Category Archives: Seattle Department of Planning and Development

Seattle moving towards LEED gold city buildings. Is that a high enough standard?

The city of Seattle is planning to increase its requirement that city owned, financed or operated buildings larger than 5,000 square feet be LEED gold, up from LEED silver. Here’s my question: is it enough?

In 2000, Seattle broke some major ground when it required city buildings be LEED silver. If you go back to 2000, LEED was still really, really new. That’s reflected this  DPD data slide supporting policy changes here. Check it out, in 2003 and 2004 there were more city LEED buildings than those in the private sector. That switches in 2005 and after 2006, LEED in the private sector continues to grow by leaps and bounds each year.

I started this job at the DJC at the start of 2007 and in the time I’ve been here,

West Entry of the LEED gold Woodland Park Zoo, image courtesy Ryan Hawk, Woodland Park Zoo
I’ve certainly seen the switch. In early 2007, a story was news if a building met LEED silver or had targeted LEED gold. Then LEED platinum became the hot topic. Now, it’s net-zero energy and Living Buildings. That’s not to say that LEED is a dinosaur and that LEED platinum isn’t a big deal. It’s just that the really cutting edge projects seem to have moved beyond LEED. Silver just isn’t big news anymore.

Now, the city is looking to create a more robust policy, the outlines of which can be seen in that slide linked to above. There will also be a DJC story early next week explaining the likely changes. Generally, the city is going to require LEED gold for buildings where it previously would have required LEED silver. It also expands the program to consider major renovations and tenant improvements, sites and small projects. Sandra Mallory, DPD’s Green Building Team program manager, also said the city wants to pilot a living building and six Sustainable Sites Initiative projects, three of which are already in development. It’s some big changes. But are they big enough?

The question seems simple but also touches on the changing role of city government, especially because green building is so much larger today than it was back in 2000. Back in 2000, Seattle took a strong leadership role in its silver requirement. Making a similar, envelope-pushing switch today would likely require city buildings be net-zero energy or living buildings. Given today’s market, I’m not sure the city could make that change, even if it wanted to. Financially, I don’t know that it would make sense, or that it could even be feasible for all projects. Also, the private sector has already taken the lead in both these areas.

Then again, if Seattle wants to keep saying it is the “greenest city in the country,” something that seems to be getting a bit outdated as green and sustainable elements become mainstream, wouldn’t it have to make a ground-altering change like that? Additionally, most of its buildings in recent years have met LEED gold, though they weren’t required to. According to that slide, it still doesn’t have a LEED platinum project.

What do you think? Should the city have made a stronger stand or is LEED gold fair for now? Also, how do you think the city’s role in supporting green building should change in the future? Eventually, will the city require all its buildings be net-zero or meet living status? It’s a curious question and I’d love to hear your responses.

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Read the DJC’s free Building Green Special Section

If you don’t have a subscription to the DJC or don’t click on our articles as they are locked, you might not know about our free special sections.

Special sections, written by people in a targeted industry for people in the industry, are free to read, meaning even you non-subscribers can access valuable information. Special sections come out about once a month and each section focuses on a different topic. This month’s excellent topic is Building Green and I am thoroughly impressed with the breadth of this year’s coverage.

The free special section is here.

In it, you’ll find this excellent article by Michelle Rosenberger and Nancy Henderson of ArchEcology called “Watch out for ‘greenwashing’ by service providers.” Among its interesting points, the article examines whether consultants can truly bring a LEED approach to a project without rigorous third party LEED certification.  Interesting item to bring up.

There’s this article by Constance Wilde of CB Richard Ellis reflecting on her personal experience of  becoming a Certified Green Broker, and its values and benefits.

There’s this great article by Joel Sisolak of the Cascadia Green Building Council called “Two Seattle projects set ‘net-zero’ water goals,” which looks at the region’s water infrastructure and two living buildings (The Bertschi School’s Science Wing and the Cascadia Center for Sustainable Design and Construction, both covered previously in this blog)  that plan to go off the water grid and their challenges in doing so.

Then there’s this article by Elizabeth Powers at O’Brien & Co. on whether green parking lots can be (gasp!) green. I’ll let you read the article to learn more.

