With 100% of its energy provided on-site by solar panels and its water harvested entirely from rain, a new six-story building in Seattle is being hailed as the greenest commercial structure in the world.
It's the first commercial building in the US to earn Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Certification. It's significant that all the wood comes from sustainably managed forests - it's the first heavy-timber office building in Seattle since the early 20th century.
It's not that the 50,000 square foot building has dramatic new green technologies, but it's that the best of them are wrapped into a model green building.
The Bullitt Center houses the Bullitt Foundation, an important environmental foundation, run by Denis Hayes, the founder of Earth Day, and is in the process of leasing to tenants. It broke ground about a year ago.
"The goal of the Bullitt Center is to change the way buildings are designed, built and operated to improve long-term environmental performance and promote broader implementation of energy efficiency, renewable energy and other green building technologies in the Northwest."
Its design, created by architect Miller Hull Partnership, is based on principles set out in the Living Building Challenge, the world's most strenuous benchmark for sustainability.
"The Living Building Challenge insists that a building be designed from the ground up to be useful and healthy. A living building must be designed to radically minimize its impacts on the earth. And a living building’s design must be beautiful," says Hayes.
One of its main features is the extensive roof, necessary to support the many solar panels to provide power in Seattle's cloudy, rainy climate. Also on the roof is a rainwater capture system that can send 56,000 gallons to a cistern in the basement, enough water to get the building through a 100-day drought.
In fact, its the first building in the US to use only harvested rainwater.
Why would the building emphasize solar and rainwater capture in such a rainy climate? Hayes wants to model an "if we can do it here, it can be done anywhere" approach.
To make the rainwater capture system work, for example, the building uses an advanced water filtration system, but because they are required to add chlorine as it travels through pipes under federal regulations, they filter it out when it reaches the tap (chlorine is a Red-Listed chemical). This system could well be used as a model for much of the country as it more frequently struggles with drought from climate change.
They also set the stage for others to follow by working with manufacturers to eliminate Red-Listed chemicals from products such as water sealants, which contain pthalates.
The same is true for windows. "We got the manufacturer to make windows with wonderful performance characteristics, and a local company got an exclusive license to make them for the West Coast," Hayes told Fast Company. Now that manufacturer has multiple orders for the windows in the region, he says.
In fact, Seattle passed its own Living Building Ordinance to support the Bullitt Center's standards.
The wood-framed structure is made from FSC-certified wood and the design specs ban materials on green building "Red Lists," such as PVC, cadmium, lead and mercury.
Large windows provide extensive natural lighting and can be opened to let in fresh air, and indoor composting toilets cut down on water consumption. Geothermal provides the heat.
Wood products include glulam timbers from Calvert Glulams, dimensional lumber from Potlatch, small timbers from Elk Creek Forest Products, structural plywood from Roseburg Forest Products and recycled lumber from Rhine Demolition.
Hayes doesn't expect other buildings to simply copy their approach, it's about learning from models and then applying what makes sense based on the type of building and where it's located. "One of our objectives from the start was to herald the beginning of a return to regionally appropriate architecture," he told Fast Company.
Here's the Bullitt Center website: