• Denis Hayes, photographed on the upper level of the under-construction Bullitt Center in downtown Seattle.

    Credit: Karen Moskowitz

    Denis Hayes, photographed on the upper level of the under-construction Bullitt Center in downtown Seattle.

So can building professionals be like organic farmers, who want to use that soil for many generations and so treat it well?
They can be, or they can be like the people who are engaged in sustainable forestry. The best forestry companies in the world are owned by families, not by stock corporations and not by real estate investment trusts. It’s families who’ve owned the land through three generations and they want to own the land through the next 30 generations. They log in a fashion that isn’t maximizing current profits; it’s maximizing long-term production.

Why was Seattle the right city to try to build the first commercial urban Living Builing?
In Seattle, we have a an extraordinarily environmentally sensitive city council. We had a guy who was the greenest mayor of America who was defeated by the chairman of the local Sierra Club. And in most cities, when you talk about dealing with the head of the Department of Planning, people just start shuddering. But Diane Sugimura is my champion. If there’s barriers, she figures out ways to make it possible. And having done it here, we think it can be done elsewhere. But no matter how good of a developer you are in 99 percent of the cities in America, the forces of the government are against you. It’s just critically important that you not allow prescriptive standards to have the consequences of forcing you to never become spectacularly better than code. In Seattle, the average existing building is estimated to have an EUI of 91. We’ve now got a new energy code that tightens that significantly. If you’re going to build a building this year, you have got to get it down to about 71 or 72. By the time you finally get to LEED Platinum, on an order of magnitude, that takes you down to 32. So that’s from 91 to 32. Our [EUI] is going to be 16.

Do you see the Living Building movement spreading out from the Pacific Northwest?
We started building green buildings in Seattle and in Portland a while ago and now it’s getting very difficult to lease space if you can’t at least make a claim that it’s green and one or another kind of certification. If you go to the Pearl District in Portland, virtually every building there is LEED Gold or LEED Platinum. But increasingly elsewhere, we have these little hotbeds of places like Pittsburgh where there are a bunch of architects that have become wildly enthusiastic about it [the LBC]. The name is chosen perfectly, the Living Building Challenge. It's a challenge. But it’s a challenge that will become easier to meet.