Living Buildings take Sustainability to the Next Level

Photogrpahy of the Bertschi School Living Science Building. Seattle, Washington. Clients: KMD Architects, The Bertschi School, Skanska USA Building, Quantum Consulting Engineers, LLC, Hermanson Company, LLC, GGLO, Rushing and O'Brien & Company. © Benjamin Benschneider All rights Reserved. Usage rights may be arranged by contacting Benjamin Benschneider Photography. Email: or phone 206-789-5973

The Bertschi School Living Science Building in Seattle, Washington. Built by Skanska as one of our first living building projects.

For years, sustainability has been more than just a buzzword in the construction industry – and with good reason.  As stewards of a planet with limited natural resources, it’s in our own interest to build projects that consume less.

The concept of Net-Zero construction has pushed the boundaries of sustainable green building further. This movement saw projects designed and constructed to offset the energy and water operations consumer through a variety of strategies ranging from on-site energy generation to rainwater harvesting.

We are entering the era of the Living Building, the industry’s most rigorous performance standard to date.  According to the International Living Future Institute, Living Buildings operate as cleanly, beautifully and efficiently as nature’s architecture.

Skanksa has become a vocal champion of green, sustainable and living building. In a recent interview with Construction DiveStacy Smedley, director of sustainability at Skanska USA, shared her experiences with ILFI and how it is a new area worthy of exploration.

Read the full story, with more from Stacy Smedley, here.

And for more on “How a Living Building Comes to Life,” check out our previous blog post here.

Skanska USA

Skanska USA

Skanska USA is one of the largest, most financially sound construction and development companies in the U.S., serving a broad range of clients in the public and private sectors, including those in transportation, power, industrial, water/wastewater, healthcare, life science, education, sports & entertainment, data centers, government, aviation and commercial industries.

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Creating one of the world’s greenest buildings

Solar panels, wind turbines, geothermal wells, rain cisterns and composting toilets – you don’t often see those all in one building, if you see them at all. But these are central to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation’s Brock Environmental Center, which was recently dedicated in Virginia Beach, Va.

After three years spent planning, designing and building this facility, it was great to see local residents exploring what is possible with green building during the open house.  The Brock center is targeting not only LEED Platinum certification, but also the even more stringent Living Building Challenge that requires net zero environmental impact. Some of those residents seemed to be in awe of what was accomplished by this team, which includes not only CBF and Skanska (as CBF’s representative) as key team members, but also SmithGroupJJR, Hourigan Construction and WPL Site Design.

I’m still a bit in awe myself as to what this great team achieved: an international model for energy and water efficiency and climate change resiliency, and Virginia’s greenest building.  The team reached these tough goals because of open minds and much collaboration amongst team members. (This video of the eco-charette shows us all engaging in early discussions about this project – this session was at the beginning of a great adventure!)

The challenges were many, as this team was a green pioneer. Take, for example, that the 10,000-square-foot building collects rainwater, then filters and re-uses it as drinking water to help achieve net-zero water use. As far as we know, that’s a first for a commercial-scale building in the U.S., and it required the facility to be certified as a water treatment plant. Early in design, the project team engaged both the City of Virginia Beach and the Virginia Department of Health to make certain that they could legally re-use water in this way. After much constructive back and forth, that system is running today – and that water tastes great!

Ensuring that only proper materials were used on this project was another considerable challenge. With the Living Building Challenge, materials must be locally sourced and must not contain any of the 22 potentially harmful materials or chemicals on the Challenge’s Red List. The Brock center is Skanska’s second Living Building Challenge project, following Seattle’s Bertschi School Science Classroom that we completed in 2011. (The Bertschi classroom was awarded Living Building certification in 2013, becoming the world’s fourth Living Building.) Being able to tap the resources of our Bertschi School team was a great starting point and ongoing resource for the Brock center team. However, Brock involved different materials and a later Living Building Challenge version, so the Brock team still had to do substantial legwork to ensure that all products met requirements. You can never start early enough on materials research, but thankfully for this project our committed partners of SmithGroupJJR and Hourigan did great work in this regard.

Brock Center

As with all Living Building Challenge projects, though construction is complete the project team will keep close watch over the building. Living Building certification requires the building to be monitored over the next year to ensure it operates as intended, including meeting net zero energy and water goals. You’ll be able to see for yourself how this building’s green features make it independent of outside energy and water sources: starting in February, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is opening the Brock center for regular tours. As the building is home to CBF’s local staff and environmental education programs, it has the potential to inspire thousands of students to expect and aspire to a future populated by living buildings. Imagine how such a world would help protect the magnificent Chesapeake Bay.

I live in the neighboring city of Norfolk, so I definitely plan to come back and see this important resource in use. I hope to see you there.

