Two living buildings have been successfully certified in Seattle, with others achieving various petals. And while the Living Future Institute has made impressive strides in educating the real estate community about the importance of its ambitious targets, the market has been slower to adopt the Living Building Challenge than many had hoped.

Now the City of Seattle has opted to sweeten the deal for sustainable building operators in order to increase carbon-neutral building.


The City has launched the 2030 Challenge Pilot Program, which will incentivize owners of existing buildings to make their structures more carbon neutral. The program is intended to promote the construction and operation of buildings that meet the highest green standards by allowing additional development capacity, and the pilot is available for up to 20 projects.

The new legislation also includes updates to the existing Living Building pilot program in Seattle, changing the zoning incentives and lightening penalty provisions to make them consistent with the 2030 Challenge pilot.

Property owners who qualify for the program can increase the rentable square footage of their building while positioning themselves in an elite group of innovators and thought-leaders. This group will shape and influence future standards for upgrading existing real estate to high-performance, sustainable buildings.

According to Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan, “Seattle has always invented the future, and the creation of this new pilot program further establishes us as a leader combating the negative impacts of climate change.”

The 2030 Challenge for Planning is an internationally recognized standard for “decarbonizing” the built environment. Susan Wickwire, executive director of the Seattle 2030 District, said, “We really see the 2030 Challenge pilot as a catalyst for transformative change at scale by incentivizing developers and owners to make substantial green investments that make business sense.”


The Incentives

The incentives come in the form of floor area ratio (FAR) bonuses. Building owners are given two additional floors and a 25% FAR bonus in exchange for projects meeting the 2030 Challenge Pilot Program’s performance goals. Those goals call for a 70% reduction in energy use; a 50% improvement in water management; and a 50% decrease in transportation emissions from established baselines. The FAR bonus can increase up to 30% if the building being renovated is unreinforced masonry – a type of building at high risk during an earthquake.

The Requirements

Energy: A building must use 25% less energy than a comparable baseline. This number would also be a 70% reduction from the national median energy use.

Water: The building must manage its water and must demonstrate a 50% reduction in water consumption by reducing the amount of potable water used and reducing the amount of stormwater runoff.

Transportation: The building’s tenants must reduce their single-occupant car trips by increasing use of public transit, biking, carpooling, or walking.

Timing: A developer has two years to demonstrate that the project is meeting the 2030 Challenge Pilot Program standards. The developer can use that time to gather data about how well it’s working and to correct any problems. If the building does not meet the standards after two years, the developer would pay a maximum fine of up to 3% of the construction costs, and the fine is graduated depending on how far the building falls from the mark.

Paladino and Company’s Expertise

Our team of building scientists and energy modelers are experts at assessing building performance and making recommendations for sustainable improvements. We often consult with architects on design strategies that meet sustainable building goals.  Now we can expand our toolkit to include the 2030 Challenge incentives. We also offer developers and real estate operators a simple gap analysis that shows how close a project is to achieving the 2030 Challenge Pilot Program goals. This gap analysis addresses energy, water, and transportation; and it can rank/prioritize the interventions that would be necessary to qualify for the incentives. For example:

  • Our energy modeling team will estimate the energy usage in the design plan, and then our commissioning agents validate that the building meets the models once it’s operational.
  • We can demonstrate water conservation by providing an analysis of typical stormwater runoff and potable water usage for the building type, then compare it to the expected water savings after the improvements.
  • A transportation survey of building occupants and their transportation patterns can reveal areas where alternative forms of single-occupant vehicle transportation and education programs make a difference.
  • Finally, we can create a pro forma that addresses the long-term payback and ROI on the project to show the business case for the building improvements.

In addition to promoting the development of green and greener buildings, the 2030 Challenge Pilot Program will allow the City of Seattle to study the resulting green buildings and their performance to develop permanent standards for high performing buildings in Land Use Code.


Share this Post


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.