What “green building” standard is the Ocean Pavilion targeting?

Aquariums are complex buildings. They need to be, to keep aquatic animals safe and healthy.

But can a building as complex as an aquarium also meet some of the world's toughest green building standards? We think so—and we're designing our new Ocean Pavilion to do just that.

The Seattle Aquarium already offsets more carbon than we emit and has ambitious goals for energy, water, materials use and zero waste. Building the Ocean Pavilion gave us the chance to go even further.

An illustration of the Ocean Pavilion. Text on the illustration reads: "The Ocean Pavilion is designed to: Use carefully chosen materials, recirculate 96% of salt water in the building, recapture heat from the warmed water to warm the building, operate 100% fossil fuel-free...and much more!"


Challenge accepted!

With the Ocean Pavilion, we’re taking part in a global sustainability certification program called the Living Building Challenge. Created in 2006, the Challenge guides participants to dramatically raise the bar from “doing less harm” to serving as stewards of our environment and co-creators of a future in which all living beings thrive.

Today, many green building experts consider the Living Building Challenge to be the most advanced measure of sustainability—beyond the more widely known Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification. Quick note: The Ocean Pavilion will also be LEED Gold-certified, as required for new City of Seattle-owned buildings.

Why are Living Building Challenge certifications so highly regarded?

  • Performance over plans: Living Building Challenge certifications are based on a building’s actual performance data. To earn the certification we’re seeking, we’ll need to show measurable proof of how the Ocean Pavilion operates and uses energy and water for 12 consecutive months. That’s a step beyond LEED certifications, which are based on building plans.
  • A holistic view: Living Building Challenge certifications look at the usual technical performance areas, like energy and water use. But they also depend on demonstrating whether a project’s design helps people and communities thrive.


Petals, as in … flower petals?

In the language of the Challenge, performance areas are called petals. That’s because the creators of the Challenge believe that the ideal building functions as efficiently and is as beautiful as a flower.

We’re working toward Living Building Challenge Petal Certification. To earn it, we’ll need to meet requirements in key performance areas (or petals, in Challenge-speak). The petals we’re currently targeting are energy, water, beauty, equity and place.

As we continue to revitalize our full Aquarium campus, we’re planning to pursue the remaining petals (materials, health and happiness) on the path to full Living Building Challenge certification. Dive deeper into the intent and requirements for each petal.


Why this matters

We all impact the ocean through our actions. The Aquarium is no different!

We've designed the Ocean Pavilion to:

  • Operate 100% fossil fuel free.
  • Recirculate 96% of the salt water in the building.
  • Recapture heat from the warmed water to warm the building, a 91% energy savings.
  • Use carefully chosen materials, like the Alaskan yellow cedar exterior panels, which will be Forest Stewardship Council-certified and procured from an Indigenous-led company.
  • And much more!

Explore how salt water works in the Ocean Pavilion


As we revitalize our other buildings, we envision contributing to Seattle’s renewable energy grid and building a mechanism to filter and clean water before returning it to Puget Sound. 
This goal complements the work we’re doing every day to conduct research, advocate for ocean-friendly policies, rescue animals, provide exceptional animal care and restore endangered species—all of which are possible with support and engagement from our community.


Background on this growing movement

The Living Building Challenge was created by The International Future Living Institute—a global nonprofit that certifies advanced sustainable and regenerative buildings.

As we push the boundaries for sustainable aquariums, we’re building on the momentum of other leaders:

  • PCC Community Markets is the first grocery store in the world to pursue Petal Certification.
  • Global companies Google and Etsy both have office buildings that are Petal-certified.
  • Climate Pledge Arena is pursuing Zero-Carbon Certification, also offered by the International Future Living Institute.
  • The Bullitt Building, one of the world’s greenest commercial buildings, is a local example of a fully Living Building Challenge-certified project.   

We look forward to sharing our progress as we work toward Living Building Challenge Petal Certification! To learn more about this exciting project, visit our Ocean Pavilion webpages.

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