April 14, 2004

Seattle gets a lesson in green

  • A group of Seattle architects, developers and building owners recently toured Sweden and Denmark to learn about sustainable building.
    Journal Staff Reporter

    Photos by Rich Franko
    Architects and developers tour the Tango apartment complex in Malmo, Sweden. Units have triple-glazed windows and were built of recycled materials.

    From its windmill farms to its furniture, Denmark left a strong impression on Don Carlson of Carlson Architects.

    "It's weird being in a country where everything is so well designed," he quipped, recalling the sleek office furniture in an energy efficient Copenhagen office building.

    Joined by a group of Seattle architects, developers and building owners, Carlson recently spent a week touring Sweden and Denmark to learn about sustainable building practices.

    One of the key lessons was: "Give people a global mission and they can change their habits and goals on a local level," according to Richard Franko, senior associate at Mithun. "Energy efficiency is not an alternative to growth -- it's a precondition."

    The group will share insights from the trip during a brown bag discussion today on sustainable development in South Lake Union. The forum will be held from noon to 1:30 on the second floor of City Hall, 600 Fourth Ave.

     Anchor Park
    The group went to Anchor Park in Malmo to learn about sustainable building practices.

    Hoping to energize local designers, developers and land owners, group members said Seattle can be a showcase for sustainable development.

    Yet they conceded it may be difficult for Seattle or any American city to duplicate the success of cities such as Copenhagen or Malmo, Sweden.

    Patricia Chase of Seattle's International Sustainable Solutions said two things are key to Scandinavia's success: taxes and penalties, but they may not work in the U.S. Car sales in Denmark, for example, are taxed around 200 percent, which wouldn't go over well here, she said. High car taxes encourage drivers there to jump on bikes.

    Group members said there are other devices to promote energy conservation. In Malmo, the group visited a 527-apartment complex which draws all of its energy from renewable sources -- namely, a 2MW wind generating station one mile away.

    The development, Western Harbor, has solar panels and green roofs and reuses rainwater for flushing toilets. Food waste is stored in large holding tanks, and taken to a bio-gas plant.

    In the 27-unit Tango complex -- part of Western Harbor -- triple-glazed windows reduce solar gain and all building materials are recyclable.

    "Only 10 percent of the region's waste goes into a landfill," said Franko. "They made throwing recyclable materials away illegal."

    In Denmark, Franko said the turning point came during the oil crisis in the late 1970s -- when the Danes resolved they would reduce their dependence on oil. Since then, their gross domestic product has increased 30 percent, but gross energy consumption has remained the same. "They lead the world in the use of renewable energy," he said.

    Copenhagen's Danish Broadcasting Complex is a model for sustainable building, according to group members. The facility features shades that are computer-controlled, pivoting to control the amount of solar gain.

    While Denmark and Sweden lead in innovative, sustainable designs, Franko said cities like Seattle should catch up.

    "Environmental initiatives connect people, and create revenue opportunities," he said. "People will support investments that improve the economy,"

    For more information about International Sustainable Solutions and a trip to Denmark and Sweden this fall, go to www.i-sustain.com.