These days, there are plenty of "green" buildings, with solar heating, insulated windows, self-generated electricity. But what would it take to construct an office building at competitive leasing rates that generated its own energy and processed its own waste — for 250 years?
That's what they're trying to find out in Seattle, where groundbreaking began Monday on a six-story building billed as the greenest commercial building on earth. The Bullitt Center — which eventually will use only its own rainwater, generate its own power and compost its own sewage — is the first big office building designed to carry its own environmental weight.
Green construction has become a mantra in cities all over the world, but nowhere has it been embraced more enthusiastically than in the Pacific Northwest, where mayors ride bikes to work, the Sierra Club dominates local politics and green energy is seen as a potential new job engine, as jet airplanes, coffee and software once were.
Both Portland and Vancouver have been in the running to construct some of the first buildings to meet "living building" standards, generating as much power as they consume, processing their own waste water, constructing with toxin-free materials, obtaining lumber from sustainably harvested forests and sourcing products locally to minimize fuel use during shipping.