutrients is lost along the process. In order to address this, we have chosen to only source locally and within the regional food shed.


  1. This is a process we can map out through estimates and modeling
  2. This is a process we will have to continually revise potential impacts as we make adjust to our design
  3. Tracking the embodied energy of food is not a required step to achieving certification but depending on our mission we may want to include