NWEA Tours the Greenest Commercial Building in the World

Bullitt ExteriorNorthwest Energy Angels were thrilled to tour the newly opened Bullitt Center only days after the building was christened. The Bullitt Center, which opened its doors on Earth Day 2013, is designed to be the world’s greenest commercial building. In fact, the building is designed to meet the world’s most rigorous sustainable design standards— the Living Building Challenge. If successful the building will be the first of its kind, but the designers and builders will have to wait for a full year of operating data before the Living Building Challenge designation can be awarded.

Dennis Hayes, President of the Bullitt Foundation, gave NWEA a tour of the facility. He explained, among other things, the requirements of the Living Building Challenge: net-zero energy, generating all its own electricity; net-zero waste, contributing no waste to the surrounding environment; and net-zero water, only using as much water as cisterns are able to collect and store. In addition, all heavy building materials must come from within 300 miles of the site and none of the building materials can contain any of the red-listed 362 toxic chemicals that are common in construction materials. [1] Discovering how pervasive these chemicals were was a huge part of the learning curve in the Bullitt Center’s development. Mr. Hayes suspected they could build a second site for much cheaper, now that the uncertainty of material contents has been effectively dealt with.

Total development costs were $30 million, but only $18.5 million were direct construction costs. The rest went to land, regulatory wrangling, and problem-solving design constraints, like their red-listed chemicals ban. The final costs pencil out to $355 per square foot, about $50 more per square foot than a typical commercial property in the surrounding area. Mr. Hayes assures us all that the additional cost is worth it. After all, he expects this building to be around in 250 years, “You want to build things that will endure, something that will become part of the quasi-permanent wealth of society. Not something that you put up and rip down a few years later.” [2]

[1] http://www.netnebraska.org/node/853503
[2] http://www.netnebraska.org/node/853503