Bullitt Centre 5th Anniversary: An Environmental and Commercial Success

Five years old on Earth Day 2018, the Bullitt Center is surpassing its lofty environmental goals, as well as meeting its commercial objectives.

“The Bullitt Center is proof that profitable, zero energy Living Buildings are possible,” said Denis Hayes, CEO of the Bullitt Foundation, which owns the Bullitt Centre. “To meet the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement, all buildings need to do the same,” he added.

Some of the highlights of the first five years in operation include the following:

The building is 100% leased with a diverse mix of tenants that include Sonos, Intentional Futures, PAE Consulting Engineers, University of Washington’s Center for Integrated Design, International Living Future Institute, and Hammer & Hand.
Brett Phillips, Vice President of Sustainable and Responsible Investments at Unico Properties, calls the Center “one of the best net income performers on a square foot basis that Unico manages.”

Seattle City Light buys energy the building does not use (“negawatt-hours”) for a total of approximately $50,000 each year. This is rebated to tenants who meet their energy goals as an incentive for energy efficiency. Seattle Mayor Durkan expanded this pilot to 30 buildings on April 11, 2018.

More than 25,000 people have toured the building, including the largest residential real estate developer in the world, the President of Bulgaria, Mayor of Copenhagen, U.S. Secretary of Energy, EPA Administrator, U.S. Senators and Governors, along with thousands of architects, engineers and builders.

A growing list of projects cite the Bullitt Center as an influence, including the Obama Presidential Library, Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design at Georgia Tech, Rocky Mountain Institute headquarters, American Geophysical Union building, Santa Monica City Hall, and the Mosaic Centre.

Business leaders have visited to learn about the building from companies that include Costco, Etsy, Google, Microsoft, REI, and Starbucks.

Of course, the Bullitt Center has also surpassed lofty expectations for environmental performance, generating 20 percent more energy than it used every year since it opened, using only one-third as much energy as a well-run LEED Platinum building, and using 95 percent less water (1 gallon per square foot per year) than the average office building in Seattle, despite having showers on every floor.

The University of Washington, State of Washington, King County, City of Seattle, Skanska USA, Starbucks, Amazon, Microsoft, and REI, among 2,500 others, all signed a statement committing to the goals of the Paris Climate Agreement. Despite the success of the Bullitt Center, the vast majority of new construction does no better than meet the bare bones requirements of building code.

As Hayes often remarks, “A building built to code is the very worst building that it is not against the law to build.”  Hayes continues, “To avoid a climate catastrophe, we all have to aim much higher. We’ve now shown that it’s possible to develop comfortable, attractive buildings that meet ambitious energy goals and also deliver strong financial performance.”

Bullitt Center

A 52,000 square-foot commercial building at the intersection of Capitol Hill and the Central Area in Seattle, the Bullitt Center is designed, built and operated to be the world’s greenest office building. Owned by the Bullitt Foundation, the building is a market-rate, Class-A commercial office building with 90 percent of its space leased to commercial enterprises. It was developed to show what’s possible today and to demonstrate a path forward for other real estate development projects. For more information visit http://www.bullittcenter.org.

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Based on press Release from BRAD KAHN  |  GROUNDWORK STRATEGIES http://www.groundworkstrategies.com

Advocacy and Activism: Patagonia ‘Tools’ Book Review

Patagonia Tools for Grassroots Activists.Edited by Nora Gallagher and Lisa Myers; introduction by Yvon Chouinard. Book Review

ToolsAdvocacy or activism. Advocacy has become a common descriptor for many sustainability folk, and one I’ve used for many years. Maybe now is the time for the activist description to become as popular as the advocate, moving from advocating for change to doing and driving change.

Advocate: a person who publicly supports or recommends a particular cause or policy.

Activist: a person who campaigns for some kind of social change.

