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Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center Earns Highest Environmental Certification in the World

FINLAND, MN — The Margaret A. Cargill (MAC) Lodge at Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center — an internationally-recognized leader in environmental education — is the first renovation project in the world to receive full Living Building Challenge (LBC) certification by the International Living Future Institute. The International Living Future Institute (ILFI) defines living buildings as:
  • Regenerative buildings that connect occupants to light, air, food, nature, and community
  • Self-sufficient and remain within the resource limits of their site
  • Create a positive impact on the human and natural systems that interact with them

National interdisciplinary design firm HGA was brought on to redesign and renovate the lodge to meet the highest international standards for sustainability. To achieve this standard, the 22,000-square-foot Wolf Ridge MAC Lodge has proved its ability to achieve Net Positive Energy and Net Positive Water over a 12-month period, generating more energy than it consumes. The lodge is the 30th Living Building worldwide to receive this certification, and the first in the upper Midwest region. It is located in the coldest design climate so far to achieve LBC certification.

It took an entire community of planners, contractors, and donors to make this project happen. All 27 contractors involved received training in LBC standards, which required all materials be locally sourced. LBC standards also prohibit the use of red list chemicals known to impact human and environmental health.

As a result:

  • No metals went to the landfill. 100 percent of all metals were reused or recycled.
  • Only four trees were removed from the construction site, giving contractors space for eight dumpsters to recycle everything used or removed for the renovation. There were eight new climate-adaptive trees planted as replacements.
  • The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-harvested wood was sourced from the Finland, Minnesota, area by Louisiana Pacific (LP) and processed in their plant located in Two Harbors, Minnesota.
  • Products were adapted to higher material health standards. Benjamin Moore changed a line of commercial interior paint to meet LBC compliance for use in the MAC Lodge.

“Sometimes the greenest building is the one that already exists,” said Lindsay Baker, CEO, International Living Future Institute. “Wolf Ridge proves that a renovation project can deliver just as much holistic impact as new construction.”

The HGA design meets all 20 of these Imperatives while also focusing on the human experience within the interior spaces and celebrating Wolf Ridge’s core principle: connect with nature to care about nature. The interior design promotes all six features of Biophilic Design: Environmental Features, Place-Based Relationships, Light & Space, Natural Patterns & Processes, Natural Shapes & Forms, and Evolved Human-Nature Relationships.

Because LBC projects are required to contribute to the expansion of a regional economy rooted in sustainable practices, products, and services, the MAC Lodge put an estimated $8.4 million into the regional economy during seven years of planning and construction.

“The live-learn design concept for the MAC Lodge engages the occupants as learners and teaches them how to live a sustainable lifestyle. For example, students and visitors can see their contributions to net positive energy and water,” said Ariane Laxo, Sustainability Director at HGA. “Display monitors in the dorm rooms and lobby show each group’s impact on the water and energy consumption of the building — a rare instant visual representation that inspires everyone to change their behavior to have a smaller impact on the environment.”

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