Designing an environmentally conscious office can be such a large project that companies in the Bay Area and around the world just end up building a brand-new facility. Retrofitting and renovations can drain enough precious time and and money that businesses choose to design their project from scratch.

However, the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found a way to receive LEED Platinum certification and approval from the International Living Future Institute for designing an office that reinforces sustainability in their renovation of Chicago’s Civic Opera Building that was built in 1929.

While the U.S. Green Building Council allows a little more flexibility in how a building can gain points, the demands of the International Living Future Institute’s Living Building Challenge are so rigorous that only four facilities have met the organization’s demands.

“This is not for the faint of heart,” Andrea Cooper, a sustainability consultant at WMA Sustainability Solutions Group, told the Grid. “With the Living Building Challenge, you have to do everything for the specific certification you’re trying to get from them.”

The Living Building Challenge consists of seven categories and applicants must wholly complete three of the categories. Organizations that are working in a retrofitted space, like the NRDC​, are also allowed to apply for a partial certification because changes like altering the building’s heating and cooling system may not be as simple.

Because NRDC was redesigning their space within an older building, the nonprofit faced these issues, but chose to focus on the problems they could control. NRDC worked with Chicago-based Studio Gang Architects, a firm that is also known for its sustainability efforts.

Grid contributor Judith Nemes writes that the “most daunting part of the process was finding furniture, doors, flooring, and other interior finishes that didn’t contain hazardous chemicals or materials on the [International Living Future I]nstitute’s ‘red list.'” Instead of purchasing new doors, NRDC reused some of the office’s old wood doors.

Despite the growing popularity of the Living Building Challenge, which has received applications from New Zealand and Lebanon, WMA Sustainability Solutions Group consultant Andrea Cooper added that it is likely that LEED will continue to be a common green building resource.

NRDC’s efforts to go beyond LEED Platinum is a large feat, but some measures like utilizing used office furnishings helped them stay within budget.

Emerging businesses in the San Francisco area can do their part to reduce waste and greenhouse gases by utilizing used business furniture. These carefully selected commercial furniture pieces will impress discriminating buyers and are suitable for long-term corporate use.