CEC and its partners have just completed a new sustainable environmental education center to better serve the Whitewater Valley and beyond!

The new facility expands Cope Environmental Center’s capacity for environmental programs, serve as a community gathering space, and act as a powerful teaching tool for sustainable living in East-Central Indiana. CEC firmly believes that the center’s new facilities exemplify its philosophy and mission to promote the sustainable use of the earth’s resources. For this reason, CEC decided to participate in the Living Building Challenge, which has arguably the most rigorous green building standards in the world, even beyond LEED. Currently, only 7 buildings in the United States have reached “Living Building” certification. CEC hopes to be among the next in line.  Thanks to our partnerships with LWC, Heapy Engineering, and Ball State’s CERES, this dream is becoming a reality!

In addition, with CEC as the “trailhead” for Indiana’s Bicentennial Legacy Conservation Area and Children of Indiana Nature Park, the building will be a launching point and orientation space for the thousands of students and visitors from across the state coming to CEC to learn about conservation and sustainability starting in 2016. This public/private partnership between CEC, Indiana Department of Natural Resources, Whitewater Valley Land Trust and Indiana Nature Conservancy is a keystone project of Indiana’s Bicentennial Celebration!

The building has finally been completed and we are settling in!  We would like to share our favorite personal touches of our new building! First we have our ash counter tops in the office area. The counter top is made of white ash from our very own property! The ash tree was taken down due to the damage caused by the emerald ash borer. The damage comes from Emerald Ash Borer larvae, as females lay their eggs under the bark of ash trees. The larvae eat their way out of the tree and leave a trail behind them, like this:


Other personal touches to the building include our beautiful handrail! This handrail was hand-made by one of our very own volunteer carpenter Charlie Probasco out of cherry wood. We are incredibly grateful for all of our volunteer carpenters whose work was irreplaceable in this endeavor!




















We give special thanks to companies who have given full or partial in kind donations so far to this project to make this one of a kind building possible!

James Hardie


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The Living Building Challenge

The Living Building Challenge (LBC) is a certification program that defines the most advanced measure of sustainability—providing a framework for design, construction and the symbiotic relationship between people and all aspects of the built environment. It is one of most rigorous performance standards in the industry. It requires net-zero for energy, waste and water by every project.

Each facet of the Living Building Challenge is performance-based so every building must measure for 12 consecutive months after completion before receiving certification. When projects achieve this level of performance, they can claim to be the ‘greenest’ anywhere and will serve as role models for future construction.

The LBC is comprised of seven performance areas, or “Petals” – Materials, Site, Water, Energy, Health, Equity, and Beauty. Here’s a brief overview of each Petal to help understand the goal and intentions of the certification.

The Seven Petals

1. Site Petal

This petal clearly articulates where it is acceptable to build, how to protect and restore a place once it has been developed and how to encourage the creation of communities that are based on the pedestrian and not the automobile. One of the Imperatives of the Site Petal is “Habitat Exchange,” which requires that for each hectare of development, an equal amount of land away from the project site must be set aside in perpetuity. Following this petal’s imperatives, CEC is adding more prairie habitat to replace some of the prairie that was lost during construction. (CEC is also receiving more land through the Bicentennial Land Trust, which allows for the expansion of more native Indiana hardwood forests that will be used for teaching children best conservation practices).

2. Water Petal 

The intent of this petal is to realign how people use water and redefine “waste” in the built environment. With the scarcity of potable water becoming a serious issue in many countries, the LBC envisions a future whereby all forthcoming buildings are configured based on carrying capacity of the site—in other words, being a net-zero water facility and using 100% of storm water onsite for internal water needs. Following this petal’s imperatives, CEC is collecting its own water through a well and eventually a rain water harvesting system. CEC will be managing its own waster through an on-site constructed wetland and an above ground mound system.

3. Energy Petal

This petal requires all buildings to rely solely on renewable forms of energy and operate year round in a pollution-free manner. Therefore, the LBC requires all projects to have net-zero energy, which can be attained by methods like photovoltaic solar panels, natural daylighting and other systems. Following this imperative, CEC is collecting and preserving energy through solar panels, geothermal, radiant floor heating and cooling, heavily insulated walls, passive solar heating with high efficient windows, natural lighting tubes (solatubes), LED lighting, energy efficient appliances, and temperature room controls. “When coupled together, the Passive and Active Design Strategies reduced the building Energy Utilization Intensity (EUI) to 31 kBtu/SF/Yr, which will be 100% offset by the onsite renewable energy to achieve net zero on a site energy basis. (A typical office building will use approximately 100 to 150 kBtu/SF/Yr).” -Heapy Engineering

4. Health Petal

The intent of the Health Petal is to create robust, healthy spaces and encourage a highly productive indoor environment. Following this petal’s imperatives, CEC has ensured that every occupied space in the building will have operable windows to provide fresh air and daylight for staff, volunteers, and visitors to the center. 

5. Materials Petal

This petal strives to have a successful materials economy that is non-toxic, transparent and socially equitable. This is one of the most challenging Petals of the LBC because every project cannot contain any of the identified Red List materials, including PVC and Formaldehyde. Therefore, a detailed record of how each material is made by the manufacturer must be kept and turned in before certification can be achieved.  Following this petal’s imperatives, CEC is ‘vetting’ every material in the building. For example, formaldehyde was removed from the concrete mix design for the foundation and all wood is striving to be sourced from responsibly managed forests (FSC) within a 620 mile radius or it is locally reclaimed. Led by the efforts of Earlham graduate Holly Miller, CEC has been working tirelessly to ensure that the building is free of red list ingredients (with some exceptions) and is choosing manufacturing companies that are transparent about the makeup of their building materials.

6. Equity Petal

This petal is focused on creating communities with equitable access to all people regardless of physical abilities, age or socioeconomic status. One imperative of this petal is “Rights to Nature” that states that a project “may not block access to, nor diminish the quality of, fresh air, sunlight and natural waterways for any member of society or adjacent developments.”

7. Beauty Petal 

The purpose of this petal is to design buildings that elevate our spirits.  This petal is based merely on genuine efforts to create aesthetically pleasing designs, so there are currently no limitations or restrictions for this petal.

Learn about the greenest commercial building in the world, a certified Living Building.

Our assembly space is named after M.C Davis who was a committed conservation. He is the founder of the E.O. Wilson Biophilia Center in Florida. The research and animal refuge was built on the 53,000-acre Nokuse Plantation in the Freeport area. They approach environmental programming with schools and the community in a very similar pattern to CEC’s overall strategy. The website states, “The surrounding 5 local school districts consider our facility to be an extension of their classroom as we are their science education project-based learning facility, the place where schooling becomes applicable.” Cope Environmental Center strives to be the same kind of outdoor learning center for schools and also works closely with several school districts.

“I can’t change people your age,” he says, “but give me a fourth-grader.” -Davis said smiling.

M.C. Davis passed away on July 11, 2015. The assembly space was named after him by his good friend Sam Shine, a conservationist and philanthropist who resides in New Albany, Indiana.

A special thanks to NPR and All Things Considered for providing the audio.

View drone footage taken during construction: