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Amid an eco-friendly housing boom, one building rules them all
Across the U.S., buildings account for roughly 70 percent of electricity use, 65 percent of waste and 39 percent of carbon dioxide emissions. No matter how you look at it, the places we live and work are a burden on the environment. Seattle’s recently opened Bullitt Center—which bills itself as “the greenest commercial building in the world”—aims to change all that. Here’s how it works. —Jacqueline Detwiler
1. This will be the first commercial building in the U.S. that will divert rainwater instead of using the public water supply. Although the procedure is still awaiting approval, engineers plan to collect rain in a 56,000-gallon cistern, send it through three ceramic filters, shoot it with UV light, pass it through activated charcoal and briefly treat it with chlorine before use.
2. A massive array of solar panels will generate all the electricity the building will use in a year. Because sunlight is not consistent, the center will exchange power with the Seattle municipal grid—providing energy for other uses when it has extra, and taking energy out when it requires more than the solar panels can create.
3. The wood used in construction was harvested from Forest Stewardship Council–certified forests. Engineers screened everything else to eliminate 350 toxic chemicals—including PVC, lead, mercury, phthalates, neoprene and formaldehyde—many of which are still commonly used in construction.
3. This will be one of the first office buildings in the world to compost its own human waste. Ten VW Bug–size composters in the basement will convert waste to fertilizer in a similar manner to backyard composters. Finally, the matter will be sent to a local compost facility, where it will be mixed and tested to ensure safety before being sent out to farms.