Sunday was Earth Day and Governor Inslee and Mayor McGinn attended the opening of the Bullitt Center, billed as the “greenest” building on the planet. One of the selling points is that it creates more energy than it uses. But, is it really green?
The Seattle Times notes the building cost $30 million to build and is 50,000 square feet. That amounts to construction costs of $600 a square foot. Last year, Crosscut reported the Bullitt Foundation expected it to cost much less, noting at the time that “The $30 million Center will run about $350 a square foot in construction costs finished – about $50 more per square foot than your typical commercial building.” Even if Crosscut’s previous projection was incorrect, the Bullitt Center is still twice as expensive as a typical commercial building.
Assuming these numbers are correct, the Bullitt Center cost $15 million more than a comparable building. What environmental benefits do they get for all that additional cost?
With the same amount of money, here are a few things they could have done to benefit the environment:
- Eliminate all carbon emissions from Issaquah, Sammamish, Snoqualmie and Woodinville for an entire year – 1.5 million metric tons of CO2.
- Fund five years of the Puget Sound Partnership’s #6 priority, matching federal grants from the Natural Resources Conservation Service, which is zeroed out in the Governor’s budget.
- Fund three years of the gap between the agency request and the Governor’s budget for the Floodplain Management Local Grant Program. The request is $6 million, but the Governor’s budget funds only $1 million.
- Fund half of all Pollution Prevention & Cleanup projects the Puget Sound Partnership lists as needing “additional resources” to complete before 2020.
Remember, this is the additional cost for one building. If this building is truly the model some hope, hundreds of millions of dollars could be spent to meet these standards rather than fund other environmental priorities.
Will the Bullitt Center provide more environmental benefit than could be provided by any of the above? That remains to be seen. Even if it falls short of these alternatives, it will likely be claimed that the building was an experiment and it is important to learn from successes as well as mistakes. That is certainly true. Knowledge is pushed forward by people taking risks and experimenting, so this is a positive step in that process.
I am certain the Bullitt Foundation will brag about those things that worked. Let’s hope they are also honest about those things that don’t work. The environmental community has not been forthcoming about admitting its failures and ending projects that don’t work, shifting limited funding and resources to projects that can make a difference. They have, instead, tended to double down on those very projects arguing that failed programs just need a bit more funding.
Until the results are in, however, we can’t call the Bullitt Center the “greenest” or even a “green” building.
[Reprinted with permission from the Washington Policy Center blog]