Megan O’Connell

Megan O’Connell

Senior project engineer

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How our Stone34 project demonstrates sustainable leadership

When Brooks Sports, the running shoe and apparel company, needed a new global headquarters and a Seattle-area home for its growing staff of shoe designers, marketing experts and product managers, it turned to Skanska USA. They wanted their new home to reflect the company’s commitment to wellness and sustainability and our team worked with Brooks to develop an incredibly compelling vision for its new home. That vision has come to life at Stone34, a 129,000-square-foot building along one of Seattle’s most popular multi-use trails, enabling Brooks to craft a new trailhead and stronger relationship with those who engage on many levels with the company.

full bldg NW nite

Today, Stone34 has been nominated in the category of “Transforming Spaces” in Sustainable Seattle’s Sustainable Leadership People’s Choice Awards. The Sustainability Leadership Awards celebrate inspiring sustainability efforts accomplished in the Puget Sound Region and winners and nominees are nominated and voted on by the community.

int Brooks cafe lakeview 1

So what makes Stone34 an example of sustainable leadership and a transformative space? Being environmentally and socially responsible is important to Brooks, and Skanska responded with a building that creates brand value for Brooks while helping the company manage energy risk in the future.  Stone34 is the first-market rate project and second building overall to participate in the City of Seattle’s Living Building Pilot Program, a partnership between Skanska, tenants and the surrounding community to grow a smarter neighborhood through green, sustainable design. Stone34, on track to receive LEED Platinum certification, is situated and designed to reduce heat gain and energy use, this includes operable windows to enable natural breeze to help cool the building.

full bldg SW

The building captures and reuses at least 50 percent of storm water on the site and using 75 percent less energy than a typical Seattle commercial building. This is in part thanks to an innovative hydronic heating and cooling system, which uses circulated water to control temperature. The centerpiece of the building’s facade is a glass-enclosed staircase to encourage walking between the five floors, rather than riding elevators, reinforcing the activity and movement inherent in the Brooks’ brand. Activity is further encouraged through the building’s connection to Seattle’s Burke Gillman trail, encouraging employees and visitors to commute and exercise on foot or bike.

For more information on Brook’s new home, check out this New York Times feature.

In addition to conceiving, financing and developing Stone34, Skanska also built it. We relied on our in-house craft workers and expertise with lean construction processes to ensure the highest quality construction on a very aggressive schedule. Skanska is also guaranteeing the building’s energy performance for ten years.


Skanska USA

Skanska USA

Skanska USA is one of the largest, most financially sound construction and development companies in the U.S., serving a broad range of clients in the public and private sectors, including those in transportation, power, industrial, water/wastewater, healthcare, life science, education, sports & entertainment, data centers, government, aviation and commercial industries.

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This year at Greenbuild, we’re championing green


Are you a green champion? That’s the question we’ll be asking this year at Greenbuild. It’s not enough to build green, but it’s our responsibility as an industry to stand up for sustainability.

We’ve seen firsthand how important advocacy is to advancing green building. In 2013, our CEO Mike McNally led Skanska in resigning as a member of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to protest the organization’s backing of a chemical industry-led initiative to effectively ban the future use of LEED for government buildings. The initiative threatened to halt years of progress in energy-efficient and environmentally responsible construction. As a result of this effort, in 2013 the U.S. Green Building Council recognized Mike McNally “for being an unwavering and bold champion for USGBC and LEED in the face of continued attacks by special interest groups.”

Advocacy brings about change. In August of this year, the USGBC and the American Chemistry Council announced that they will work together to use ACC’s materials expertise to better ensure the use of sustainable and environmentally friendly products in buildings. This was a huge win for green building advocates, and a reminder that doing what’s good for a sustainable future is good for business.

This year, we’ve continued to champion green building by helping advance research that helps make the case for sustainability. Recently, the District of Columbia’s Department of Environment wanted to understand the costs and benefits associated with buildings featuring net zero energy and net zero water consumption, as well as those pursuing Living Building challenge certification. To help, Skanska joined the New Buildings Institute and the International Living Future Institute to conceptually transform three LEED v3 Platinum-designed buildings in the District to conform to those criteria.  Our findings, published in Net Zero and Living Building Challenge Financial Study: A Cost Comparison Report for Buildings in the District of Columbia, revealed that after factoring current tax and renewable energy credits, the return on investment in net zero building is approximately 30 percent!

This year we’ve also partnered with the World Green Building Council on a major global research effort to understand the impact of green building in offices on staff health and productivity. The report, Health, Wellbeing and Productivity in Offices: The Next Chapter for Green Building, found that that design features in green buildings can enable healthy and productive environments for their occupants, which in turn improves the bottom line. New standards, like WELL Building, which take into account the holistic impacts of the built environment on human wellness, build on this understanding that what is good for the environment is ultimately good for people and for business.

