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Ten Years Later, the Bullitt Center Still Sets the Standard for Green Office Buildings

8-9-2023 | News

By Andrew Engelson

“Those who assume that a net-zero building like the Bullitt Center is either too expensive to be profitable or requires cutting edge technology are mistaken.”

When the Bullitt Center – the world’s first commercial building to achieve net-zero use of energy and water – opened in Seattle in 2013, it was an exceptional building.

Ten years later, it still is.

“Sadly, it’s still rare,” said Deborah Sigler, education and outreach coordinator for the University of Washington’s Center for Integrated Design, which is housed in the Bullitt Center. “But I’m also happy it’s still on people’s radars. It’s just as relevant as it was 10 years ago.”

Sigler leads scores of tours of the six-story building on Madison Street each year, introducing architecture students, policymakers, and environmentalists to one of the few projects completely certified according to Living Building Challenge 2.0 standards. (Those standards have now evolved into Living Building Challenge 4.0.)

Jason McLennan, who created this system of seven “petals” that make up the Living Building Challenge, said the Bullitt Center stands out as the shining example of a truly sustainable building.

“We’re still using it as a teaching tool,” said McLennan, who serves on the board of the International Living Future Institute, which continues to promote living buildings. “A month ago I was in Australia, and we used it as a case study for a major conference there. So it continues to inspire and to be a benchmark.”

Unlike other green building standards such as LEED, the Living Building Challenge is founded on seven principles that a building must meet not only in the design and construction, but also in operation: net-zero energy use, net-zero water use, sustainable materials, site-specific design, and significant attention to health, equity, and beauty.

Lindsay Baker, the CEO of the International Living Future Institute, said that only about 40 buildings worldwide have fully met the ambitious standards of the Living Building Challenge. “We want these buildings to serve as beacons for change,” Baker said. “They need to be examples to the community that allow us to change policy.”

In fact, when Denis Hayes, Bullitt Foundation CEO and the visionary behind the Bullitt Center, first pushed the project forward, his team had to engage in many hours of negotiation and persuasion with Seattle Department of Construction & Inspections (SDCI) to create exceptions to existing code. SDCI went on to create a pilot project that would, among other things, allow for buildings that could collect and treat rainwater or process their own wastewater.

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