The section also has articles from representatives of Skanska USA Building, Mithun, MulvannyG2, GGLO, Scott Surdyke, Sandra Mallory of the city of Seattle and CollinsWoerman on topics ranging from the city’s role in evolving practices to big box stores, student housing and public housing.

So go ahead, check it out and enjoy!

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In 2011, Seattle moves towards district energy

This week, we ran this story in the DJC about Yesler Terrace, CollinsWoerman and the effort to start considering resources on the broader scale.

For those of you that don’t live in the area, Yesler Terrace is a 28-acre publicly subsidized housing community owned by the Seattle Housing Authority. It is  in the process of being redeveloped.

Imaging one energy and water system for all this space.
CollinsWoerman is a local architecture and planning firm.

District energy systems are common in Europe, especially Denmark. They allow buildings to connect to each other, increasing efficiency and reducing costs by letting several buildings share energy from a main source, such as steam, geothermal, biomass or waste heat.

But they are often cost prohibitive because streets must be torn up for a network of pipes to be built underground.

Steve Moddemeyer, principle of sustainable development at CollinsWoerman, said according to a CollinsWoerman study for SHA, a district water system could cut water use by half for Yesler Terrace and reduce wastewater flows by 70 percent for the same or less cost as a traditional system. Just imagine if you could do that for an entire city!

The fact that Yesler Terrace is considering a water and energy district is really exciting. But what’s more interesting is what it says about Seattle. District energy has long been a buzz-term in the city’s green community. It seems like we might finally be moving towards getting momentum on new projects.

The city of Seattle hired AEI and Cowi to study district energy opportunities for the city. They are looking at where these systems would be feasible and will identify the top three places. Moddemeyer has seen such interest in district energy and water, he said Yesler Terrace might not be the first project to employ the system. If private developers move forward, he said district systems could be the norm within five years. (Can you even imagine that scenario…?!)

Separately, the city is also working with Trent Berry, a partner with Vancouver, B.C.’s Compass Resource Management. Berry is also providing expertise on district energy systems.

The city of Bothell is also looking at installing a district energy system.

The new projects point in the direction Seattle is heading. But we are also lucky to have Seattle Steam here. Seattle Steam, a district heat provider for 200 downtown buildings, has been around for over 100 years. I’m sure there’s a lot of experience they can add to this discussion.

It seems like Seattle has an opportunity here to be a real leader.

Moddemeyer said the biggest obstacle to progress is our faith in the current system. Projects like King County’s $1.8 billion Brightwater Treatment Plant put all our water treatment eggs in one basket, betting that water will continue to be treated the way it is in years to come.

What do you think?

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Seattle’s Office of Sustainability loses Amanda Eichel to New York City and hires Joshua Curtis formerly of Great City

There are a couple newsworthy items related to the city’s Office of Sustainability and Environment. First, it is losing Amanda Eichel, senior climate protection advisor, to the New York City office of Mayor Mike Bloomberg. Second, it recently hired Joshua Curtis, formerly executive director of urban advocacy group Great City. Great City was founded by Mayor Mike McGinn, previous to his political role. Curtis’ title is community power works non-residential grant manager. He was brought on to manage a portion of the Energy Efficiency and Conservation Block Grant Program, funded by the federal stimulus. The role is funded by the grant.

Jill Simmons, acting director of the OSE, said she is reassessing the role Eichel played. Someone else will likely be hired to fill her post.

It’s interesting that Eichel is leaving to work with Bloomberg’s office, which seems to be snatching up

Eichel heads to New York City
talented Pacific Northwest players. Bloomberg also recently hired David Bragdon, former president of Portland’s Metro Council, as head of environmental policy. There’s an article here about what the switch-up means for New York.

It’s also interesting that OSE is hiring in today’s tumultuous market when so many other city employees risk losing their jobs. In the Department of Planning and Development for example, the city is planning to lay off up to 40 employees in October. The city has had multiple rounds of layoffs since the start of the recession.

Simmons said OSE considered people from other departments for Curtis’ post but he was the best fit. She said the office recently brought someone into the department who otherwise would have been laid off. There is no word yet whether the office will face any layoffs in the coming year as the city’s budget has not been released.

McGinn founded Great City but resigned his post to run for mayor. In May of 2009, Curtis succeeded McGinn. At the end of June, Great City went all-volunteer and Brice Maryman seems to have taken over general duties. Curtis was hired by OSE at the beginning of August.

