In the second half of Sustainable Industries' one-on-one Q&A with ecosystem services expert Kevin Halsey, our interview subject gets specific about ecosystem services in the built environment through the lens of Seattle’s celebrated Bullitt Center, a candidate to meet the rigorous Living Building Challenge – not to mention it's self-proclaimed status as the "greenest commercial building in the world." To read Part 1, in which Halsey breaks down why ecosystem services are not just about "monetizing nature," click here.
Sustainable Industries recently partnered with the University of Oregon's Sustainability Leadership Program, where Halsey is an instructor, to both produce and distribute a multi-media content series focused on topical content emerging from the curriculum. As a reader of Sustainable Industries, you're eligible to receive $50 off Kevin Halsey's May 14 workshop, "Integrative Land Use Planning: Collaborative Tools for Optimizing Performance." Simply click here to register.
SI: You’ve been working on an approach for defining, quantifying, and communicating ecosystem services in the built environment through the lens of Seattle’s Bullitt Center, which is a candidate to meet the rigorous Living Building Challenge. What does the Bullitt Center contribute in significant and measurable ways to the regeneration of its surrounding neighborhood and the broader Puget Sound region?
KH: The Bullitt Center is an amazing building and certainly is providing tangible benefits to the Capitol Hill neighborhood in which it is located. The building is beautiful, and has already become a destination for those that want to see and experience it for themselves. The whole neighborhood benefits from the buildings growing prestige and the green building tourists it is drawing – me among them.
In addition, the building significantly improves the resilience of the neighborhood. The provisioning services within the building are all either natural or replicate the distributed nature of ecosystem services. This means that should disaster strike, the Bullitt Center may be one of the few buildings in the region still functioning.
The buildings benefits also ripple out across Puget Sound – for example, since the building obtains all its fresh water from rainfall, it is not contributing to the water withdrawals that lead to hydrograph disruptions in other parts of the watershed. This is just one of the many ways the building has eliminated externalities, which reduces the pressure on ecological conditions in other parts of the watershed.
However, ultimately, the true significance of the building is that it demonstrates what can be accomplished and helps to pave the way for more and better Living Buildings in the future. [pagebreak]Ultimately, the Bullitt Center is only one building – a drop in the bucket for eliminating externalities or restoring the urban environment. The real question is – how many other drops can it catalyze?
SI: How do adaptive design strategies allow for collaborative decision making, and what impact has that had on the Bullitt Center project?
KH: The Bullitt Center is a great example of the solutions that can be developed when all disciplines are included throughout the building design. This adaptive and collaborative approach is essential when trying to push the limits of green building design. The performance of these buildings cannot be maximized – they can only be optimized. When you push the design to do one thing, it inevitably creates trade-offs in other areas.
As an example, the Bullitt Center does not have a green roof; although there are small terraced sections of green roof, the main roof is not planted. This was a conscious choice since the only way to make the building self-sustaining for energy was to dedicate the roof to solar panels. This choice had consequences. A planted roof would have provided some benefits – but there would be adverse consequences associated with relying on the grid for power.
It is a difficult task to sort through those consequences to find the solutions that best optimize outcomes. From what I have seen of the building and based on our very preliminary assessment, the team did an amazing job of finding optimal solutions.
SI: How do you make the case to mainstream commercial developers that these types of marquee projects in progressive cities should be more commonplace?
KH: We need buildings like the Bullitt Center if we are going to create sustainable cities. However, if we want more buildings like the Bullitt Center, they will need to make clear financial sense to developers. That means not only do we need to bring the costs of such buildings down, which will happen as the technologies and materials become more mainstream, but we need to better identify and capture the financial benefits such buildings can provide.
This is ultimately one of the ways ecosystem services can help. Since not everyone has the luxury of a 20 year return on investment period, we need to be identifying meaningful quantifiable benefits that can be aggregated to reduce the ROI periods of these buildings.
SI: How does the Bullitt Center incorporate human health considerations, and can these actually be measured?
KH: Human health is a key component of the Living Building Challenge, and the Bullitt Center certainly incorporates important human health elements into its design. [pagebreak]In addition to the obvious aspect of avoiding known toxics in the building materials, the design incorporates many additional elements geared towards improving human health.
For instance, the design provides for adequate and equally distributed natural light throughout the building; the design incorporates an 'irresistible staircase' that encourages use of the stairs rather than the elevator; tremendous views of nature; systems that improve fresh air flow, and much more. All of these health benefits can be found in nature – but in the Bullitt Center they are provided partly by nature and partly by careful mimicking of nature.
This brings us back to needing to understand ecosystem services on a spectrum that covers natural through technological solutions. Using this approach we can not only measure the health benefits provided by the building, we can get a better understanding of how well our ecosystem service solutions are optimizing outcomes.
As a reader of Sustainable Industries, you're eligible to receive $50 off Kevin Halsey's May 14 workshop, "Integrative Land Use Planning: Collaborative Tools for Optimizing Performance." Simply click here to register.
UPDATE: Feb. 21, 2013
BULLITT CENTER INDEPENDENTLY CERTIFIED FOR 100% RESPONSIBLE WOOD USE
First Commercial Building in the US to Earn FSC Project Certification
SEATTLE – The Bullitt Center, which is the first heavy-timber office building in Seattle since the early 20th century, is also the first commercial building in the U.S. to earn Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) Project Certification. At a time when the commercial building industry is looking to wood as a climate-friendly material, the Bullitt Center shows it’s possible to build entirely with wood from responsibly managed forests.
“When it comes from a FSC certified forest, wood is arguably the most environmentally friendly building material,” said Bullitt Foundation CEO, Denis Hayes. “The Bullitt Center is about doing everything right, from the solar array on the roof to the geothermal wells in the ground. When we looked at the wood, FSC was the only way to go,” he added.
[pagebreak]The Bullitt Center is designed to last 250 years, sequestering tons of carbon in its heavy timber structure. The design team weighed the benefits of using wood versus other building materials, settling on wood because of its renewability, natural beauty, strength and ability to sequester carbon through the life of the building.
The FSC Project Certification involves an independent assessment that 100 percent of the wood used in the Bullitt Center is from FSC certified sources. Soil Association Woodmark conducted the onsite audits and certification of the Bullitt Center’s core and shell (Certificate Registration Code: SA-PRO-003818).
The Bullitt Center is pursuing the Living Building Challenge (LBC), one of the most rigorous benchmarks for sustainability in the built environment. In contrast to other green building programs, the LBC requires all wood to be FSC certified or from salvaged sources. As a result, there is a natural opportunity for projects pursuing Living Building status to also earn FSC Project Certification.
With deforestation still a problem in the U.S. and around the world, FSC Project Certification provides third-party assurance that all wood is from responsible sources, and it allows the Bullitt Center to use the FSC logo in public communications.
The Bullitt Center team, through general contractor Schuchart Corp., procured wood products from Matheus Lumber in Woodinville, WA, including Glulam timbers from Calvert Glulam, dimensional lumber from Potlatch, small timbers from Elk Creek Forest products, structural plywood from Roseburg Forest Products and recycled lumber from Rhine Demolition.
In November 2012, the Bullitt Center won the “Design & Build with FSC Award” for commercial project of the year.