Living Building Certification – The Bullitt Center Proves the Possibilities


October 12, 2017 by John Crapper

April 1, 2015, the Bullitt Center proved its status as the greenest commercial building in the world by becoming the first office building to earn Living Building certification, the most challenging benchmark of sustainability in the built environment.

The Bullitt Center was designed to show what’s possible today, changing the way people think about high performance green buildings.

While the building includes many innovations, in reality every feature of the building is being used elsewhere in the world. As Denis Hayes says, “our chief innovation is that we brought all these ideas together in one place at the same time” – net zero energy and water, composting toilets, toxic-free materials, FSC wood, and more.

Washington State residents can take pride in this marvelous achievement. Let’s hope it spurs a rethinking of architectural design and urban living.

To be certified as a Living Building a structure is required to be self-sufficient in energy and water for 12 consecutive months and meet green building standards in terms of design and materials used.

During 2014 the center produced 60% more energy than it used making it the most energy efficient office building in the U.S. and possibly the world. Congratulations.

The process to achieve this award was rigorous and challenging.

The Living Building Challenge requires a project to meet 20 specific imperatives within seven performance areas (or “Petals”). For the Bullitt Center, meeting the imperatives  includes the following:

Site: The location will support a pedestrian-, bicycle-, and transit-friendly lifestyle.

Water: Rainwater will be collected on the roof, stored in an underground cistern and used throughout the building.

Energy: A solar array will generate as much electricity as the building uses.

Health: The building will promote health for its occupants, with inviting stairways, operable windows and features to promote walking and resource sharing.

Materials: The building will not contain any “Red List” hazardous materials, including PVC, cadmium, lead, mercury and hormone-mimicking substances, all of which are commonly found in building components.

Equity: All workstations are within 30 feet of large operable windows, offering all workers access to fresh air and natural daylight.

Beauty: Stunning architecture, an innovative photovoltaic array, a green roof and other native plantings, large structural timbers and a revitalized pocket park help beautify the surrounding neighborhood.

“We made a huge, bold bet that human creativity could overcome dozens of unprecedented challenges,” said Denis Hayes, CEO of the Bullitt Foundation and the Bullitt Center. “If Living Buildings can be built and operated in Seattle, the cloudiest major city in the contiguous 48 states, they can and should be built everywhere.”

The Bullitt Center is a showcase example and proof of how it is possible to build sustainably today.  Today the Seattle metropolitan area is experiencing a building boom but sadly it is not being built with anything close to the Living Building Certification in mind.

If you are interested in taking a tour of this remarkable building you can do so here. I’ve yet to do so myself but it at the top of my bucket list.

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