Innovative Sustainability in Seattle: Keeping the City the Emerald

Seattle is known for being a cutting edge city as it always seems as though there is a new idea coming from it. This innovative way of thinking has spread throughout the city and can be seen almost everywhere. During our time in Seattle, it became clear that innovative thinking has intertwined with environmentalism and has created new ways of sustainability. There are multiple examples of innovation throughout Seattle that vary but all have a common goal of making in city more sustainable. During our time in Seattle, we had the opportunity to visit with people from the Sightline Institute, tour the Bullitt Centre, and discuss community based projects with a city planner to gain a better understanding about how innovation and sustainability intertwine within Seattle.



We met with Serena Larkin from the Sightline Institute, which is an independent research and communication centre that was founded in 1993. The founder, Alan Durning, identified that the Pacific Northwest region was full of innovative ideas and needed a think tank, similar to those on the east coast of the continent. The centre is essentially the "nerdy best friend" to activists as they do the research, make it understandable for the average person, and then release it onto their website. Their goal is to give the people the information so that they can bring it into their lives to do something with it. The centre focuses on the Cascadia region, as it is one of the greenest regions and many big ideas are dreamt up here, and they want to make connections between activists on both sides of the Canadian-American border. They essentially aim to be the 'watch dogs' on environmental issues and focus on specific issues, such as pipelines and housing affordability in the region.

We had the opportunity to tour the Bullitt Centre with Deborah Sigler to see an example of an innovate green commercial building that is designed to not be the 'last of its kind'. The net-zero building is designed to be a 'living building' that is a part of the local ecosystem. Many of the aspects of the building is designed to mimic the natural processes of a Douglas Fir ecosystem, with rain gardens that allow rainwater to flow naturally back into the environment and compost toilets that ultimately ends up back in the environment. The building is designed to address the impact that the build environment has and looks to reduce the footprint building has by making a smarter building. The developers wanted to set an example of what a smart, living building could look in a city like Seattle.


Bullitt Center

We met with multiple planners from Seattle and Minh Chau Le from the Neighbourhood Matching Fund was one that we found quite interesting. The fund is an innovative way of providing money to community based projects by matching the cost of volunteers, cash, donations and professional services. Essentially, the city is providing the money, while the community is providing the labour. The fund has five core values of community building, self help, leadership development, public access, and volunteerism. The goal of the fund is to get community members working together to fix their community, allowing them to gain a better sense of community and giving them the power to improve their community. It is an unique approach for a city that wants to improve the region, while allowing for the citizens do it themselves.


Seattle is busting at the seam with new ideas that have the potential to change how we think about sustainability. It is clear that there are many ways to address the environmental issue that we are all facing. Seattle is setting the example of what a sustainable city should look like and they are willing to share this knowledge with the rest of the world. It is just a matter of taking that knowledge and applying it elsewhere.


Seattle from Gasworks Park


Seattle, WA 98101
United States


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