Patagonia Tools for Grassroots Activists, the latest from Patagonia Books, captures the best wisdom and advice of 20 years of the Patagonia Tools Conference, ‘where experts provide practical training to help activists be more effective in their fight” 

Whether its scaling damns, (Damnation) protecting wildness (see the stunning Jumbo trailer)), circular economy thinking, (Wornwear), using clothing catalogues and promoting environment awareness through social media (dirt bag diaries and the Cleanest Line blog) or promoting family business, Patagonia continue to follow their mission – ‘using business to inspire and implement solutions to the environmental crisis’

Tools, has created a resource “for any organisation hoping to hone core skills like campaign and communication strategy, grassroots organising, and lobbying as well as working with business, fundraising in uncertain times and using new technologies

Each chapter, written by a respected expert in the field, covers essential principles as well as best practices is accompanied by a hands-on case study that demonstrates the principles in action.

And in the world of sustainability, including built environment sustainability we can learn a lot here. Within Tools, there are many stories to inspire strategic thinking, tools to adopt and employ, and tips to help, for example;

  • Using social media within organisations and externally
  • Leadership to insure that every decision made on a project or within an organisation contributes to the overall mission

There are many contributors those in sustainability will be very familiar with for example Bill McKibben (350.org) and Annie Leonard (Story of Stuff) and those in the built environment sustainability space will recognise Denis Hayes, the driver behind the Bullitt Centre, the worlds greenest commercial building. I was particular interested to see Wade Davis, author of Into the Silence, a 2012 Boardman Tasker award shortlist, included here.

Patagonia hopes the book will be dog-eared and scribbled in and always at hand, an insightful resource and reliable companion to the environmental movement, I am sure it will be.

A Sense of Urgency

I was delighted to be invited to present in Italy (REGENERATION Edition 2 in Dro, Trentino) and Scotland (SEDA Green Drinks in Ayr) recently on insights from FutuREstorative, updates from the LBC Cuerdon Valley Park project and in the case of many at SEDA, introduce the Living Building Challenge.

The Ayr event fell on John Muir’s Birthday and on the eve of Earth Day 2016, so this made a fitting and related introduction, and I guess constituted my annual EarthDay presentation, (something I have done at numerous events annually since 2009 – 2009 presentation is on slideshare here)

Cowed: A Book Review

imagesCowed:  The Hidden Impact of 93 million Cows on America’s Health, Economy, Politics, Culture and Environment, 

Denis Hayes and Gail Boyer Hayes

Do Cows hibernate Dad? asked one of my sons a decade or so ago when we moved into rural Lancashire, noticing that cows were absent in the fields during winter months and as then not aware of the noisy, steamy and rather smelly over wintering cow sheds. One of the rural spring treats which we will witness soon, is when the cows are let out into the spring green fields, where they literally can jump for joy like spring lambs. the word cavorting* would seem invited for just this occasion.

Cowed is an entertaining and educating insight into the American relationship with its cattle, triggered by the authors visit in the UK and noticing how very different cattle in UK fields appeared to that seen or indeed out of sight in the US.

From Cowboys through to intelligent, mechanised milking, Denis and Gail provide real insights from their environmentalism knowledge, (Denis was cofounder of Earthday in the 70’s, now founder /CEO of the Bullitt Foundation in Seattle and a recent guest on our #sustldrconv series,  Gail is an Environmental lawyer, health writer and editor)

Throughout, I was reminded of John Muir’s comment that ‘when we tug on one part of nature we find it joined to everything else”, This may be as on the day I started reading Cowed, I visited a botanical garden in Vancouver where this quote was engraved into the floor and entrance screens.

Nevertheless, for me it summed up one of Cowed’s core themes. That the Cow, which we have removed from natural habituation and domesticated or rather industricated, is now so intrinsically linked to so many aspects of our lives from food to furniture and in doing so, uncoupled from its natural connections and bio-relationship with soil, air and water.

Cowed provided, for me a straightforward  explanation of the recent research, debate and controversy on natural cattle grazing patterns and impact for soil carbon sequestration based around the work of Allan Savory. This is something I had come across before on a TED talk but poorly understood.

