Indian Creek Nature Center becomes one of 31 buildings in world to achieve exclusive water, energy efficiency mark

One of just dozens worldwide to meet rigorous Living Building standards


CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s official: Just over three years after opening, Indian Creek Nature Center is one of a handful of buildings worldwide to achieve Living Building Petal Certification.


That means it meets a rigorous set of standards, put forth by the International Living Future Institute, on energy and water efficiency and other green-building metrics. Only 31 buildings around the world have achieved the certification, 24 of them in the United States. Indian Creek’s building, appropriately dubbed the “Amazing Space,” is the only one in Iowa.

Jean Wiedenheft, director of land stewardship at Indian Creek Nature Center, started at the center in 2001, before the new building was constructed. She said when plans for the building were being formulated, going for this design was something the staff and board decided to make a priority.

“One of the things we’ve always felt strongly about as a nature center is we should be a voice for sustainability and for the community,” she said.

That meant constructing a building that would double as a nature center and as a showcase for sustainable building techniques.

Though the building was designed to meet the Living Building standards, it had to demonstrate it was fulfilling net zero energy and water use for one year before it could be certified.

In March 2018, the Nature Center announced it had achieved that; from March 1, 2017, to Feb. 28, 2018, the building’s solar panels generated 135.4 megawatt hours of electricity, but the space used only 111.4.

Net zero energy was one several metrics, or “petals,” that Indian Creek achieved to become certified, said Patsy Heasly, certification specialist at the International Living Future Institute.

“The living building challenge is based on the concept of a flower that gets its own energy and water from the location where it is — it can’t import those from somewhere else. It’s taking its site and the habitat it lives in and thriving there,” she said. “That’s sort of the notion — that if buildings are able to do that, they’ll be much more sustainable and regenerative.”


Buildings are required to achieve only three of seven petals the institute measures for the Living Building certification, but Indian Creek achieved six.

Along with net zero energy and water usage, those are site/place, health, equity and beauty. Site refers to restoring a healthy coexistence with nature, health includes things like high quality air standards and windows that let in fresh air and daylight, and equity includes things like promoting culture and interaction.

The center is working toward zero waste certification, another program the Living Future Institute offers, with things like compostable dishes used at big events like the annual Maple Syrup Festival.

Other elements that contributed to the Petal certification include:

• Permeable pavers, an on-site pond and prairie plants with deep roots that let water drain back into the soil slowly instead of running into storm drains or into nearby waterways, thus decreasing downstream flooding.

• A geothermal heating and cooling system, with an energy recovery unit that cools or heats air coming into the building efficiently.

• Solar panels on the roof and grounds. A partnership with Alliant Energy allows Indian Creek to lease the panels for 15 years, while Alliant is able to use them to field test panel angles and other operations. That data can be used to make future solar array constructions more efficient.

• Most construction materials for the building were sourced within 500 miles, with limestone from Stone City and reclaimed barn wood used throughout the space.

• Green lights in each room signal when the temperature and humidity are at the right levels to open the windows.

• Biophilic design, which means incorporating nature and natural patterns into the building, can be seen in things like a living plant wall in one hallway and the bird observation room, where special glass keeps birds from colliding with the windows and their sound is piped into the room on speakers.


The institute’s Heasly said while “beauty” — things like biophilic design — doesn’t address energy efficiency directly, it’s still an important part of the program.

“A flower is beautiful. We feel buildings need to be places that inspire and nurture,” she said. “We want sustainable buildings to be places people want to be in, otherwise the concept of a sustainable building isn’t going to go very far.”

She said keeping people happy and healthy is also part of sustainability, and connections to nature are show to decrease stress and increase health.

“Sustainability is not just about the materials that go into the building, but the life of the building itself,” said Nicole Van Batenburg, Living Future Institute director of communications. “We definitely see our programs as on the living edge of being models for change. Every time a new project gets certified, it’s a demonstration that it’s possible to live within our means and give back to the planet we live on every day.”

Wiedenheft agreed.

“We’re one building, we’re one nature center. What we do here is just one building, but we can show how these things can be used in other sites, how they can work, how they can be affordable, how other sites can incorporate them,” she said.

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If you go

What: Living Building announcement and celebration

When: 10 a.m. Tuesday

Where: Indian Creek Nature Center, 5300 Otis Rd. SE, Cedar Rapids

Details: A news conference announcing the certification is open to the public, with a reception to follow.