January 17, 2013

Sustainable by Design: The Bullitt Center

One of the most inspiring, and at times frustrating, aspects of moving towards sustainability is that we already have so much of what we need to achieve it. Globally, our knowledge about, and technology for a sustainable world is immense and growing all the time. Implementation is the key to real change. I recently learned about the Bullitt Center, which is a globally significant example of this change.

The building sector, which is usually divided into two categories: residential and commercial,  is responsible for a large section of energy and fossil fuel consumption. It is also considered by some specialists, a sector with significant possibility to reduce consumption and move towards sustainability. S. Pascala and R. Socolow, in their article Stabilization Wedges: Solving the Climate Problem for the Next 50 Years with Current Technologies says, “when energy is examined comprehensively from the end-use perspective, the buildings sector stands out as particularly promising.” (The abstract of this article can read at: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/305/5686/968.abstract) What makes the building sector so promising is that much of the technology for improvement already exists.  

In the building industry there are guidelines for green building standardizations that help guide and track the sustainability of structures. LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) “is a voluntary, consensus-based, market-driven program that provides third-party verification of green buildings” (http://new.usgbc.org/leed). LEED has been the leading example of green building verification for many years and has been widely successful in creating standards for sustainability and raising awareness and providing opportunities for education on these issues.  More recently, the Living Building Challenge has been introduced. The Challenge is a certification program that is even more stringent than LEED. The Challenge “is comprised of seven performance areas, or ‘Petals’: Site, Water, Energy, Health, Materials, Equity and Beauty.”The idea of petals stems from the living building concept coined by Jason McLennon, CEO of the Cascadia Green Building Council and leader in the green architecture field, who described the operation of living buildings “as elegantly and efficiently as flowers.”

And now back to the wonderful example of the implementation of existing technology and methods for a sustainable future: the Bullitt Center. The Center has been called the “worlds greenest building”, one reason being that not only does it meet the Living Building Challenge (along with a select few, globally), but it is the largest building ever to achieve such a high standard of sustainability. Most structures to attempt sustainability are relatively small, but the Bullitt Center is a six-story, 50,000 square-foot office building. The extended roof is filled with enough solar panels that it will ideally capture enough sunlight, even in cloudy Seattle, during the summer to fuel the building through the winter. The design also focuses on minimizing electricity use, abundant natural light for inhabitants, geo-thermal heating, rainwater storage, grey water filtering, composting toilets, and a centrally located staircase to encourage a healthy life style.

These are the kind of buildings for a better future: places to live and work that do not harm the environment and irresponsibly use nonrenewable resources, but serve as models of a way forward to a smarter, healthier, and more sustainable world.

The Self-Sufficient Office Building, The New York Times October 4, 2011

Seattle’s Silver Bullitt: A New Office Building Goes Untra-Green, Time Magazine Science & Space June 20, 2012

World’s Greenest Building, Bullitt Center, Opens in Earth Day in Seattle, Triple Pundit, January 16, 2013

The Bullitt Center

Living Building Challenge