Living in rural Lancashire I easily recognised the description of dairy farming within the first few pages, but I struggled to recognise the US description of cattle management in the remainder of the book, perhaps with the exception of the cattle ranching images from old Westerns!. Yet Cowed does highlight issues we here in the UK need to be aware of and guard against as concepts of mega farms are proposed and debated here.

*to jump or move around in a playful way, sometimes noisily, and often in a sexual way

Seattle, Vancouver and Squamish: a sustainability visit.

Having just returned from a visit / tour of sustainability projects in the Cascadia, NW pacific area of Seattle, Vancouver and Squamish, combined with a outdoor vacation, I am now sorting copious notes, photos and observations from the trip that will form future blog posts and inclusion in my forthcoming book, FutuREstorative.

File 16-03-2015 22 55 55

There were so many ‘highlights’ of the trip that will feature in future articles, but, as a quick summary:

The lack of snow inhibited any real winter sports without really venturing deep into backcountry. I was later to learn that this year ‘pineapple express’ wind and low snowpack levels will have an adverse affect on water aquifers across the region.

Walking and biking in forests where bear, cougar and coyote roamed and (worryingly, so early in the year) had been spotted during our visit introduced a fission of alertness not known in the UK or Europe and made for interesting discussions on re-wilding the UK countryside!

A return visit to the Austrian House at Lost lake Whistler, a Passive House gift from Austria to the 2006 Olympics and Canada’s first PH registered project.

Understanding the distinctive heavy timber architecture of the Squamish area, and visits to buildings at the stunning location of Quest Campus, Squamish and the Environmental Learning Centre at the North Vancouver Outdoor School in Brackendale (winner of a Wood Design Award held in Vancouver that week)

Meeting with Sustainable Leadership Conversation co-host and friend Andrea Learned who took me on a great cycle tour through her ‘hood –  the Seattle Ballard area and along the Waterfront with stop offs at the Tractor Tavern (home of garage and grunge) Stone34 (Leed Platinum Brooks HQ) finishing with great social media / sustainability discussions over dinner.

Visits to Living Building Challenge projects, the CIRS building at University of British Columbia, the Bullet Centre in Seattle and the VanDusen visitor centre Vancouver as well as understanding other notable sustainability buildings such as the MEC HQ in Vancouver and Stone34 in Seattle.

Water featured in visits and discussions, in particular that we should start to address water in the same way we do for energy performance in buildings – from the impact on “fossil-water” through to buildings, like the Bullitt Centre acting like trees and returning 80% of water that falls on the building to the aquifer and in using the 20% many times in closed loop systems. And of course those waterless composting toilets …

Whilst in the Bullitt Centre it was fun to to provide a live update back to and converse with the Living Building Challenge UK Collaborative water petal workshop in Leeds.

But it wasn’t just the big restorative sustainability concepts that inspired, often it’s the small but awesome detail that is essential in reinforcing the messages, like the CIRS building on UBC where the solar aqua filter plant room is positioned at the entrance, viewed by all entering the building as a reminder. But perhaps the best message being in CIRS café area where two vegetarian meals are served for each meat meal, reinforcing the message of the resources in land and water to provide the meat meal compared to that of the vegetarian.

File 17-03-2015 09 03 34It was of course great to visit the Bullitt Centre and question behind the stories covered on the web and numerous articles; it really is an inspiring building and lives up to its green reputation. But now the real challenge starts – “to replicate the Bullitt Centre a thousand, a million times and fast” Over an iced tea with Denis Hayes we discussed the real possibility of a Bullitt Centre type project in Manchester as the hub for iDSP, the Institute for Design Space and Place.

Many inspiring chats and discussions gave insights into restorative sustainability for example with Tim Herrin at CIRS, with Brad Khan who really knows the Bullitt Centre inside out, with Denis Hayes, with the LBC team (great to meet and catch up with Amanda Sturgeon, Eric Corey Freed,  Hilary Mayhew, Stacia and Bonnie) and, completely by chance, at a Vancouver dinner party, a planner involved in the LBC certified Childcare facility at Simon Fraser University. An evening meal with Ken Carty, author and retired political scientist at UBC provided interesting insights into Canadian politics.

