South Landing Eco-District: A Catalyst for Green Buildings?

By Published On: October 7, 20215.6 min read

The South Landing Eco-District neighborhood was recently built in Spokane, Washington. One of its most notable landmarks is a five-story building called the Catalyst, which has quickly become a prototype for how commercial buildings can be built with clean energy. The building uses a sustainable approach with its materials and operations, making it one of the largest zero energy buildings in North America.

It also makes history as one of the first zero carbon buildings to be certified by the International Living Future Institute, which has impeccably high standards when it comes to certifying zero carbon properties.

Considering that 39% of carbon emissions are created by the building sector alone — roughly 11% to construction and 29% to operation — according to Architecture 2030, it makes sense that “carbon consultation” companies are also at the forefront of real estate today.

A key player in the project was STOK, a team of experts that helps developers and architects build entirely on green energy. Developers are consulting companies such as Beyond Efficiency, too, for energy design and carbon planning.

Without their environmental expertise, the real estate world could very well be lost in developing zero-carbon buildings. With California leading the way, many on the west coast work with the Clean Power Alliance.

Over in Spokane, the Catalyst building is at the heart of an “eco district,” a deliberate urban planning trailblazer that could be implemented in various cities.

The 159,000-square-foot building is planted near the Scott Morris Center for Energy Innovation, which will act like an education center. The center is part of the innovative, shared energy eco-district model. The main principle of this eco-district is having buildings that work together to manage energy loads and balance on-site energy demand. This center is part of how energy is generated and stored in real-time to reduce its impact on the grid.

Scott Morris, developer and project manager at Crown Pointe Estates, said this Spokane-based project should be a model for other developers. The center is named after another Scott Morris, Avista’s former CEO and current chairman, who had the vision of creating the “five smartest blocks in the world

“The success of Catalyst should be a driver for other developers to build net zero carbon buildings because the Catalyst team proved they could build on schedule, on budget, and quickly secure a large anchor tenant.”

The biggest challenge with the building industry today is how much global CO2 emissions are being generated.

“But Catalyst essentially emits a net of 0%,” Morris explained. “They offset their embodied carbon by using the most feasible amount of biogenic material which pulls thousands of tons of CO2 out of the air during its lifetime and now it’s stored in the Catalyst building.”

The biggest way to reduce the building’s carbon emissions was using mass timber, a structural building material and method of designing buildings.

“We used it as a way to reduce the traditional reliance on super high embodied carbon steel and concrete,” Morris said. “This is one of the best strategies North American builders can employ to draw down CO2, but only if that timber is sourced from a resilient, high-retention, low harvest-size forest, such as USA-located FSC-Certified or California forests.”

Imagine walking into the Morris Center and going down into the basement. It has heat pumps, boilers and chillers, as well as thermal and electrical storage. All of this infrastructure is there so property owners can operate their buildings in a way that’s not only more affordable, but a pathway to a clean energy future.

The Morris Center also has a centralized heating, cooling and electrical system that helps provide the sustainable energy needs of the current (and even future) buildings in the South Landing development area — a prime example of renewable energy generation.

The Catalyst building, as well, was no easy feat. It was created through a group partnership between Avista Development, construction and energy services company McKinstry, sustainable lumber firm Katerra and Eastern Washington University’s College of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.

“With the foundation for the five smartest blocks in the world now in place, Catalyst and the South Landing Eco-District proves what is possible when industry leaders work together to think big and test bold ideas,” Morris said.

This planned eco district all began when Morris set out to create “the five smartest blocks in the world.” His idea was to create a model for sustainable energy. It is now a future-forward development with smart buildings that can set a green standard. The district is deeply integrated with the green grid with on-site renewable energy generation and storage.

The Catalyst uses innovative, integrated systems for on-site renewable energy generation with photovoltaic arrays, heating, lighting and exhaust heat and gray water recovery. It also uses Internet of Things (IoT) sensors to optimize its on-site operations.

This long list of eco-efficient features was not easy for the architect, Michael Green, the principal at Michael Green Architecture. The firm designed the Catalyst by using roughly 4,000 cubic meters of locally sourced mass timber products (produced by Katerra) for structural and design elements. The building is almost at passive house-levels of thermal performance.

The use of mass timber drastically reduced the need for steel and concrete. This savings helps offset roughly 5,000 metric tons of carbon emissions (it equates to roughly 1,100 cars off the road for an entire year).

“It is the beginning of what we think will be the transformation of the construction industry, moving away from the more carbon intensive materials like concrete and steel, and toward mass timber as the best choice when making a carbon neutral building,” Green explained.

It hopes to be a beacon, above all else.

“We hope South Landing serves as an example of how buildings can work more efficiently on their own, with each other, and with the grid,” said Allie Teplicky, a principal with Emerald Initiative, an independently owned affiliate of McKinstry that developed Catalyst. “At the end of the day, Catalyst is an example of how we can build zero energy, zero carbon buildings at zero cost premium. We believe that making efficient building cost-competitive (or at least cost-neutral) is the key to seeing these sorts of developments happen on a broader scale.”

According to Dean Allen, CEO of McKinstry, this new district is more than your average smart building project. Everything here in this ecodistrict can fully sustain a neighborhood’s energy consumption, making it a living lab for new sustainability technologies, materials and construction techniques.

“What we have created is so transformative and innovative, it will serve as a new model for collaboration across industries. Together, we are reimagining the future of energy and sustainable development,” he said. “What we learn will support a reliable, affordable, and clean energy future for all of us.”

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