Report Finds $18.5 Million in Hidden Value at Bullitt Center

Posted by Brad Kahn on Mon, Sep 15, 2014 at 5:31 PM

First-of-a-kind research calculates that public benefits are comparable to construction cost of the building.

A report released on September 4, 2014, Optimizing Urban Ecosystem Services: The Bullitt Center Case Study, found that just six of the building’s green features will produce up to $18.5 million in benefits to society over the life of the building. This is the first time ecosystem service values have been calculated for a building.

Ecosystem services are benefits provided by natural systems to support all life on earth. Such benefits accrue broadly to society rather than directly to building owners or tenants, and current regulatory and financial systems do not fully account for them.

In this research, the team calculated values for public benefits, such as energy efficiency, solar energy, walkability, rainwater capture and use, composting toilets, and enhanced carbon storage in the forest from Forest Stewardship Council certified wood.

Although many other public benefits—low-cost housing, pollution reduction, sanitation—are subsidized or required as a price of doing business, investments in sustainability are currently voluntary charitable acts by developers. This places sustainable buildings at a commercial disadvantage to conventional buildings.

“Society provides enormous annual subsidies to residential and commercial real estate, many of which promote sprawl. But society does not acknowledge the benefits that deep green buildings provide to the general public,” said Denis Hayes, CEO of the Bullitt Foundation, which owns the Bullitt Center. “By ignoring the benefits such investments provide to society at large, we penalize the best buildings and reward the worst,” he added.

The value of such public benefits can vary based on factors such as the price attributed to carbon emissions and the discount rate applied to benefits received in future years. For the Bullitt Center, the research team calculated the following benefits over the life of the building:

Site transportation benefits


Rainwater capture and reuse


Composting toilet


Energy efficiency


Solar array


FSC wood


The research team focused on six widely accepted public services to evaluate the scale of readily quantifiable benefits they provide in green building projects. In addition to its quantitative research, the team also provided a qualitative assessment of an additional dozen ecosystem services benefits. If these other benefits could be accurately quantified, they would add significantly to the documented value of the Bullitt Center.

For example, stormwater mitigation – which is directly related to rainwater capture and reuse – can be extremely expensive for cities to address. Seattle recently spent more than $1 billion to address part of the stormwater challenge it faces. The Bullitt Center has no stormwater runoff.

The magnitude of the benefit demonstrates the need to begin incorporating public benefits into regulatory and financial frameworks.

“I am delighted that Bullitt Foundation has not only endorsed the logic of green construction in their new building, but that they have measured and valued its expected social and environmental impacts,” said Pavan Sukhdev, a global leader in valuing the benefits of nature. “This is the kind of responsible forward thinking that the entire construction sector needs to engage for any real transition towards a Green Economy,” he added.

A team from Autopoiesis LLC and Ecotrust conducted the research, which was funded by the Bullitt Foundation.

Download the full report here.

More on the Ecotrust website here.

Summary of report highlights here.