Category Archives: Biomimicry

The Bullitt Center: Raising the Bar with the Living Building Challenge

Jean Nayar

Known for his high risk efforts in advancing an eco-friendly mission for decades, Denis Hayes, president of the Bullitt Foundation, has fueled the ever-growing environmental movement in America since he organized the first Earth Day in conjunction with then-Wisconsin senator Gaylord Nelson in 1970.

Thanks to his efforts as a leader on environmental issues, sustainable strides in this country have been taken on multiple fronts. And Hayes’ most recent bet on creating the first significant net positive energy office building paid off. On April 1, 2015 the Bullitt Center became the first office building to earn Living Building certification.


The 52,000 square-foot, six story Bullitt Center stands as a shining example of the accomplishments Hayes and the Foundation have achieved in their quest to remain at the forefront of the sustainability movement. Photograph ©Nic Lehoux

The Bullitt Center

Hayes opted to develop the building after searching to no avail in Seattle for environmentally sensitive office space that would meet his criteria. “We were looking for offices that reflected our values,” says Hayes, adding that “our focus is on human ecology with an emphasis on how we can design built environments that are proper, healthy habitats for our species.” Once the head of the Solar Energy Research Institute during the Carter Administration, Hayes continues to advance environmental initiatives supported by the Bullitt Foundation, which offers grants to organizations working on environmental projects in the Pacific Northwest. The 52,000 square-foot, six story Bullitt Center, which is owned by the Bullitt Foundation, stands as a shining example of the accomplishments he and the Foundation have achieved in their quest to remain at the forefront of the sustainability movement.

The Living Building Challenge

The structure was designed to achieve certification as a Living Building, which is significantly more ambitious than LEED Platinum certification. To meet it, a building must generate as much energy as it uses each year and use rainwater for all purposes, including drinking. It must also meet lofty standards for eco-friendly materials and indoor air quality.

Located on a site that was a forest filled with Douglas fir trees before European settlement, the building was designed by the Seattle-based Miller Hull Partnership to function as a tree would. “Not only does it provide shelter and sustenance for its users, like a tree would for deer, elk, birds, and squirrels, it also produces its own energy from the sun and rain, it doesn’t produce toxins, and it recycles its waste as nutrients.”


The Bullitt Center was designed by the Seattle-based Miller Hull Partnership to function as a tree would. Photograph ©Nic Lehoux

A building for all

Since the Bullitt Foundation operates with only seven employees and needed just 4,000 square feet for its own business, the building was designed to be leased out to additional tenants to make it commercially viable.

Among the numerous companies and organizations that have opted to occupy the building are the International Living Future Institute, founder of the Living Building Challenge, which defines the standards for Living Building certification, various small companies, and a substantial engineering firm, which completely tailored its business processes to drive down its energy demand by 82 percent with no loss in productivity or convenience. “We tell our tenants how many kilowatt hours of energy they’re allowed to use, and if they exceed it they pay a stiff penalty for high energy bills,” says Hayes.


The Seattle office of the International Living Future Institute, founder of the Living Building Challenge, calls the Bullitt Center home. Photograph ©Benjamin Benschneider

Harnessing solar energy

The building relies on solar energy to meet its electricity needs, so educating tenants on ways to reduce consumption is necessary to keep the building’s energy use in check. Yet, since the building began operating about two years ago, its energy generating and energy conservation systems not only allow it to meet all of the energy needs of the Bullitt Foundation and other tenants in the building, but also enable it to produce more energy than it consumes, making it the first commercial office building of its size in the U.S. to operate as a net positive energy structure, generating 60 percent more energy than it used in 2014.

“The Energy Use Index (EUI) for an average office in Seattle is 95, under our new energy code the index will fall to the low 50s, for LEED Platinum buildings it reaches the low 30s, and for our building we aimed for 16,” says Hayes. “But it has exceeded our wildest hopes. Our EUI in 2014 was 9.4, making it by far the most efficient office building in America.” Its excess power is sold back into the electrical grid for use by others.