Simmons wanted to make it clear that the city didn’t hire Curtis because of his past involvement with McGinn’s project. In an e-mail, she said Curtis was unequivocally not hired because of his connection to Great City, and the mayor:

“OSE conducted a competitive hiring process in June and July to fill the EECBG Grant Program’s Nonresidential Sector Manager position. We received nearly 30 applications, and interviewed a number of strong candidates. Joshua was the best of these; he is exceptionally well-qualified to ensure the city successfully implements the ambitious grant program. OSE lost one great talent with Amanda’s departure, but thankfully gained another with Joshua’s hire.”

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To support green buildings should codes stay the same, be reworked or be reinvented?

On Thursday, the DJC published an article I wrote on a new report that says codes are getting in the way of cutting edge green buildings. This, in itself, is really nothing new.  Last August, I wrote this article about the city’s Priority Green program. In it, DPD’s Peter Dobrovolny (whose last name is almost as difficult as mine!) said many projects consider innovative ideas but drop them when they realize how much extra time it will take under city code. However, having the problems and possible solutions written down in an actual report – well that is new.

However, the report. Is. Huge. If you dare to read it, click here . It manages to be very

The Rubik's Cube of codes
comprehensive and vague at the same time. It is comprehensive in that it studies code barriers across the country, identifies problems and makes recommendations. But because it is dealing with national issues, some of the solutions are vague in their range. For example, one solution is to “identify and address regulatory impediments to green building and development” while another is to “create incentives matched with desired goals.”

I spoke with one of the study’s primary authors, David Eisenberg of the Development Center for Appropriate Technology, this week. Essentially, he said codes are built incorrectly in that they are hundreds of ad hoc responses to problems. Codes, he said, should instead be built comprehensively to support a specific kind of development or project. Basically, he said the entire system needs to be rebuilt.


In Seattle, it can take months or years for changes (especially large ones) to occurr. Can you imagine what it would take to wipe out all the city departments responsible for allowing development to get built… and then to rework the system from scratch? 

Eisenberg said he realizes that what he’s asking might be impossible. But even if it is impossible, by voicing the idea, he hopes to get people talking about it. Everyone – he said – whether it’s greenies or permitting people or anyone really – wants healthy buildings. And our current code system does not encourage healthy buildings because it pawns risks relating to climate change and environmental degradation off on future generations.

What do you think about all of this, dear readers? Is there any possibility that our overall codes could be reworked and if so, what would you want them to encourage? Here in Seattle (where we are pretty progressive in environmental issues, at least compared with some parts of the country) do we even need to be considering reworking the system or do we need to tweak it? If you could totally rework one code or issue, what would it be?

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Seattle’s got a brand new bag … of information!

It’s called the Quick Guide to Green Tenant Improvement series, and is a guide that shows users how to do sustainable commercial improvements in a variety of ten topics. The guides are a product of Seattle’s Department of Planning and Development’s City Green Building team.

The guides are available online here, though I haven’t had time to study them yet. They are

The guides come in many handy flavors
meant to help project managers, owners, interior designers and architects apply sustainable building practices to commercial remodel projects, though a press release says the guide works equally well for interior construction or renovation. Each guide includes an overview of a topic, key benefits and strategies, quick facts, a case study, a checklist, additional resources and potential LEED-CI credits. Helpful? Only you can be the judge.

If you want a hard copy of the series, contact Rebecca Baker at (206) 615-1171.

According to the press release, the guides come in the following fun flavors:

01 Green Lease — A green lease can enhance recruitment, lower healthcare expenses, yield productivity gains and lower operating costs.

02 Connecting with Nature — Interiors with natural elements foster positive connections between people and enhance physical and mental well being.

03 Adaptable Design — “Future-proof” office space by providing for the integration and adaptability of various building systems.

04 Office Equipment — Using energy efficient office equipment reduces energy costs, ambient noise, air-conditioning loads, electromagnetic fields and greenhouse gas emissions while extending equipment life.

05 HVAC: Heating, Ventilation & Air Conditioning — Energy efficient HVAC equipment can reduce energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions and utility costs while increasing thermal comfort and improving indoor air quality.