These are just a few of the ways we’re working to champion sustainability. If you want to join us, stop by the Skanska USA booth at Greenbuild – #2023 –  pick up your “Champion” badge and found out how you too can be an advocate for green building and energy efficiency.

Skanska USA

Skanska USA

Skanska USA is one of the largest, most financially sound construction and development companies in the U.S., serving a broad range of clients in the public and private sectors, including those in transportation, power, industrial, water/wastewater, healthcare, life science, education, sports & entertainment, data centers, government, aviation and commercial industries.

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Increase sustainability to boost profits

With an ongoing emphasis being placed on sustainability, it’s good to know the facts before shying away from potentially higher upfront cost premiums. In Skanska’s current projects, we are using resources that are better for the environment while providing a net cost savings in as few as three years.

Skanska’s Jimmy Mitchell, senior mechanical estimator and LEED expert, was recently featured on the Commercial Real Estate radio show, offering insight on sustainability and how it impacts profits. Here are three tactics you can use to increase sustainability while decreasing costs:


Jimmy Mitchell

A net zero policy can significantly reduce water and energy bills

A net-zero energy building is one where the amount of energy used by the building is equal to the amount of renewable energy created on site. For a non-profit organization or college campus, Mitchell says in many cases it makes sense to invest upfront in order to significantly decrease water and energy bills over a significantly longer period of time.  For high-density districts, Mitchell advises exploring the benefits of scaling to an area-wide system for systems like chilled water.

Bertschi School

The Bertschi School Science Classroom Addition

The Skanska-built Bertschi School Science Classroom Addition in Seattle is net-zero water and energy, and it has been certified under the rigorous Living Building Challenge program. Net zero is becoming more popular, especially for institutions that wish to remain in their buildings for several years. Mitchell said net zero is a trend that will continue to gain traction and lower in cost to achieve.

You don’t have to rebuild to make a difference

If net zero or LEED certification is not in your short-term budget, there are still small improvements you can make to significantly reduce your energy consumption. Installing LED lighting is an easy way to cut costs, as LED’s initial costs are becoming much more affordable. And when you factor in a power cost of one-eighth the expense of regular lighting, LEDs often pay for themselves very early in their lifecycles.

For office buildings, plug load outlets can be installed, which shut off plugged-in appliances at night. This automatic tool can help you save on power bills. In the case of more in-depth renovations, such as replacing mechanical air handling units in older buildings, utility bills can be decreased by as much as 50 percent post-renovation.

Tactics like these also remove a variable that can limit green cost savings: occupant behavior. Efficient lighting fixtures and off-hour conservation can save money in ways aligned with existing behaviors.

Paybacks can happen in as little as three years

Most people can see the fruits of their investments with a three- to seven-year payback for many sustainable improvements, and a 20-year payback for geothermal or solar implementation – a relatively short timeframe for a building intended to last 50 to 100 years.


We renovated our flagship office in the Empire State Building to meet LEED Platinum certification.

Skanska USA recently renovated our flagship office on the Empire State Building’s 32nd floor. Raised access flooring is one of the highlights of the space, which allows for better air control by cooling the bottom five- to six feet of the floor. A 4.7 percent premium was spent to go LEED Platinum in the space, but among the results was that electricity use decreased 57 percent. The office saw its investment paid back in less than five years.

By implementing these sustainable improvements, you can feel good about being a part of the green building initiative while enjoying the costs savings that these efforts can provide.

“In the future of performance contracting, if you reduce energy and reduce costs, you make more money,” Mitchell said. “Efficiency drives profits.”



Skanska USA

Skanska USA

Skanska USA is one of the largest, most financially sound construction and development companies in the U.S., serving a broad range of clients in the public and private sectors, including those in transportation, power, industrial, water/wastewater, healthcare, life science, education, sports & entertainment, data centers, government, aviation and commercial industries.

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Amid a week of disappointing environmental news, some bright spots

Everything each of us does depends on the continued health of our planet. Unfortunately, the headlines from this past week indicate that our planet’s climate is changing in ways that aren’t for the best: scientists are predicting rising seas from “unavoidable” polar melt that will impact coastal cities, and a report by a government-funded research group warned of U.S. national security risks from higher sea levels, increased droughts and other climate-induced changes.