I guess no visit to the Pacific NW could be complete without getting to understanding some of the environmental politics – particularly to the north of British Columbia where the TNG and the proposed Northern Gateway oil sands bitumen pipeline is being fought to prevent environmental damage to an awesome wilderness areas. A visit to the newly opened, community located, Patagonia store in Vancouver provided further insights to Patagonia’s environmental and responsibility activity in the area via their excellent ‘zine booklet published for the stores opening ‘In the Land of the Misty Giants’ (issuu version here)

I should of course mention the reason d’etre for the trip was triggered by my partner, Soo Downe and her midwifery week at UBC with the highlight of her public lecture at the Inaugural Elaine Carty Midwifery Programme (Storify here)

But who would of thought that Cows would feature in my tour. Denis Hayes kindly gifted me a copy of his new book Cowed co-written with his wife Gail Boyer Hayes. Cowed provides a fascinating insight to how Cows impact so much both on our lives and the environment and was a great read on the long flight back from Vancouver.

So, many people to thank for such a great vacation and study tour, from Brett at the awesome Squamish airBNB, Andrea Learned, the ILFI team, our friends and hosts in Vancouver, those who gave time to talk or provide tours, Denis Hayes, Tim Herring, Brad Kahn and many more. And of course great company, thanks Soo, Chris and Emma

Future posts will use the hashtags #futurestorative and/or #VanSea2015

Restorative Sustainability – Once something exists, no one can say it’s impossible

Insights from a Sustainability Leadership Conversation with Denis Hayes:

Martin Brown and Andrea Learned

As part of the Sustainability Leadership Conversation series we held a twitter conversation with Denis Hayes, founder of EarthDay and CEO of the Bullitt Center in Seattle – the worlds greenest commercial building. The full transcript from the conversation can be found on storify, with insights from others, but here is an summary of insights, compiled from Denis’ tweets

MB: What is inspiring you at the moment?

Denis: Big change happening, but is it fast enough? That’s the question. I’m inspired by huge amount of talent and money flowing to sustainability investment and by young people rolling up sleeves to make things better.

MB: What are your views on Effecting Change

Denis: Media plays big role, for example President Obama engaging meteorologists, trusted and relevant Best place to effect change is in City Hall – whether as employees, elected, NGO, advocate. I’m bullish on cities right now.

MB:  … and on Nature and Natural Laws?

Denis: We have been breaking lots of little laws in the built environment. Now the big law, Nature’s laws, are catching up with us. You can’t break Nature’s laws.  When you try, you wind up proving them.

We need to align human and natural laws, then economy will fall into place.

And yes I agree we need more circular  thinking, buildings only ‘borrow’  materials, we need to design with senescence in mind, the Building’s not mine. Biomimicry just makes good sense, nature has been beta testing ideas for millions of years, the least we can do is observe and learn.

 MB: What is the role of Big Data in sustainability?

Denis: Analysis of big data is key, living buildings need cerebral cortexes and Central Nervous System to function, big data helps see patterns, offers vast potential, but right now there is too much noise and not enough signal and analysis.

MB: How important is Equity within ‘Restorative Sustainability’?

Denis: For too many people, environmental performance is a luxury. Race or income shouldn’t determine whether your building is full of poison. Everyone deserves clean air to breathe.

MB: Why the Living Building Challenge as the standard for the Bullitt Centre?

Denis: The LBC is most ambitious metric for sustainability in built environment. It’s hugely challenging.  LBC Buildings sequester carbon, generate more energy than use, remove toxics from ecosystem and promote human health. LBC Buildings have no toxics, compost all waste, use only rainwater and sun, they put water back into soil to recharge aquifer. All are natural ideas.

“But the Bullitt Center is about opening a wedge into the future. Once something exists, no one can say it’s impossible”

MB:  why after 40 years of Earth Day are we still pessimistic?

