Recap of the WCTA Second Annual Meeting

L76A8509Last Friday morning began with plenty of coffee, a healthy dose of surly and a splash of edginess to kick off the WCTA Second Annual Meeting featuring Denis Hayes of the Bullitt Foundation. Nearly 300 leaders in the cleantech industry came together to hear Hayes remark on the future of clean technology and the built environment.

L76A8550In his introduction of Hayes, Boeing Company Director of Enterprise Strategy and Global Environment Health and Safety, Terry Mutter, commented on Boeing’s own success at decoupling energy consumption while creating jobs and increasing capacity. What’s good for the planet is also good for the bottom line.

After a great joke about Irish twins (aren’t you sad you missed it?) Hayes quickly reminded us why we were there: to discuss the need for creating buildings with a greater focus on energy and resource conservation. He talked about the “Great Urban Migration,” a global phenomenon in which millions of people are moving to urban areas. There are numerous factors driving the rural exodus: policy, climate disruption, economic opportunity and the ecological undermining of world agriculture. The United Nations estimates that two-thirds of the world’s population will live in urban areas by 2030.

The impact of this massive movement is evident in the close-quartered slums in Sao Paulo, Brazil and the constant gridlock in Houston traffic. Hayes stressed the need for architecture and construction to honor design and functionality more than artistic sculpture. “Cities should be healthy ecosystems, designed on the basis of 200,000 years of Darwinian beta testing,” Hayes said, “using the fruits of modern science and technology to promote the well-being of people.” Cities should consist of “living buildings” inside vibrant, resilient neighborhoods.

L76A8638The Bullitt Center is the world’s first six-story “living building”, situated atop East Madison Street in Capitol Hill, looking west at the Seattle skyline. While Seattle may not be the most obvious place to construct an ambitious solar powered building it goes to show that if it can be done here then it can be done elsewhere.

The Bullitt Center is Hayes’ visionary dream turned reality and shines with optimism for the future of urban development. As the first attempt at constructing a “living building”, the Bullitt Center was much more expensive than comparable commercial buildings, Hayes remarked,  however the first one of anything is always the most expensive. The important thing is that it opened the door for a new way of thinking about development.

It wasn’t an easy process, said Diane Sugimura of the City of Seattle, “The City’s building codes do not account for the construction of a “living building” so many of the obstacles we faced with the Bullitt Center required a little bit more flexibility than the ordinances would allow.” Despite that, the City of Seattle is the only US city with ordinances that encourage the “living building challenge”. The Bullitt Center and Stone 34 are learning experiences for the City to adapt its ordinances for new methods in construction.

Lisa Picard of Skanska acknowledged that the Bullitt Center created awareness, raised the bar and set the ball rolling for the development of more energy efficient buildings. Stone 34, the new Brooks Sports building will manage energy risks in the future. They have a young workforce that has a strong environmental conscience that is willing to pay the slightly higher cost of being in an energy efficient space.

L76A8633That is not always the case though, as David Allen of McKinstry commented, the problem is that Americans are not accustomed to paying the true cost of anything in this country. A fundamental change in people’s behavior now will have the greatest impact on energy savings but habits are difficult to change.

Sugimura remarked that similar to the reusable shopping bag ordinance, it will take some time for people to adjust their behavior but it’s possible to make small changes over time. Picard agreed saying that “the behavioral component is huge, especially in commercial buildings. Twenty-five percent of our energy conservation will come from individual behavior changes and lifestyle modification”. It may be the most difficult thing to change but it will have the greatest impact.

Special thanks to moderator Hal Calbom of Sustainable Media Group for doing a spectacular job guiding the following panel discussion with Lisa Picard (Skanska), Diane Sugimura (City of Seattle), David Allen (McKinstry) and Andy Wappler (Puget Sound Energy).