The call to ‘get greener’ is getting louder however incremental changes, although more implementable and digestible, are not adding up to the solution that is needed. With carbon impact to date being irreversible [1], what we do today when building new structures and communities will affect every generation that follows.

The need to change is weighty, imminent and now it’s affecting investment decisions from major lenders. Builders and developers have a unique opportunity to impact communities, the environment and generations to come with the buildings they design and build. Few other things are intended to last 50, 100 or more years and interact with citizens throughout that time. What an excellent foundation for change!

“Incrementalism no longer is doing the trick… we need to take giant leaps into a new way of doing things.” – Denis Hayes, President, The Bullitt

The zero environmental footprint Bullitt Center being completed in Seattle is forging far ahead into the world of true building sustainability and is hoping to serve as a challenging example of the solutions needed on a world-wide scale. Beyond a ‘green’ building of current standards, the Bullitt Center exceeded every existing standard for green building and left incremental programs like LEED behind as it developed new materials and systems with performance benchmarks that have created a building with a zero environmental footprint.

To be certified by the Living Buildings Institute, the Bullitt Centre is required to be self-sufficient for energy and water for at least 12 continuous months and to meet rigorous standards for green materials and for the quality of its indoor environment. A lofty and difficult goal indeed – but imagine if every building in a city could achieve this in the next century, what a tremendous reduction in use of fuels and output of pollution.

From automated self-opening windows to encourage air flow coupled with retractable blinds that control sunlight and temperature build-up in the building to it’s solar powered ‘off-the-grid’ self sufficiency, this radically innovative project is challenging builders everywhere to reach beyond government enforced ‘green’ regulations to embrace the opportunity to solve a global issue one building at a time.

Reminiscent of the often repeated quote from Albert Einstein “we can’t solve problems using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them,” the Bullitt Center challenges all builders to rethink the small-changes = big change approach being used today. Incremental change is not going to solve the mounting global impact that humans are having. A completely new approach, beyond city ordinances, bylaws and incentivized programs for compliance, engineers, architects and developers need to work together to create building-wide solutions that address environmental impacts and liveability of buildings throughout the design and build process.

The Bullitt Center also strove to create a human-friendly, highly livable building, an often under-discussed aspect of sustainability. Without a livable environment the most green building will not be utilized. Function cannot eclipse form in these initiatives: encouraging better living and healthier interactions with the building were built right into the design.

A zero-impact approach lends itself particularly well to applications in established communities as the scale and style of building is achievable for such developments. Buildings can have a tremendous impact on a community, that impact can be positive or negative (we can all recall the negative examples in our cities). Extensive positive change is achievable, as the Bullitt Centre has shown. The effect on the community has included ripples of change in this Seattle district: the adjacent park is now seeking to meet the same Living Building Institute goals and provide a new approach to urban parks.

In Calgary it is telling that one of our most livable redeveloped communities, Garrison Woods, broke every development mold and challenged many, many bylaws when it sought to re-develop CFB Calgary. As the City of Calgary continues to show it is open to change and willing to include out-of-the-box solutions in development and redevelopment of areas, developers are being called to respond.


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