Bright Green in an Emerald City: Innovative Green Solutions

By: Nora Ferm Nickum Posted: 04/17/2017

Utilizing technology for better efficiency

Seattle Skyline Sunset

From sweeping vista views of Mount Rainier, to the shimmering shores of the Puget Sound, nature is a vital part of the Seattle metropolitan region and our long-term economic prosperity. Our changing climate, coupled with population growth and increasing use of natural resources, is impacting our environment. The Seattle Metro Chamber members below demonstrate how reducing pollution and advancing clean energy are wins for the planet and for a business’s bottom line. Their values and ingenuity are an inspiration for others to offset the impacts of climate change.

Read about how local businesses are formulating new conservation practices here

To view the first part of the series and learn more about green initiatives in the region, click here.  

Table of Contents:
Darigold - Robotic Milking
Fremont Brewing - Waste-to-energy
Sellen Construction - Guaranteeing The Energy Performance Of New Buildings
Sellen Construction - Lower Carbon Concrete
Stevens Pass Mountain Resort - Resilience

Darigold Innovation

Darigold – Robotic Milking

Cows’ udders are not all identical, and Louis Bouma, a dairy producer in Lynden and one of the cooperative owners of Darigold, has a robot that knows the exact positions of each of his cows’ teats.  At most dairy farms, a group of cows is herded into the milking parlor together, and workers attach milking machines to the cows. The entire area is sprayed down afterwards. At Louis’s farm, when a cow goes in to the milking parlor, a robotic milking machine automatically attaches the milking equipment to the cow, having stored a memory of where its teats are. The robotic machines let Louis get at least 10 percent more milk, while using 35 percent less water and electricity. Without a group of cows milling around in a large space, less water can be used to clean up afterwards. Water is also recycled by taking it from the pre-cooler, where milk is cooled after milking, and giving it to the cows to drink. The robots have smaller motors than regular milking machines, and therefore use less energy.

The robotic milking also appears to be more relaxing for the cows; they can saunter in to the room any time they are ready to be milked, rather than being herded in as a group when the farmer decides it is time. The robotic milking system also lets Louis and his brother spend less of their time milking, and more of their time caring for the cows and baby calves.

Back to top

Fremont Brewing Innovation

Fremont Brewing – Waste-to-energy

Fremont Brewing produces over 10,000 pounds of spent grain every day in its brewing process. Each batch is shot into a huge trailer, and a farmer from Krainick Dairy in Enumclaw comes by a few nights a week to pick it up to feed it to their Holstein and Jersey cattle. While the brewery says this is a better use for the waste than composting, they are aiming higher.

Seattle Public Utilities and startup Impact Bioenergy are supporting a pilot to use anaerobic digesters to turn organic waste like this into methane—and then into renewable energy. Fremont Brewing is one of the pilot sites. For three months they fed 120 of their 10,000 pounds of spent grain into a big blue box in their parking lot in Ballard each day. A digester at this scale produces only enough power to charge a phone or a car, but the goal of the pilot is to demonstrate that it works.

Fremont Brewing hopes that soon there will be a larger system in the city that could accommodate the spent grain from the increasing number of breweries in Seattle. A system of that size could power a brewery’s operations and send extra electricity back into the grid. But such systems are very large and expensive and currently only accessible to large, established breweries. Fremont’s goal is to demonstrate the benefits and feasibility of biodigesters so that manufacturers will recognize this market opportunity and create systems that can work for smaller breweries. “Zero waste is a core value that I believe many breweries share. Green technology companies should take advantage of the new market that we represent,” explained Nelson.

Back to top

Sellen Innovation

Sellen Construction – Guaranteeing The Energy Performance Of New Buildings

In addition to the social and environmental benefits of green building, now there’s a new incentive for builders to make new or renovated buildings highly energy efficient: a performance guarantee. Sellen Construction built Federal Center South—the new Seattle headquarters for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers—under just this kind of agreement. One year after the building opened, the utility records were reviewed to verify that the project met the guaranteed energy use intensity (EUI) targets, showing that the project significantly reduced greenhouse gas emissions compared to a baseline conventional building.  “Buildings are like pianos – they go out of tune,” says David Walsh, Sellen’s Preconstruction Sustainability Manager. “So it’s not about opening day, as exciting as that is. It’s about continual delivery of high performance over the life of the building.”

The Federal Center South project deconstructed a 1940s heavy-timber warehouse, saving the material from landfills, and incorporated those materials into a building that is now operating in the top 1 percent of U.S. Energy Star buildings. After the energy efficiency targets were proven, Sellen, ZGF Architects, and members of the design team were awarded a shared financial incentive equal to 0.5% of the total contract. While governments are increasingly using performance guarantees like this one, private developers may pick up on the trend, especially if they are going to maintain ownership in the long term and are interested in reducing energy consumption over the lifetime of their buildings.

Back to top

Sellen Construction – Lower Carbon Concrete

Concrete is an essential building block of many buildings and roads. Its global use makes up about 5 percent of all carbon dioxide emissions around the world. This is largely a result of the cement that is used to produce it. Kilns at very high temperatures transform limestone into raw cement, emitting greenhouse gases as part of that chemical process.  Reducing the amount of cement in a cubic yard of concrete can therefore make a notable difference in addressing climate change.

Sellen Construction had that in mind when they built an office building for the State of Washington, across from the Capitol Green. Following the adage “if you can’t measure it, you can’t reduce it,” they partnered with a concrete supplier and a third-party certifier to analyze 87 different concrete mixes to understand their carbon content and other environmental characteristics. The results took the form of Environmental Product Declarations, which are rather like nutritional labels that we see on products in the grocery store. Previously, that data had been available for fewer than a dozen concrete mixes in the Puget Sound region.

With that information in hand, the Sellen-led team could choose lower-carbon options. In some cases, the concrete mixes that they chose emitted 48% less than the regional average. The new data is freely available so that others in the region can also choose lower-impact concrete mixes for their projects.

Back to top

 Stevens Pass Resilience

Stevens Pass Mountain Resort – Resilience

As the climate changes and temperatures warm, more winter precipitation is falling as rain rather than snow. This has contributed to summer droughts, as lower snowpack means less spring and summer runoff from the mountains, but it also directly affects winter tourism and recreation. Stevens Pass Mountain Resort, the ski area with the second-lowest elevation in the region, is taking steps to make sure it can operate under these changing conditions.

In the past, the rule of thumb was that Stevens needed three feet of snow before it could open, which means that due to climate change, the opening date could be pushed later and later in the season. By undertaking aggressive summer slope work on the lower mountain—moving rocks, mowing more, and using explosives to smooth things out—Stevens is making beginner and intermediate terrain available earlier in the season with only 12-18 inches of snow.

Stevens is also experimenting with snow making, using two small snow-making guns in the base area to help build ramps and ensure chairlifts are useable. While this could be a solution when snow is not in the forecast, it doesn’t help when temperatures are too warm: the air still must be below 27 degrees and at the right relative humidity to make snow. Going big on snow making would require building a big water reservoir and using a lot of electricity to power the machines, so it is not in the Resort’s near-term plan.

Building resilience is also critical to Stevens’ contributions to climate change mitigation efforts. Without having good snow years that bring in good revenue, it is difficult to invest in infrastructure upgrades that enhance energy efficiency.

Back to top