Denis Hayes stands before a large, floor-to-ceiling window overlooking downtown Seattle and is reminded that for all the “green-ness” of the Bullitt Center’s new office building, success lies in spreading its influence to other projects.

A smattering of yellow construction cranes in the near distance signifies some missed opportunities: new apartments and other buildings that fall short on environmental sustainability.

“The reason we did this was to try to influence others in Seattle and elsewhere in the region,” says Hayes, the Bullitt Foundation president, who likens the nonprofit’s new headquarters to the Golden Gate Bridge or the Empire State Building for its groundbreaking features.

“This one is different,” he says.

Save 75% on a Digital Subscription Today

The six-story Bullitt Center, at 15th Avenue and East Madison Street on Capitol Hill, aims to change how commercial buildings are designed and built by completing what’s probably the greenest office development in the world.

The center’s official grand opening is Monday — Earth Day — with expected appearances by Gov. Jay Inslee and Seattle Mayor Mike McGinn.

Sunday, the Bullitt Foundation held a preview event for about 150 workers and their families. Among those in attendance was Marc Brune, a mechanical engineer with PAE Consulting Engineers, who was joined by his wife and 2-year-old daughter.

“There are a lot of green buildings around, and we’ve worked on many of them,” Brune said. “But this is taking it as far as anyone has ever taken it.”

The $30 million Bullitt Center includes a rooftop solar array that generates as much electricity as the center uses and a rainwater catchment system to supply all of the building’s needs.

It also has extra-high ceilings to let in more daylight, and floor plans
that make sure no one’s desk is more than 30 feet from a window. It processes its own sewage, prohibits furniture or paint with toxic chemicals, and provides parking for bikes but not cars.

“This is the reason I went into engineering — to do this kind of stuff,” Brune said.

The Bullitt Foundation, which owns the building, occupies half of the sixth floor. Other tenants include the International Living Future Institute and the University of Washington Integrated Design Lab. In all, about 80 percent of the 50,000-square-foot building has been leased.

Hayes, who organized the first Earth Day in 1970, said his favorite spot is a trapezoid-shaped conference room on the sixth floor, where an 1,800-pound table made locally from an elm tree in the city’s Wallingford neighborhood serves as the centerpiece.

The design is minimalist, except for a potted “elephant’s foot” plant tucked away in one corner. Hayes acquired the plant 35 years ago, when he directed the federal Solar Energy Research Institute during the Carter administration. Like the building itself, Hayes places a premium on finding new uses for old things.

If all goes as planned, he added, the building will be around for the next 250 years.

Amy Martinez: 206-464-2923 or On Twitter: @amyemartinez