The Building That Goes Beyond Net Zero

The Building That Goes Beyond Net Zero

By Martin Smith

“Please, come crap in my building.” Jason McClennan, during his inspiring TED Talks speech about the Living Building Challenge, half-jokingly says that he tells people this because of his office building’s unique bathrooms. But, what actually makes these unique? What is it about this office building that makes a positive impact on the environment when people use it?

Creating Mulch

Jason’s office building, The Bullitt Center in Seattle, has frequently been granted the title as the greenest building in the world. Those bathrooms are indeed unique because each one helps create mulch. All 24 composting toilets in the building are equipped with foam—not water—that eases human waste to under-workings below. In the basement of the beast, ten car-sized aerobic composters efficiently pack down the waste and churn away until they are full. When the composters are full, trucks come to extract it and bring it to a place where it is combined with other mulch from King County. Now you understand why McClennan was so enthused about bringing people into his building—they would be helping to restore nutrients back to the Earth. This is the main premise behind net-positive, or “regenerative” buildings: restore the natural landscape and produce abundance for the local environment—through nutrients, life, and energy.

Providing Power

Under the hood, the 50,000 square-foot Bullitt Center boasts a large solar array that sits on top of a cantilevered roof. In 2014, the Center was able to produce 252,560 kWh of clean, renewable energy with these solar panels. Did it use all of this energy? The answer, as you may have guessed, is no—how would it provide abundance by consuming all of the energy it creates? In 2014 the building only used 147,260 kWh of electricity, which means the additional electricity leftover was sold back to the grid. Compared to a typical new building that meets Seattle’s rigorous energy code and uses 593,891 kWh a year, the Bullitt Center uses 75% less energy than this baseline.

A Living Future

To no ones surprise, the Bullitt Center was the first office building in the world to be given the Living Building Certification—the most progressive green building “rating system” there is. Jason McClennan, who recently stepped down from CEO of the Living Future Institute, is the visionary genius that invented this transformative building standard. Denis Hayes, president of the Bullitt Foundation, says if this building is still the highest-performing commercial structure of its kind in ten years, then this rigorous experiment will have failed. The main idea behind this project is to inspire other contractors and businesses to follow in their footsteps. A little friendly competition always helps as well—to paraphrase the clever end-note Denis Hayes left on his audience at the 2014 GreenBiz conference held in the sunny capital of Arizona—What’s up, Phoenix?

Living Building Challenge Collaborative: Los Angeles

Verdical Group is proud to be a member of the LBC chapter here in Los Angeles. To learn more about this in-person group of International Living Future Institute Ambassadors and all of the learning experiences they offer, please check out their Facebook page and home website.