I've long been skeptical of the "green" movement in construction, while at the same time I hoped it could succeed.
My skepticism was born of early attempts at "environmental friendliness" that valued appearances over quantifiable data, and "green washing" that abused the hopes of many who truly wanted proven environmentally responsible products.
But as I toured Seattle's Bullitt Center — arguably the world's greenest commercial building — during its grand opening April 22 — Earth Day, and not by coincidence — I realized someone finally did it. Someone finally proved you can be environmentally responsible and sustainable, by the numbers.
I went to the grand opening because the Bullitt Center has a PROSOCO R-GUARD® FastFlash® air and water barrier system installed. FastFlash®, as you may know, is PROSOCO's ultra-durable, fluid-applied system for stopping air and water leaks through building envelopes.
It performs at a level that helps buildings reach Passive House and, in the Bullitt Center's case, Net Zero levels of energy efficiency.
Net Zero energy efficiency is one of the checkpoints of the Living Building Challenge. That's likely the world's toughest environmental construction standard, and the one the Bullitt Center was built to meet
The "Red List" is another checkpoint for the Challenge. It's a list of over 300 chemical substances, many of which are found in hundreds of common building materials — substances proven harmful to people. Bullitt Center design firm Miller Hull Partnership and general contractor Schuchart Corporation designed and built the six-story 50,000 square-foot office building for developer Point 32 without Red-Listed products.
To make the cut, every product had to be environmentally sound and proven effective — not just by itself, but also in concert with other building materials. At PROSOCO, we are justifiably proud that FastFlash® made the grade.
So they did it. There it stands, 1501 Madison Street, Seattle, a living building, a done deal.
It wasn’t easy. When Denis Hayes, Bullitt Foundation president — and one of the founders of Earth Day in 1970, by the way — first envisioned a building designed from the ground up to be useful and healthy, he found local building codes prohibited much of what was needed.
That might’ve stopped some. Not Denis. He went to the mayor. He worked with the city and the state to change codes. Working together, they created a new regulatory environment — one in which buildings like the Bullitt Center could flourish.
Next step? More buildings like this, in Seattle and elsewhere. Obviously they can’t all be the same design. The Bullitt Center is made for the Seattle climate. In Phoenix, for instance, with many more sunny days, the solar array will be smaller. With fewer rainy days, the rain-collection cisterns will be bigger.
Other cities and states will also have code issues. But they did it in Seattle. They can do it in Kansas City. I believe that one day they will. We will.
On a beautiful April opening day, as hundreds of people flocked in for tours, the fully operational Bullitt Center produced twice the energy it needed to run. The distinctive solar array atop the building captured sunlight to produce that energy, in line with the requirements of the Living Building Challenge.
I thought I might hear derogatory comments about the building's appearance. The "hat" as some call the solar array, makes the building look different from most other buildings, and people don’t always like “different.”
That wasn’t the case in Seattle. I overheard at least one fan waiting in line for a tour giving a rundown on the building’s features — along with energy, the Bullitt Center collects and treats all its own water. Its 26 400-foot-deep geothermal wells will help heat the building during cloudy winters. Its service life is designed for 250 years.
That guy rattled off the features like Mariners' baseball stats.
To me the building seems iconic. Fifty years after construction of the then-futuristic-looking Space Needle, Seattle's Bullitt Center also points toward the future — a future of legitimate and quantifiably green construction.
Our industry can do it. They did it in Seattle.