For as long as there’s been sustainable design, building owners have wrestled with the trade-offs of up-front costs versus long-term savings. Both sides of the equation have seen incremental improvements, thanks to technology, experience, and a growing acceptance that reducing a building’s carbon footprint in the name of Mother Nature and lower energy costs isn’t such a bad idea after all.
Now, Seattle’s Bullitt Center, a building conceived as a new benchmark for green design, has shown that aiming high can indeed pay off.
The Seattle Times reports that the two-year old, six-story, 50,000-sq ft commercial office building generated 60 percent more energy in 2014 than it used. Following the rigorous Living Building Challenge standards rather than the more widely used LEED program, the Bullitt Center shows what can happen by checking “all of the above” on the menu of sustainability options— combining geothermal-source heat pumps, a solar panel array that doubles as a shading canopy, sophisticated building system controls, low-water composting toilets, blinds and openable windows, and an elevator that harvests its own braking energy for re-use.
Energy use intensity calculations give the Bullitt Center a score of 9.4, one-sixth of what a typical Seattle office building typically achieves.
And by working with the Bullitt Foundation, the building’s owner, to stay within individual energy conservation budgets, tenants received enjoyed the one-time perk of free electricity for the year.
Moving forward, tenants will receive rebates based on the amount of leased square footage—still an attractive incentive given the energy required to power computers, peripherals, and other tools of 21st Century office productivity. And, the leasing rates are comparable with other new, more conventional buildings in Seattle’s hot development areas.
Among the Bullitt Center’s other tenants are the International Living Future Institute, which administers the Living Building Challenge; PAE Consulting Engineers, designers of the building’s MEP systems; and the University of Washington Integrated Design Lab. The building, which is 90-percent leased, also offers a co-work space used by a variety of organizations.
Pioneering self-sufficiency in building ownership isn’t without its challenges, however. The Seattle Times story reports that even a progressive city like Seattle has yet to update its building operations requirements. Because the Bullitt Center gets its water from a 52,000-gallon harvested rainwater cistern rather than city mains, for example, its building manager needed to get water-district administrator certification.
Regulatory hurdles, like higher first-costs, seem a small price to pay to not only make a statement about sustainable design, but also prove that such greener-than-green buildings can become standards rather than just symbols.
And if they help owners and tenants save more of the folding-type of green along the way, all the better.