Creating an eco-friendly space

A few of the building’s other eco-friendly highlights include a robust rainwater collection and filtering system, onsite treatment of sewage, composting toilets, and project certification from the Forest Stewardship Council—the first office in the U.S. to achieve this status.

Red-List Materials

The building also excludes 362 “Red List” elements that are toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic, or endocrine disrupting. Materials and furnishings devoid of “Red List” elements were also chosen by Robin Chell, principal of Seattle-based RCD, who worked with the Bullitt Foundation to design the interiors of its own offices. “Because we needed to avoid products that contained elements on the “Red List,” everything was rigorously scrutinized and had to be formaldehyde free,” explains Chell.


A few of the building’s eco-friendly highlights include a robust rainwater collection and filtering system, onsite treatment of sewage and composting toilets. Photograph ©Benjamin Benschneider

Acoustic Performance

The Bullitt Foundation also needed soft furnishings that would serve as acoustical buffers in the space. So, in keeping with the notion of biomimicry, which guided the design of the building’s mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and lighting systems, Chell chose felt art works, wool-upholstered soft furnishings, and earth- and moss-inspired eco-friendly modular carpet from Interface’s Urban Retreat collection.

“We wanted to bring in colors of nature with finishes, art, and furnishings that were inviting, stimulating, and reflected their ethos,” Chell explains. “So we started with the carpet, which inspired the tones of the other elements. Aside from offering environmentally friendly products, Interface has an amazing array of design innovations that are almost always ahead of the curve,” Chell adds. Honored with IIDA’s People’s Choice award last year, Chell’s design is ultimately as eco-friendly as it is practical and appealing to the eye.


In keeping with the notion of biomimicry, Robin Chell Design chose earth- and moss-inspired eco-friendly modular carpet from Interface’s Urban Retreat collection for the space occupied by the Foundation. Photograph ©Brent Smith Photography


“We wanted to bring in colors of nature with finishes, art, and furnishings that were inviting, stimulating, and reflected their ethos,” Robin Chell explains. Photograph ©Brent Smith Photography

Tackling project challenges

Since Seattle’s climate is often cloudy and gray, creating a six story building that relies on solar energy to meet its power needs was risky. But Hayes was convinced that the potential return on the investment made taking the chance worthwhile. “Other buildings have been designed to meet these sustainable standards, but they are small—usually 2,000-6,000 square feet,” he says. “We wanted to dramatically increase the scale and felt it was doable. Even if we set out and failed, we thought it was still a heroic leap, so we decided why not aim for the moon and give it a shot? We wanted to be taken seriously not only by the academic community, but also by those who actually build.”

Judging by the number of tours (about six per week) that the Bullitt Center hosts in its building for developers, architects, and facility managers, Hayes appears to have succeeded in capturing their attention. And if the building achieves Living Building certification, which it hopes to do later this year, the building will no doubt generate even more interest.

Posted in Category Biomimicry, Biophilia, Biophilic Design, Design Inspirations, Project Spotlight, Sustainability | Leave a comment

Biomimicry: a “trend” of the last 250,000 years

Dayna Baumeister

Biomimicry—from the Greek, bios, meaning “life”, and mimesis, meaning “to imitate”, is an emerging discipline with an ancient practice. Since humans first wandered the plains of Africa a quarter of a million years ago, we have turned toward our fellow planet mates for guidance on how to live well in the places we inhabited. Throughout the millennia, nature has offered lessons learned for the borrowing. Yet, the rise of the industrial revolution yielded a shift from nature as mentor to nature as resource, the consequences of which have both led to the complete colonization of the planet by Homo sapiens, and significant indications that this wholesale strategy may not be in our or the planet’s best long-term interest.


Bringing i2® to another level, Kaleidoscope takes inspiration from the serendipitous pattern of a multicolored, leaf-strewn forest floor and allows random mixing of i2 tiles in four colors to create a unique look every time. Designed to be installed in any order, the tiles comprise a highly efficient and sustainable system that further enhances selective replacement capabilities.

