The BofA Tower carries a LEED Platinum rating and was built with a number of notable green features, such as a rainwater collection and reuse system and an on-site cogeneration plant that converts ice into cooling power. So it was surprising to read the claims of the article, pointing to recent building energy data published by New York City showing that the skyscraper is using more energy and producing more greenhouse gases than other comparably sized, non-LEED certified office building in Manhattan. Upon publication, other sites have piled on, including Fast Company, Environmental Leader, and Gizmodo, although Lloyd Alter, a popular writer for Treehugger, roundly criticized the article.
Naturally, LEED (and the building’s designers) are taking heat for the article, which seems to be tied to the building’s heavy financial services focus, specifically the significant energy use required to deliver the computing power for operating the building's trading floors. The trading floor(s) use rows of server arrays and many of the computers are (perhaps required to be) left on overnight.
USGBC is defending the project. Scot Horst, senior vice president of LEED at USGBC, indicated in a response to the article that while the building uses more energy, it is also generating more energy than comparable buildings through the on-site cogeneration plant. It also has other features that make it more sustainable than other buildings in its class, such as water efficiency and healthier indoor air. The following quote is from Scot Horst's rebuttal:
In his rush to criticize LEED by plucking a single example from the 45,000 plus buildings that make up LEED’s global portfolio, Mr. Roudman failed to tell the whole story. He did not explain, for example, that the building generates much of its electricity in its basement with a co-generation power plant, recovers waste heat for the various heating needs of the building, and employs innovative ice storage technology to shift grid power use to off-peak periods. As a result, the Bank of America Tower removes stress from the existing electric infrastructure far more effectively than comparable buildings. It also eliminates distribution losses inherent in grid-generated power, avoids consumption during peak periods and uses natural resources in a significantly more efficient way than many other buildings.
If Mr. Roudman wants to tell an accurate story, he needs to explain the impact of these strategies and how they compare to other similar sized trading floors and similar building types in the city and other cities around the world. LEED encourages project teams to implement these types of strategies. The Bank of America Tower is an icon of innovation. Can they do more? Yes. Are they leaders? Yes. Is Mr. Roudman telling the whole story? No. Period.
Green vs. Net Zero Bullitt Center (Credit: John Stamets)
While the Bank of America building may still arguably be a green building, even if its tenant activity can’t be helped, the green building community will likely be keeping a keen eye on the Bullitt Center and how it performs in comparison to the BofA building and other LEED projects because of a key difference. The Bullitt Center, unlike the “Toxic Tower”, is net zero.
Net Zero means that the building produces all of the energy it consumes, using no energy from the grid. The Bullitt Center uses a combination of solar panels and geothermal wells to make up for its occupants’ energy use, no matter what it is, in theory. It also has energy efficient features, such as a roof that doubles as a cistern to collect rainwater, and ample daylighting, that allow it to use 1/3 the energy of a conventional office building.
The Bullitt Center is also expected to meet all of the Living Building Challenge’s requirements, which include 20 sustainability imperatives, one of which is that the building must be net zero.
Other sustainability imperatives include that 100% of all of the building’s water needs must be met by recycled rainwater, and it must contribute to a car-free community by maintaining or increasing the neighborhood’s population density and walkability. The building has a water and sewage processing system so that it will be independent of the municipal water and sewage systems, and will be carbon neutral.
Once certified as a Living Building, the Bullitt Center will be the largest building in the world to have achieved the exceptional green building standard. It takes a full year for a building to earn Living Building status, because it must prove that its operations meet the requirements of the standard. The Bullitt Center is also working to accommodate certain legal challenges, specifically with respect to the center’s water supply, because Federal government requires the water to be chlorinated, but this isn’t allowed by the challenge. It’s using water from the City of Seattle as it sorts out the matter.
Given the Bank of America building’s potentially tough PR battles, we’re sure the media will be intent on finding out how well the Bullitt Center performs compared to its net zero design case. Only time will tell if this office space’s design can stand up to the energy use of the actual users.
It also discusses certifications for Net Zero buildings, which include the Living Building Challenge and Net Zero Building certification.