The Living Building Challenge and Camp Glenorchy

Dec 10, 2019 | Company News

Camp Glenorchy, visitor accommodation that is part of The Headwaters business, lies at the top of Lake Wakatipu. Camp Glenorchy leads the way with its sustainability aims, and is designed, built and operated in line with the philosophy and principles of the Living Building Challenge (LBC).


LBC is recognized as the most stringent sustainable building design certification in the world. It is currently pursuing Living Building Challenge Petal Certification pathway for the Energy, Water, and Beauty Petals meaning it will prove it meets their high aiming criteria for these areas of design and operation.

The LBC uses the metaphor of a flower to reflect a healthy living entity. Like a flower, a building is rooted in place. A flower must generate its own energy, collect its own water, support its local ecosystem and community (via pollination), and become food for the local ecosystem at the end of its life. And ultimately, of course, a flower is beautiful. Camp Glenorchy will be New Zealand’s first commercial accommodation provider to receive this certification.


GWE Consulting Engineers was briefed to design the overall utility solution (water demand and greywater and blackwater treatment) for Camp Glenorchy and to meet the design philosophies and principles set out in the Living Building Challenge. The Living Building Challenge is a green building certification programme in which living buildings give more than they take, creating a positive impact on the human and natural systems that interact with them.

The challenge for all designers and contractors involved in a Living Building is to create:

  • Regenerative spaces that connect occupants to light, air, food, nature, and community.
  • Self-sufficient systems that remain within the resource limits of their site and that produce more energy than they use and collect and treat all water on site.
  • Healthy and beautiful surroundings

Camp Glenorchy was developed close to the former camping ground in Glenorchy. The new Camp complex comprises accommodation space, communal and amenity buildings and is used as an education facility to demonstrate the philosophies and principles of the Living Building Challenge.


As part of the redevelopment of Camp Glenorchy, GWE had the opportunity to manage water demand and design the treatment process for all wastewaters on the site. To improve the biodegradability and treatability of greywater/blackwater it was recommended the Camp uses environmentally sustainable low sodium, low phosphorus and low alkaline detergents where possible.

The Camp incorporates a number of water-saving devices to minimize water consumption and even out peaks in water demand. Composting toilets have been installed throughout the visitor accommodation as well as low flow, high-efficiency showerheads and faucets.

Greywater Management

Greywater generated from the showers, hand basins and laundry is collected in a “3rd pipe” (water supply and sanitary sewer being the other two) and managed separately from the blackwater. This greywater collects in a step tank before dose pumping directly to a Constructed Subsurface Flow Wetland installed by Pure By Plants Ltd where it is treated to a high standard. The discharge from the wetland is then redistributed to site in a way that benefits the Camp Glenorchy landscaping:

  • Reuse as irrigation water for native biodiverse landscaped pathed areas within the Campgrounds.
  • Provide irrigation for the open green lawn to remove the need for additional potable irrigation.
  • Returned subsurface to the solar garden site to drain into the ground, minimizing surface water disturbances during winter and periods of high rainfall.

Blackwater Management

Blackwater is piped directly to an advanced biological treatment plant where it is treated using a biological process termed a Sequential Batch Reactor (SBR). The SBR is a multi-stage process that removes pollutants (carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorus), pathogens (bacteria and viruses) and particulate matter that would otherwise degrade the groundwater and lake environment if poorly treated and released. The pretreated blackwater is then treated in the same wetland system as the greywater, being diluted with incoming rainwater, and further filtered and treated by the plan nutrient uptake. It is then returned to site in the same methods as the greywater.


The design of Camp Glenorchy has certainly lived up to the Living Building Challenge. TIME Magazine has named Camp Glenorchy Eco Retreat in the World’s 100 Greatest Places of 2019 and is the only New Zealand accommodation chosen to make this list, and one of only 44 of TIME Magazine’s “must go” accommodation destinations in the world. Working with The Headwaters and assisting them in attaining their Living Building Challenge recognition was a unique experience for GWE Consulting Engineers and we look forward to taking our experience and learnings to other New Zealand tourism providers as part of the Tourism NZ’s TIAKI initiative:

New Zealand is a special place, and everyone who lives and travels here has a responsibility to look after it. The Tiaki Promise is a commitment to care for New Zealand.


Keiran Frost, Managing Director at The Headwaters, had this to say about GWE and it’s involvement in the Camp Glenorchy redevelopment project

“The team at GWE was one of many core suppliers that helped Camp GY attain its Living Building Challenge certification. They were involved early on to build the very foundations of all our systems, ensuring the whole complex gives back more than it takes. We are grateful to them for their hard work, flexibility, insight, and ideas, and immensely proud of what has been achieved.”

Ailsa Carroll, Sustainability Coordinator would also like to add;

“On behalf of the Camp Glenorchy operational and maintenance team, I would like to thank GWE for their on-going engagement and support as we move forward with the systems they designed. When approached they have always been forthcoming and helpful and recommended excellent service technicians for day to day support.”

To discover more about our ability to deliver sustainable solutions, please contact Colin Cranfield, 021 776 393