Over the last 15 years, curious designers and innovators of all walks of life have been revisiting the inspiration and guidance from the time-tested strategies of the other 30 million species on Earth. We recognize biomimicry today as the conscious emulation of nature’s genius. Media is filled with amazing, hopeful stories from around the world of how designers, engineers, entrepreneurs, and biologists are asking nature for solutions to some of the world’s most critical sustainable design challenges. Through careful emulation of biological strategies, the wisdom of the planet is changing everything from the way we create color, communicate, and package and transport goods, to maintaining health, designing cites, and growing food. Inspiration from the smallest of organisms like termites and bees and sponges are changing the way we design buildings, manage traffic, and improve ventilation. While whales are teaching us to better harness wind, forests teach us how to manage industrial systems, and lessons from deep sea vents are transforming energy production.


Inspired by the principles of photosynthesis and the growth patterns of ivy, Sustainably Minded Interactive Technology devised a means of applying photovoltaic technology to vertical spaces in an aesthetic way. Solar Ivy is a customizable, non-toxic and completely recyclable modular system that brings a technology traditionally restricted to rooftops to almost any architectural surface.

By reconnecting nature with what it means to be human, our opportunities for fostering a world mentored and empowered by nature’s genius abound. And this potential lives within all of us. The next opportunity you have to spend time in nature, don’t forget to ask, “how would nature solve this?” Her answers might just create the foundation of your next brilliant and sustainable innovation.

For more information about biomimicry and the trainings and certifications that Biomimicry 3.8 offers, visit

Posted in Category Biomimicry | Leave a comment

What a Ponderosa Pine Could Teach a Business

Lindsay James

If you’re familiar with InterfaceFLOR, you may also be familiar with Biomimicry, the practice of emulating nature’s genius to improve human design of products, processes, and systems — a favorite source of inspiration for our sustainability journey.

I have a deep passion for biomimicry as it is one of the most hopeful approaches to achieving sustainability that I have encountered. Nature has thrived on this planet for 3.8 billion years, and we too can learn to sustain ourselves if we quiet our cleverness and learn from nature (and remember that we, too, are nature). Biomimicry puts sustainability within reach for our species, and that is why I enrolled in the intensive two-year, master’s equivalent biomimicry certification program offered by Biomimicry 3.8.

In our in-person sessions, which are held in seven different ecosystems around the world, we seek to learn about the “genius of place” within each system. One key tenet in nature is that life adapts and evolves in context – meaning that life develops strategies for survival that are specific and dependent on the environmental conditions of the local ecosystem. By studying the natural history of each location, we develop a deep understanding of this principle and an appreciation for the genius found in nature.

While in Montana’s montane forest ecosystem, I took a particular interest in the ponderosa pine’s adaptations to fire disturbances and researched this species for my Genius of Place exercise. Ponderosa pines are well-adapted to resist the potentially damaging impacts of fire through a variety of mechanisms. There are four mechanisms that confer fire resistance to this conifer:

1) the ponderosa sheds its lower, more vulnerable branches as it matures, so there are no branches in the “fire zone”; 2) a thick, corky, fire-resistant bark insulates the tree’s inner cambium from killing temperatures; 3) a deep taproot provides access to water during and after a fire and therefore provides protection against fire desiccation; and 4) in the event of a more intense fire that reaches the ponderosa’s branches, the lengthy needles (up to 7 inches long) provide protection for the pine’s growth buds – the critical resource for future growth.

So what can we learn from the ponderosa’s spectacular suite of adaptations? In biomimicry we practice abstracting design principles to translate biological wisdom into tangible guidance for human problems. In this case, I abstracted the following design principles: Utilize a diversity of strategies to gain resistance to disturbance, including: 1) maintain separation between vulnerable resources and the likely disturbance zone; 2) for elements that will be exposed to the disturbance zone, invest in ample protection of the most critical aspects of the system; 3) provide reliable access to critical resources during and immediately following the disturbance; and 4) have a less costly (multi functional) backup mechanism in place for resources that typically are not exposed to the disturbance zone but could be during an atypical event.

The next step in biomimicry is to apply the abstracted design principle to a human challenge in order to create design application ideas. I believe there is room to explore specific applications of these disturbance strategies in supply chain management. How many businesses are affected by unanticipated disturbances in their upstream flow of raw materials? How could we apply the strategies found in nature to improve the resilience of our business systems? These are the questions that I will continue to explore in my biomimicry studies, and I look forward to sharing more of this journey with you through the InterfaceFLOR blog.

