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

The HGA-designed Margaret A. Cargill Lodge is the first renovated building to achieve full Living Building Challenge certification.
Oct 27, 2021 12:00 PM ET
Press Release

October 27, 2021 /3BL Media/ - 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 rigorous 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 1st in the upper Midwest region (MN, WI, ND, SD). It is located in the coldest design climate so far to achieve LBC certification.

“Wolf Ridge is a place where people learn about the natural systems we all depend on, in a manner that creates an understanding of what we must do to interact responsibly with our environment and safeguard natural resources for future generations,” said Peter Smerud, Wolf Ridge Executive Director. He continued, “The entire ethos of our organization is at work within the MAC lodge building, as it does not disrupt the nature it sits within, but rather becomes another teaching tool to help visitors understand their effect on the planet, and ultimately how to become better stewards of the land.”

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% of all metals were reused or recycled.
  • Only 4 trees were removed from the construction site giving contractors space for 8 dumpsters to recycle everything used or removed for the renovation. There were 8 new climate-adaptive trees planted as replacements.
  • The Forest Stewardship Council (FSC)-harvested wood was sourced from the Finland, MN area by Louisiana Pacific (LP) and processed in their plant located in Two Harbors, MN
  • 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 $8.4M into the regional economy during seven years of planning and construction. Today, it serves as an example for thousands of school children each year what sustainable building of the future looks like today.

“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. She continued, “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.”

Read the comprehensive Living Building Challenge case study here.

Wolf Ridge would like to thank Margaret A. Cargill Philanthropies for their generous support. This project is part of the Wolf Ridge Making Waves capital campaign. Visit www.wolf-ridge.org/livingbuilding for more information.

Project Overview:

  • Project: Margaret A. Cargill Lodge
  • Location: Finland, MN
  • Size: 22,000 square feet
  • Beds: 188
  • Rooms: 5 communal gathering spaces; 25 guest rooms
  • Architect: HGA
  • Builder: Gardner Builders

About Wolf Ridge

Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center is the largest accredited residential environmental learning center in the nation. Established in 1971, Wolf Ridge was the first environmental learning center in the nation to be accredited as a K-12 school and is recognized nationally and internationally as a leader in environmental education. Today it welcomes over 15,000 visitors annually to its 2,000 acre campus for year-round programing that includes summer camps, family programs, wilderness trips, higher education programs and more. Visit Wolf Ridge.

About HGA

HGA is a national interdisciplinary design firm committed to making a positive, lasting impact for our clients and communities through research-based, holistic solutions. We believe that great design requires a sense of curiosity—forming deep insight into our clients, their contexts, and the human condition. We are a collective of over 800 architects, engineers, interior designers, planners, researchers, and strategists. Our practice spans multiple markets, including corporate, cultural, education, local and federal government, healthcare, and science and technology.

Visit HGA.com or follow on LinkedIn, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.

About The International Living Future Institute

The International Living Future Institute is a global nonprofit organization that inspires the greenest buildings for a healthy world. The Institute’s mission is to advance communities that are socially just, culturally rich, and ecologically restorative. ILFI operates the Living Building Challenge, the world’s most ambitious, advanced, and holistic performance standard for green, resilient, and healthy buildings. It is also a hub for many other visionary programs that support the transformation toward–and provide a compelling vision for–a living future accessible to all. Learn more at www.living-future.org.

Media Contacts:

Michelle Nelsen
HGA, PR Director

Jolene Brink
Wolf Ridge Environmental Learning Center, Marketing and Communications Manager