Net Positive Energy Over First Decade

on Thu, Apr 20, 2023 at 6:12 PM

The Bullitt Center Generated 30% More Energy Than It Used in Its First 10 Years

Building shows what’s possible in a sector that is still failing to meet the climate imperative

SEATTLE—In its first ten years, the Bullitt Center has generated nearly 30% more energy from solar panels on its roof than it has used, which is enough excess to power 41 homes in Seattle for a year. Since opening on Earth Day 2013, it has shown indisputably that net-positive energy buildings are possible anywhere. 

“We were told point blank by seven well-respected developers that a six-story office powered entirely by the sun was impossible in Seattle,” said Denis Hayes, CEO of the Bullitt Foundation and driving force behind the project. “I’ve never put much stock in conventional thinking.”

In ten years, the Bullitt Center generated 2,475,021 kWh of energy, which was 551,481 kWh more than the building and its occupants used for all purposes. The average Seattle house uses 13,376 kWh annually. 

In addition, the building collects and treats rainwater for all purposes, including drinking. As a result, it has also operated as net positive for water over its first decade as well. In other words, the building has created more clean, drinkable water than it has used. The rainwater-to-potable water system offers a model of resilience, and it represents a strategy to manage stormwater for cities to consider. 

More than 10,000 people have visited the Bullitt Center since it opened on Earth Day 2013, including the largest home builder in the world, heads of state and other government leaders, and many real estate developers. While the building has directly inspired projects such as the PAE Living Building in Portland and the Kendeda Building at Georgia Tech in Atlanta, it has also had a much broader influence by changing the conversation about what’s possible. Today, buildings routinely pursue net-positive energy goals, screen out hazardous materials, and dramatically reduce upfront carbon emissions from the materials used in construction. 

The building community overall is failing to meet the climate imperative; most buildings merely meet codes, which means they offer the worst performance that is legally allowed. 

“While I am thrilled with the way the Bullitt Center has performed, I am deeply saddened by the lack of progress in buildings overall,” said Hayes. “Despite obvious signs of climate change everywhere, we continue to race towards a cliff.”

According to Energy Star, the average office building in the United States has an energy use intensity (EUI) of 116, which is a commonly used metric of energy efficiency. The Bullitt Center has an EUI of 16, an 86% reduction, showing the dramatic potential to further reduce energy waste and carbon emissions from building operations.

For more information about the Bullitt Center, please visit


The Honorable Jay Inslee, Governor, Washington State

“The Bullitt Center is a source of great pride for the State of Washington, showing that it’s possible to power a six-story office building entirely from the sun, even in the cloudy Northwest. Ten years ago, the Bullitt Center broke new ground as the first net-positive office building in the world. Since then, we’ve continued breaking ground on the effort to decarbonize buildings, and the center remains a beacon today for everyone helping build more resilient and sustainable cities.”

Mark Edlen, Co-Founder, Gerding Edlen Development

“The Bullitt Center is perhaps the most iconic building in North America, if not worldwide. From its beginning to today, the Bullitt Center’s design, construction and operation has demonstrated to the world what can be done. There is nothing hypothetical about the Bullitt Center, as it is a reality. For the first time ever, it shows how a modern, full-service, commercially viable office building can truly achieve net zero energy, water and sewage while at the same time being built with materials that are not detrimental to the planet and that are sourced locally creating vibrant local job opportunities.”

“Personally, the Bullitt Center served as the model in the development of our PAE Building in Portland, Oregon, which has also achieved net zero energy, water, and sewage and like the Bullitt Center is expected to achieve the Living Building designation. Much of our design and engineering work came directly from the Bullitt Center and were it not for the groundwork that the Bullitt Center laid for all of us I am not sure that we would have accomplished what we did with the PAE Building.”

Shi Wang, Honorary Chairman, China Vanke (World’s largest residential real estate development company)

The Bullitt Center changed my perception about what was possible to achieve in a building. When I first visited the project, my mind was spinning with new ideas about how to refine our residential development projects in China. As a passionate mountaineer, I thrive on challenges. In many respects, the Bullitt Center created a new summit for me to pursue, which has driven our work forward.”

Paul Schwer, President Emeritus, PAE

“The Bullitt Center changed the trajectory of PAE and the industry. It took risks that few other buildings were willing to take and those risks advanced the industry. Design teams across the country have used it to show their clients that net-zero energy and net-zero water buildings are possible.”

Lindsay Baker, CEO, International Living Future Institute

“The Bullitt Center lives forever as a moment in time when the gauntlet was thrown down. People thought the building was impossible, until it existed. It shifted the paradigm about what’s possible in dramatic ways and got people thinking about what buildings could and should do. We are so proud of what the Bullitt Center represents. And we embrace the progress made since on projects around the world that have incorporated lessons from the Bullitt Center to push further.”

Joel Cesare, Global Carbon Program Manager, Google

“For me, the Bullitt Center has been the North Star of the green building movement. When I worked for the City of Santa Monica, we sought out to build the world’s greenest building; there was one project to point to that represented what good looks like. In real estate, everyone wants to be second. The Bullitt Center’s brilliance and impact comes from being first. It took risks. It piloted innovation. It challenged misguided regulation. To achieve the net zero future we all strive for, we need inspiration. From Skanska to Santa Monica to Google, I’ve used the Bullitt Center at each stop to dispel myths about what’s possible.”

Randell Leach, CEO, Beneficial State Bank

“In 2020, we opened our cashless branch in the Bullitt Center to serve the Seattle community and do so in a way that reflected our commitment to environmental sustainability. We are thankful to have a home at one of the world’s greenest commercial buildings to help bring our promise of “banking beneficially” to fruition. We invite you to visit us at the Bullitt Center to explore what’s possible when we invest in environmental sustainability and climate justice, together.”

Shan Arora, Director, Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design at the Georgia Institute of Technology

“There is a direct line of inspiration from the Bullitt Center to Georgia Tech’s Kendeda Building for Innovative Sustainable Design. When Diana Blank of the Kendeda Fund first saw the Bullitt Center, she asked, “why can’t we do this in the South?” Now the Kendeda Building shows it’s possible to create a Living Building in Atlanta, inspiring others in the region and around the world to ask, “why can’t we build one here?”

Robert B. Peña, Associate Professor, Department of Architecture, University of Washington

The Bullitt Center is a proof-of-concept model that has raised the bar on building performance and helped steer the market towards better materials and more progressive land-use regulations in Seattle and around the country. Arguably the largest influence are the seeds of inspiration and influence propagated by this project. It is a case study of the greenest building of its kind referenced by students around the world. Every year dozens of the students who apply to the graduate architecture program at the University of Washington refer to it as their inspiration for wanting to study here, and they come here expecting that this level of building performance is where we set the bar. It has served as a living laboratory for dozens of studies by our own Integrated Design Lab and for students at schools across the region. It has elevated performance expectations and set new standards among school districts, universities, and developers across the country.”


A 52,000 square-foot commercial building at the intersection of Capitol Hill and the Central Area in Seattle, the Bullitt Center is designed, built and operated to be the world’s greenest office building. Owned by the Bullitt Foundation, the building is a market-rate, Class-A commercial office building with 90 percent of its space leased to commercial enterprises. It was developed to show what’s possible today and to demonstrate a path forward for other real estate development projects. For more information visit