What other critical lessons can business learn from nature? Share with us in the comments.

Posted in Category Biomimicry | 2 Comments

Lindsay James on Creative Nesting


Inspiration and influence can come from almost anywhere. In the case of InterfaceFLOR, our inspiration came from the Bowerbird, who’s resourceful building skills inspired our Creative Nesting concept.

Our Creative Nesting concept pulls its influence from the Bowerbird. The Bowerbird is visually dull (by male bird standards); and so must attract a potential mate by decorating its nest with bright colored materials. Much like the Bowerbird, InterfaceFLOR brought vibrant and creative designs to the previously grey-only work environment at NeoCon 2011.

In the video below, Lindsay James discusses the Bowerbird’s influence on Creative Nesting and its influence on InterfaceFLOR products and recruiting structure

Posted in Category Biomimicry, Design Inspirations, NeoCon | Comments Off on Lindsay James on Creative Nesting

Use Less Materials


Dematerialization by conscious design

The Sustainability Dictionary hosted by the Presidio Graduate School defines Dematerialization as, “Reducing the total material that goes toward providing benefits to customers; may be accomplished through greater efficiency, the use of better or more appropriate materials, or by creating a service that produces the same benefit as a product.”

Just as firms seek to economize on energy, labor, land, and other factors of production, they are searching for opportunities to economize on materials. Encouraging examples of more efficient materials use exist in many sectors, functions, and products; however, the taste for complexity, which often goes with so-called higher performance, may intensify other environmental impacts.

Innovation inspired by nature

In her thought-provoking book, Biomimicry, author Janine Benyus opens with a quote by Vaclav Havel, “We must draw our standards from the natural world.” This is the heart of dematerialization by conscious design and what the Biomimicry revolution is all about – the conscious emulation of life’s genius. Biomimicry requires a shift in mindset from thinking about what we can extract to what we can learn from nature. It requires changing our relationship with the natural world to mentor, measure and model. “[L]iving things have done everything we want to do without guzzling fossil fuel, polluting the planet, or mortgaging their future. What better models could there be?”

How would nature design a carpet?

The answer is Entropy – the biggest selling product in the shortest period of time in InterfaceFLOR’s history. InterfaceFLOR’s principal designer David Oakey observed how no two square yards of a forest floor are the same, yet they blend perfectly together in a harmonious whole. There is no solid color. It’s a diverse system. He asked, “How could you make carpet so that in one production run, the color and design of every single carpet tile would come out slightly different?”

In his most recent book, Confessions of a Radical Industrialist, Ray Anderson, founder and Chairman of Interface, Inc., reflects on how designing carpet the way nature would has many advantages. “We could actually lay it randomly instead of in a monolithic fashion, saving installation time. It was easy to make repairs because the tile didn’t match exactly to the other tiles. Off quality practically vanished, inspectors could not find defects among the deliberate “imperfection” of no two tiles alike. And it practically eliminated installation waste.” The goal is to make the best looking, most durable product while using the least amount of raw materials, ultimately reducing environmental and financial costs.

Toward a sustainable materials economy

A next step in our research is to develop a scenario for a significantly dematerialized economy and to explore the changes in technology and behavior needed to achieve it. What would a dematerialized, sustainable materials economy look like? Such an exercise should include careful examination of hazards as well as benefits to natural systems associated with a qualitatively and quantitatively sustainable materials economy.

In other words, how does the overall growth of a system offset any efficiency gains in its components? We must measure product life cycles, industry sectors, and the total materials economy at several stages, in various contexts, drawing our standards from the natural world. Imagine a sustainable materials economy that respects its place as a subset of the biosphere, and actually enhances life on Earth as products travel through their life cycles!

Nadine Gudz
Manager, Sustainable Strategy

Source: Materialization and Dematerialization: Measures and Trends

Posted in Category Biomimicry, Design Inspirations, Sustainability | Leave a comment