Even worse, Congress recently has been unable to act to protect our environment. Just this week, the bipartisan Energy Savings and Industrial Competitiveness Act died in the Senate, despite what news reports say was widespread bipartisan support – at least until the end. This common-sense measure – introduced by Senators Rob Portman and Jeanne Shaheen – involved common-sense provisions to curtail energy usage, such as strengthened building energy codes and incentives for the purchase of energy-efficient equipment. And such states as Ohio and Louisiana are fighting the LEED rating system that also works to improve building energy efficiency. All this at a time when simple population growth would seem to indicate that conservation is our best way to ensure a sustainable future for generations. 

Deep Green Society

Fortunately, there’s good reason to be optimistic about helping the Earth and lowering energy use, thanks to the efforts of the private sector and other states. Despite attempts to ban or weaken it, LEED is becoming more and more an integral part of the world’s buildings. Five buildings have achieved full certification under the stringent Living Building Challenge green building rating system, which requires net zero energy and water use. (Among these is the Skanska-built Bertschi School Science Classroom Addition in Seattle.) Next week, progressive-minded green thinkers will gather in my hometown of Portland, Ore., for the Living Future unConference to help green building continue to move forward.

Some states are realizing that acting on climate and energy can’t wait. Last year, the leaders of British Columbia, California, Oregon and Washington joined together to form the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy, a major effort to combat climate change and promote clean energy. And this month, Skanska became the first company to sign on to the Oregon Climate Leadership Declaration, an effort to reduce fossil fuel use while investing in homegrown resources and technologies that create jobs for Oregonians.

Too often the discussion about environmental practices becomes divisive – a debate over climate change and cap-and-trade. This is counterproductive. If you like lower energy bills, you have all the reason you need to support using less energy. If you believe a strong economy comes from growth, you have all the belief you need to support water conservation for, without enough water, there can be no growth.

So why take a side when you can simply take action? There’s much work to be done developing the technology, the policies and the support for a green, economically-sound future that would benefit us all. We’d appreciate your help.

Steve Clem

Steve Clem

Skanska USA Vice president of preconstruction

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Why we support the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy

In a major effort to combat climate change and promote clean energy, the leaders of British Columbia, California, Oregon and Washington have joined together to form the Pacific Coast Action Plan on Climate and Energy. Through the plan, these leaders charged their governments to account for the costs of carbon pollution, adopt and maintain low-carbon fuel standards, and support clean energy for their region, which together represents the world’s fifth largest economy.

As Skanska continues to grow our business on the West Coast, we’re proud to support this landmark political, environmental and economic initiative.

“We have to work with risk factors all the time, and a changing climate is a significant business risk,” says Steve Clem, a Skanska vice president in Oregon (Read his OpEd on the subject in Sustainable Business Oregon). “The more tools we have to address and mitigate the risks we know are coming, the more equipped we can be. Our leaders are setting smart policy, based on sound research. If we follow through on it, we will guarantee a vibrant, healthy world for our children while also creating a sustainable clean economy going forward.”

Bertschi School

We built the West Coast’s first certified Living Building, the Bertschi School Science Classroom Addition in Seattle.

Our own business is centered on doing what’s right for the environment while providing the buildings and infrastructure urban areas need to thrive. Measuring and managing carbon emissions is part of our daily work towards our Journey to Deep Green™ and being a leader in reporting and reducing CO2 emissions. We’ve developed our Color PaletteTM framework to measure and guide Skanska’s green performance.

Not only do we hold our company to high standards, but we’re committed to supporting national and global efforts to support clean energy and green building. Skanska’s volume gives us buying power that can be used to leverage market change if we partner with clients and policy makers. In a market that remains fiercely competitive, well-crafted policy helps us do the right thing faster.

In July, we dropped our membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce to protest their backing of proposed changes that would weaken the use of LEED in federal buildings. (Read our CEO Mike McNally’s explanation of Skanska’s position here in this op-ed published in The Washington Post.) Today, we were gratified to learn that the U.S. General Services Administration is continuing to support third-party green building certification systems by recommending the use of LEED 2009 and Green Globes 2010 for use in federal projects.

The Pacific Coast Action Plan for Climate and Energy is an important step in the right direction. If a region as large as that one – with 53 million people and with a combined GDP of $2.8 trillion – can come to a consensus, and across international boundaries, we hope this inspires the rest of the U.S. to take similar green actions.

“The actions outlined in the Pacific Coast Climate Plan will help us address carbon in a much more unified way that support a truly sustainable future – socially, environmentally and economically,” says Clem. “Efforts like this will drive innovation, encouraging businesses to develop better products and solutions that are good for profits and people.”


Skanska USA

Skanska USA

Skanska USA is one of the largest, most financially sound construction and development companies in the U.S., serving a broad range of clients in the public and private sectors, including those in transportation, power, industrial, water/wastewater, healthcare, life science, education, sports & entertainment, data centers, government, aviation and commercial industries.

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