06 Lighting — Energy efficient lighting systems can reduce a significant amount of electrical energy costs while enhancing aesthetic design inside and out.

07 Employee Well-Being — The quality of the indoor environment directly affects employee well-being and performance.

08 Healthy Building Materials — A healthy workplace is built, furnished and operated to minimize exposure to sub-stances harmful to human health.

09 Regional Resources — Purchasing locally supports our local economy and reduces transportation costs and emissions.

10 Construction Waste Management — Many construction, demolition and land-clearing waste materials have high value for salvage and reuse.

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Out of work? The building deconstruction industry is hiring!

This is a guest post by Dave Bennink, owner of Re-Use Consulting. 

This last week has been full of bad news relating to major corporations cutting jobs.  These job cuts are nothing compared to the amount of jobs that have been shipped overseas in the past decades.  Did you know that the City of Buffalo used to have

Image courtesy Dave Bennink
600,000 people in it and now it only has about 290,000?  First the jobs left and then the people followed.  This has left Buffalo wondering what to do with tens of thousands of abandoned homes. 

So where are we heading?  Jobs disappearing, economic slowdowns and global warming are just the start of our problems.  Fortunately, there is some good news to share:  The building deconstruction industry is creating thousands of green collar jobs, and these jobs cannot be shipped overseas! 

For years, building deconstruction has been much slower and more expensive than demolition.  Building deconstruction is the systematic disassembly of a structure to maximize reuse and recycling.  In recent years, hybrid deconstruction has allowed deconstruction and adaptive reuse companies to take down buildings faster and cheaper, completing 2,000-square-foot homes in 3 to 4 days as one example.  Even with these improvements, building deconstruction still creates 10 to 20 times more jobs than demolition while hoping to achieve an on-site landfill diversion rate of 70 percent or more (before comingled recycling options). 

These are all local jobs that cannot be shipped overseas and we are working to make them living wage jobs requiring different levels of experience and potentially launching workers into other related careers.

One thing that is clear to me is that building owners don’t want their structures demolished, they just want them removed.  Almost everyone I have talked to would rather see the their building moved intact, deconstructed, or at least salvaged or even preserved in place through adaptive reuse as long as it doesn’t take much more time and it doesn’t cost more money.  That helps the building deconstruction contractors by basing their efforts on a solid foundation. 

People realize that deconstruction creates more jobs, helps the environment, preserves local architectural elements, and assists lower-income home owners to maintain their homes.  It is also a sustainable effort, unlike some green solutions that just slow down the problems.  Deconstruction is not just saving energy and resources compared to producing all of those materials new again, but reversing problems like global warming and natural resource depletion. 

In Buffalo, we have begun to think of the streets full of abandoned homes as an asset to the community instead of a liability.  If it is decided that they must be taken down, then by deconstructing them, some of the value they hold is returned to the community, and I can tell you after 16 years in this field, it’s a great feeling knowing that you are making a difference. 

I am excited about efforts by the city of Seattle and King County, among others, to promote building deconstruction. 

The Building Materials Reuse Association is leading the way, holding a conference on the subject in Chicago in April 2009 (  Cities and groups across the Country are starting job training programs by forming deconstruction crews.  Demolition contractors are converting to deconstruction companies by performing deconstruction when their clients ask for it or it makes economic sense.  General contractors hoping to keep their crews from quiting in slow times, are beginning to offer deconstruction to their clients, knowing that they may be able to provide work to their laid-off crews.  Some schools are considering classes on deconstruction and some businesses are forming around the sales of the salvaged materials or the manufacturing of products (like tables, chairs, etc.) made from reclaimed materials. 

So if you are tired of this economic slow down and want to make a difference, join us by considering building deconstruction and considering buying reclaimed materials.  It’s  ‘buying local’ and ’employing local’ all at the same time while heading toward our goal of zero waste.

– Dave Bennink, RE-USE Consulting

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Predictions: green trends for ’09

The Internet has been awash with green trend predictions for the last year, so I figured I’d show you where the predictions are in case you missed them.

What do you see in green's crystal ball?

First, there’s Jetson Green’s Seven Green Trends to Watch in 2009. The post from one of the top national blogs in the country calls out broad idealogical trends for the most part, like “non green will not survive,” “change leadership will thrive,” and “everything will shift.” For more on what that means, check out the post.