Denis: 40 years happened. Still possible to mitigate worst impacts, but is now expensive and difficult instead of cheap and easy.   Not too early to think about Earth Day 2020, aka ED50, a month long Earth Celebration

MB:  where Next?

Denis: I’m writing a book – COWED – with my wife about the impacts of bovines on North America.   COWED is not anti-cow but “pro-cow but with limits.” 93 million cows in America are way too many.

MB: And finally your views on twitter and (sustldrconv) tweetchats?

Denis: This is an exciting day to be doing this with @fairsnape @AndreaLearned and with the new NCA out, the chatter class is talking climate change

This article was originally co-authored by Martin Brown and Andrea Learned with contributions from Denis Hayes and Brad Khan. 

Denis Hayes, founder of EarthDay and CEO of the Bullitt Center in Seattle – the worlds greenest commercial building. Brad Khan is Principal at GroundWork Stratries and communications consultant to the Bullitt Centre in Seattle

Martin Brown @fairsnape is a UK built environment sustainability and social media advocate, Andrea Learned @AndreaLearned is a US based social engagement and thought leadership strategist. Both are Guardian Sustainability Business contributors and are co-founders of Sustainability Leadership Conversations, a transatlantic and global twitter based social media programme that enables sustainability leadership sharing.

Contact us to discuss support in amplifying your messages, experiences and commitment within the sustainability leadership arena through our monthly #SustLdrConv series and other social media programmes.

Embedding BIM into the fabric of sustainability.

calgary treesBIM has a far deeper application than just a design modelling, construction or facilities management tool. This fact has been highlighted recently through a number of events and conversations, for example;

A couple of weeks back, I interviewed Denis Hayes as part of our Sustainability Leadership Conversation (#sustldrconv) series. Denis was founder of earth day way back in 1974, and is now CEO of the Bullitt Centre in Seattle, obviously no newcomer to environmental issues or deep green sustainability, but I was interested in Denis’ views on the role of BIM and ‘Big Data’ in todays sustainability agenda. here is an extract from a soon to be published article based on that interview

MB Denis, how do you see the role of BIM and Big Data in deep green sustainability?

DH Analysis of big data is key, living buildings need cerebral cortex and Central Nervous System to function, big data helps see patterns, offers vast potential, but right now there is too much noise and not enough signal and analysis.   

Also in May, during the Construction21 Virtual Expo, I was inspired by the conversation with Delta Development CEO Coert Zachariasse. Delta have applied Cradle to Cradle thinking to their business and projects, For example, they don’t own the materials in their buildings in the traditional sense, but view buildings as material banks, with every building having a residual value at the end of its life through the value of its materials. (A value that is recognised, included on the budget sheet and reduces the project costs, the alternative, more common thinking is that demolition and waste adds costs to the project)

Whilst this is inspiring, the fact that BIM provides the engine behind this approach is very interesting – using BIM to track and maximise residual value, providing the data to create material passports and undertake the value decisions.

As I tweeted from that conversation:

“BIM meets #CradletoCradle – Delta Development use #BIM to develop Material Passports thru supply chain,  Coert Zachariasse CEO at #EXPOC21”

Later in the day at EXPOC21, during the panel debate on the need for a European Building Performance Directive, Frank Hovorka – President- Sustainable Building Alliance commented that BIM is the essential core for any Building Performance Directive

But of course built environment sustainability is ‘just’ not about energy or building performance, it is also, or more so about health and social dimensions as well. The data needed to make informed decisions for sustainability needs to encompass stories, context and knowledge. However with knowledge reduced to a status of information in todays digital universe, we need the skills to unpack information from BIM and Big data

Embedding BIM data into the fabric of sustainability is key, and to borrow the brilliant expression from Casey Rutland and Vicky Lockhart at ARUP – its all about SustainaBIMity.

Regarding BIM through this lens, we in the built environment need to move quickly, to clean the data we have from noise, provide better analysis, and make informed regenerative sustainable decisions. In an age of disrupt or be disrupted – if we don’t do so from within the sector, someone from outside will.