Employees at PAE work March 7 inside their office space at the Bullitt Center in Seattle. (Official Governor’s Office Photo)

It’s easy being green at the Bullitt Center in Seattle

Office building reduces human impacts on environment

Did you know that Washington state is home to one of the greenest buildings in the world?

The Bullitt Center in Seattle, as seen March 7 (Official Governor’s Office Photo)

The Bullitt Center, an office space in the heart of Seattle, has a roof covered in solar panels, a rain-water filtration system and even a toilet system that composts human waste. The building houses a number of companies as well as the Bullitt Foundation, an organization that aims to make metropolitan areas and other communities more environmentally friendly.

Foundation president Denis Hayes, speaking last week at a meeting of utility commissioners in Seattle, said he hopes that more builders adopt the Bullitt’s eco-friendly concepts.

“What we’re doing with this building is we’re trying to get it prosthelytized across the country,” he said.

The Bullitt Center’s designers met the Living Building Challenge, which asks builders to make structures that create a positive impact on nature while also being self-sufficient and beautiful.

Denis Hayes, president of the Bullitt Foundation (Official Governor’s Office Photo)

Dignitaries and members of the press at last week’s meeting took a tour of the Bullitt Center. Deborah Sigler of the University of Washington’s Integrated Design Lab, who led the tour, said that the building designers were inspired by a Douglas fir forest, which likely existed on that very site before Seattle was developed.

The building tries to treat rain like a forest would. It collects the rain and converts it into potable water for its tenants. The building gets much of its energy from the sun by using the rooftop solar panels. And the materials used to build the Bullitt are free of toxins and sourced locally, Sigler said.

The Bullitt Center’s website boasts of additional ways that the building has gone green:

  • Location: The building, which is close to numerous public transportation routes, has a walkability score of 99 out of 100, according to Walk Score.
  • Radiant heating: Warm water circulated through tubes in the concrete floor heats the facility.
  • Smart controls: Using weather data, the building opens, closes or shades its windows to keep the space comfortable.
  • Composting human waste: The toilet bowls in the center fill with just 2 tablespoons of water, mixed with biodegradable soap, per use. Waste flows from the toilet to composters, where it is turned into fertilizer.
  • An elevator that generates power: A mechanism in the elevator captures and stores energy as the elevator slows down, converting it into electricity that can be used elsewhere in the building.
A view from the Bullitt Center’s staircase looking out over Madison Street on March 7 in Seattle. (Official Governor’s Office Photo)

Sigler said that builders were able to spend more on the building’s eco-friendly features by sacrificing some of the money typically spent on decor.

“We don’t have a lot of makeup,” she said, but “it’s an incredibly comfortable building.”

Steve Reidy, managing principal at PAE, a tenant in the Bullitt Center, met the tour participants to chat about what it’s been like working inside of the building.

PAE found that the concrete floors made the space nosier, but carpet was not an option because it would have blocked the radiant heat, Reidy said. The company’s solution was to place sound-absorption panels on the walls.

Steve Reidy, center right, speaks March 7 during a tour of the Bullitt Center in Seattle given by Deborah Sigler, left of Reidy. (Official Governor’s Office Photo)

Eighty-five percent of the building space had been leased within its first year, and today the building is fully leased, Sigler said.

The Bullitt Center has become quite a landmark, Sigler said. It has been visited by tens of thousands of people since it opened four years ago, she said.

Those visitors include Gov. Jay Inslee, who was there for the building’s grand opening on Earth Day in 2013.

“For those who say we can’t power our future, let them come to the Bullitt Center,” Inslee said that day, touting the facility as proof that we can “beat global warming.”