The Bullitt Center

by Harrison Chotzen

In 2015, the Urban Land Institute wrote a comprehensive case study examining the notably sustainable features of the Bullitt Center, a recently completed office building and environmental demonstration project located just outside of downtown Seattle, Washington. The endeavor was initiated in 2007 by the Bullitt Foundation, a nonprofit philanthropic organization with a focus on conservation, as they set out to build a new workspace that was both pragmatic for housing their business headquarters and highly sustainable. The foundation was looking to set a new bar in ecofriendly architecture, with a bold goal to meet the rigorous requirements of the Living Building Challenge (LBC), which at the time was the most intense green building certification program in the world. The standards required net-zero energy (the building must not use more energy than it can produce), net-zero water (all water used on site must be collected from rainwater, and all wastewater and gray-water must be managed and treated on site), net-zero waste (plans to reduce or eliminate waste throughout the project’s life cycle, including construction), green construction (construction free of any materials or chemicals on the LBC Red List and only including wood certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) and locally sourced materials), operable windows to provide fresh air and daylight for every tenant, and a high standard of indoor air quality. Continue reading

Under the Sea? The Future of Data Centers

by Tyler Hoyle

Recently, Microsoft has revealed Project Natick: a radical plan to manufacture and operate underwater data centers. Researchers believe this plan will be more environmentally sustainable, cost efficient, and improve overall quality of service. While mixing water and electricity seems silly, why might this work? Well there are several hypothetical advantages.

Microsoft manages more than 100 data centers across the globe, spending an estimated $15 billion on global data and providing for over 200 online services. As cloud computing becomes more popular, the demand for data centers is increasing rapidly. Data centers power almost every aspect of our digital lives and contain thousands of computer servers which constantly generate large amounts of heat, when there is too much heat, the server crashes. Companies are constantly searching for efficient ways to keep data centers cool.

Keeping the data centers cool takes up a sizable amount of the company’s budget. Immersion in water could be less expensive than paying for air conditioning and cooling. Microsoft researchers also argue that mass producing underwater server containers offers a huge cost advantage because It could shorten the construction time of new data centers from two years to just 90 days.

Project Natick could be more energy efficient. If electricity were to power a tidal energy system, no new energy would be added to the ocean, which would mean that there is not overall heating

The project also makes sense from a logistical perspective. A majority of the World’s population lives in urban centers that are closer to the ocean than data centers, typically built in far-away places on land. The ability to place computing power closer to the users would decrease the latency, which would improve the speed of web services.

Markoff, John. “Microsoft Plumbs Ocean’s Depths to Test Underwater Data Center.” The New York Times. The New York Times, 31 Jan. 2016. Web. 09 Feb. 2016.

Kanellos, Michael. “Three Things To Watch In Microsoft’s Underwater Data Center.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 5 Feb. 2016. Web. 09 Feb. 2016.


TWEET: Microsoft, Radical developments in underwater Technology

Framing and the Production of Environmentally Conscious Citizens

by Margaret Loncki

One of the most obvious solutions to prevent further climate change is energy usage reductions, but with the increased magnitude of global energy consumption, these seem unlikely anytime soon. Spence et al. (2014) explore whether energy savings is most beneficial when presented in terms of financial cost, CO2, or kilowatt-hours. In the United Kingdom, smart meters are used to measure the energy consumption of private residences. Although the government is pushing to have smart meters be standard in every home, only half of the population know what they are, and of those who do, only a quarter understand their purpose. Framing energy consumption in terms of cost is a very easy concept for consumers to understand but due to varying energy costs, the benefits of energy reduction are not often clear. Presenting energy consumption in terms of CO2 release is not as easily understood as financial cost, but is thought to reduce the “psychological distance” of climate change. Spence et al. also found that environmental framing encourage behavioral spillover, the idea that changing one behavior for environmental reasons often leads to picking up other environmental behaviors as a result. Continue reading

The Power of Green Space for Reducing Surface Temperature in Tel Aviv, Israel

by Dan McCabe

One key objective of sustainable urban planning is to limit the urban heat island (UHI) effect, the increased local temperature in highly built areas due to differences from the natural environment in the absorption and reflection of solar energy at the surface. Previous research has displayed the value of large urban parks in controlling temperature in cities, but less is known about the effect of smaller green spaces. In order to investigate how vegetation and construction levels impact UHI severity, Rotem-Mindali et al. (2015) used ten years of remotely sensed data from two NASA satellites to analyze the relationship between different land uses and land surface temperature (LST) in Tel Aviv, Israel. The authors compiled information on local LST and Normalized Difference Vegetation Index (NDVI), a measure of vegetation cover, and used it to search for a correlation between land use type and mean surface temperature for summer nights. In their analysis, they found an enormous difference of 13°C in mean temperature among different locations in Tel Aviv. There was a strong correlation between land use type and LST, with the most vegetated regions experiencing much lower average temperatures than highly built regions. Continue reading