The Greenest Commercial Building on Earth

The Bullitt Center, the world’s only fully self-sustained office building.  Photo: Joe Mabel

To be called the world’s greenest office building is no easy feat, but the 6-story Bullitt Center at 1501 East Madison Street between Capitol Hill and the Central District has attained that status. Completed in 2013, it has won numerous environmental awards and received much media coverage since then, due to being completely self-sustaining, like a forest, thus not contributing to global warming. It’s considered a “Living Building”, mimicking how nature reuses, stores, and filters materials in a productive way. The Bullitt Center was built to last 250 years, and is so effective at generating energy that it has an excess during the summer months.

Created as part of the Living Building Challenge, this building produces its own energy through solar panels on the roof, processing its own rainwater for reuse, composting toilets, a bike garage + showers, rare triple-pane windows, completely non-toxic and locally-sourced building materials, automatic blinds adjustment according to sun position, heat pumps processing at 400 feet below the soil, and lots of natural light and wood throughout. The building is purposely situated near various public transit and has the best walking score possible: 100 out of 100. Tenants are given an energy allotment according to how much space (ranging from 2,000 to 8,000 square feet) they occupy in the building. If they stay within those parameters, they receive a financial incentive at the end of the year.

Denis Hayes, who has an incredible environmental resume (including being the organizer for the very first Earth Day in the 1970s, then bringing it to the global stage) is now president of the Bullitt Foundation, which owns the building. In critical upcoming years, as urban populations continue to grow, Hayes hopes that the Bullitt Center will serve as an example of what’s possible, and will promote future construction of other living, sustainable buildings.

Photo: Joe Mabel