There’s Jerry  Yudelson’s Top 10 Predictions for the Green Building Industry 2009. Culled from conversations Yudelson’s had with building leaders in the U.S., Canada, Europe and the Middle East, it’s a wide range of predictions (that might be worth paying attention to, considering Yudelson knows almost everybody that’s worth knowing in green). Among the predictions, Yudelson says green building will benefit from the Obama administration, the focus of green building will begin to switch from new buildings to greening existing buildings, awareness of the coming global crisis in fresh water supply will increase, LEED platinum rated projects will become more common place and zero net energy designs for new buildings will gain increasing acceptance in both public and private buildings.

And earlier today, I listened to the Sustainable Industries Webinar on its nine trends for 2009. Among the trends, it said the smart grid will take off, this will be the year of the carbon market, green building sets the code (meaning it becomes a larger part of city’s building codes), and there will be a green jobs hiring blitz. While I can’t find this information for free on the Web, it is in next month’s edition of the magazine, and will likely be available online at some point here.

As for Seattle, I’m a reporter so I’m not going to predict what this year will bring in green building. It could bring a living building or a passifhaus to the city. It could bring more incentives. Or all new initiatives could dry up, due to the economy.

On the city side, the year will likely bring an official priority permitting program (rather than just a pilot program), and a deconstruction permit that is decoupled from the demolition permit. On the state side, Ecology might revamp SEPA to specifically include greenhouse gas emissions in its measurement requirements (for more on this, click tag SEPA below).

What do you think this year will bring to Seattle? And what do you think will be the biggest trends in the region?

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Want to work for Seattle’s green build team? Apply by Tuesday

Want a job as the sustainable infrastructure advisor for the city of Seattle Green Building Team and Planning Department? Well the job is open and waiting for you. There’s only one catch: the position closes on Tuesday.

Before you get angry on me for last minute posting, be warned that I just received

Is this the job for you?
this e-mail today. Now it’s your responsibility to move quickly!

The e-mail says the job is “a mid to senior level position.” Salary range is $32.42 to $48.63 per hour. The job that requires the person to have:

  • Technical expertise in low impact development, district energy/thermal distribution systems, on-site water and wastewater processing and other decentralized technologies.
  • Strong communication skills.
  • Financial skills to develop the business case for solutions that may provide distributed benefits to a variety of business units and stakeholders.

You also have to have a BA degree and five years experience in government policy and public utilities. To apply, click here. Happy hunting!

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Do you consider social equity in project decisions?

I’ve spent the last two days at two very different but very intersting conferences. The first, King County’s Green in Place: From Policy to Practice conference, featured Gary Lawrence as the keynote speaker and during his talk (discussed at length in an article in the Sept. 19 DJC.. read it if you’re at all intersted in ths subject) he said something a little out of the typical routine:

 “If you’re involved in sustainable design and (not) addressing issues of equity and justice, you’re not involved in sustainability.”

Arup's Treasure Island project in San Francisco

He defined social equity or social justice as considering the impact your building and designing choices have on other humans. So instead of putting on that green roof, you consider how the extra steel needed to reinforce the roof will affect the lives of the people who will mine the steel. Basically you look at your choices from an all inclusive roundabout way.

It takes a lot of thinking. And for those people just entering into green building or sustainable design, it might be too much work to add on (at the beginning stage of the game).

But intrinsically, is Lawrence right? Can you, Mr. Architect or Ms. City Planner really call your work sustainable if you don’t consider all the different people your choice will affect both in the past and in the future? Or is it just too much to handle?

The question in itself is fascinating, and one that I, by my lonesome, cannot answer. What do you think?

P.S. (Lawrence’s resume could make most people’s eyes widen. He has been a former DPD planning director, UW professor, adivsor to the Clinton Administration’s Council on Sustainable Development, the United Nation’s Habitat II, the Brazilian President’s Office, the British Prime Minister’s Office, not to mention currently running Arup’s sustainable urban development globally.)

For more information, it turns out King County Executive Ron Sims has already tapped this topic in a keynote talk of his own. Read the press release. I don’t know much about the Holcim Foundation for Sustainable Construction, but it has some interesting definitions here.

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