Toxic Free Building: for the Environment and Our Health

The intersection of health and the environment is core to Barbara and Bill Steele’s work as farmers and winegrowers in Southern Oregon.

Cowhorn vineyard, located just 45-minutes from Ashland & Medford, sits in the Applegate Valley in a place “teeming with wildlife.”

“When we started Cowhorn, our mission was to create a model for other farmers that could be economically viable,” said Barbara Steele of their biodynamic-certified vineyard and farm.

Cowhorn Vineyard’s recently completed a 2,200sf tasting room, patio and storage facility   responds to the connection between environment and health in a whole new way. After a rigorous three-year process, Cowhorn received recognition this May as the first winery in the world to receive Petal Certification in four areas–Materials, Site, Equity and Beauty–by the Living Building Challenge (LBC) from the International Living Future Institute.

The Steeles worked with Portland-based Green Hammer, a business member of OEC, to design and build the space.

Building an innovative new construction in a distant part of Southern Oregon provided its own surprises with talented, local craftspeople springing forward to help. Green Hammer source the majority of building materials from within 600 miles of the construction site or closer.

LBC Petal Certification measures a building’s impact on the environment in multiple ways. Each piece that went into creating the building, needed to demonstrate it had no known carcinogens, no red-listed items, no known toxic substances. Everything, from the pipes to the adhesives had to be considered. Green Hammer vetted more than 1,200 building materials to ensure they did not contain any toxic and bioaccumulative substances such as PVC, flame-retardants, bisphenol A (BPA) and heavy metals known to be harmful to human health and common in the building industry.

“To forge a positive future for the generations to come, we need property owners like Cowhorn to demonstrate that it’s possible to create healthy buildings without using toxic materials,” said Stephen Aiguier, founder and CEO of Green Hammer.

LBC Petal Certification is considered the world’s most progressive and rigorous standard for green buildings. Going above and beyond LEED certification, Living Buildings must meet a series of ambitious performance requirements over a minimum of 12 months.

This is only the fourth building in Oregon to receive such recognition.

“I know that this building is healthy. My employees talk about how there’s no scents, no dry nose,” said Barbara.

The tasting room, resting feet away from the vines and a view of the hills, also operates at a “net-positive” with air ducts that naturally recirculate, to balance temperature, taking air to cool during the day or stay warm at night. Every detail was considered, from recirculating steam in the dishwasher, to the cork finish on the exterior walls.

“It literally gives back,” said Barbara.

And for the Steeles, they know that by taking steps to build something good for not only the environment but the people working and visiting, they are informing yet another industry.

Their effort to obtain building materials, many sourced locally, that met the Petal requirements, encouraged manufacturers to make something that now that they can make for someone else. Plus, all of the materials used are now in a directory for others to access.

“That is transformative. That is REAL change,” said Barbara.

And so, continuing the cycle of creating innovative options that are good for our health, our environment and the people who live and work here in Oregon.

Find out more about the Living Building Challenge – LBC Petal Certification: Case Study on Cowhorn Vineyards

See a slideshow of the Steele’s tasting room:

Cowhorn Vineyards Success Story from Energy Trust of Oregon on Vimeo.

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