This site uses cookies. View our Cookie Policy to learn more about how and why.

Regular hours: 9:30 am – 6 pm
Last entry at 5 pm

A white wave shape.

How will the Ocean Pavilion model sustainable design?

This summer, the Seattle Aquarium’s campus will expand when our new Ocean Pavilion opens.

As we began this project, we asked ourselves a key question: How can a technically complex building like an aquarium—which must keep animals healthy 24 hours a day, 365 days a year—model sustainable design?

Navigating that answer has spanned years and included architects, regenerative designers, engineers, builders, animal experts and many others! Dive in with us:

The Ocean Pavilion’s sustainability features

When it’s complete, the Ocean Pavilion will be owned by the City of Seattle. It will serve as a living laboratory dedicated to ocean health. With that in mind, we designed the building to use energy, water and materials efficiently and with care. The Ocean Pavilion will:

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!"

Explore salt water in the Ocean Pavilion: The Ocean Pavilion’s saltwater habitats are what’s called a “closed-loop” system. Watch our video to learn more:

Get nerdy with us: Learn how our Water Quality team uses science to maintain healthy saltwater habitats.

What “green building” certifications is the Ocean Pavilion pursuing?

The Ocean Pavilion will be LEED Gold-certified. We’re also targeting Zero Carbon Certification from the International Future Living Institute (ILFI), which includes requirements beyond LEED.

The ILFI is a global nonprofit that certifies advanced sustainable and regenerative buildings. ILFI Zero Carbon Certification is a rigorous international standard for buildings that are highly energy efficient and have fully neutralized their carbon emissions, meaning that they do not add any net carbon to the atmosphere.

Earning this certification requires neutralizing both operational and embodied carbon:  

  • Operational carbon comes from emissions required to heat, cool and power the building.
  • Embodied carbon is different. It refers to emissions generated by raw material extraction, manufacturing, transportation and installation of building materials (in other words, the emissions generated by creating the building’s materials and constructing it).

Zero Carbon Certification requires us to offset 100% of the building’s operational energy use with new renewable energy. Some buildings meet this requirement by adding rooftop solar panels, but our rooftop will be a space for the public to enjoy. So, instead we’re working on an agreement that will add additional renewable energy capacity to Seattle’s electric grid.

The best part? This additional capacity will meet our needs and provide additional renewable energy that others can use. Stay tuned for more details on that step.

Exterior of the Seattle Aquarium's new Ocean Pavilion, viewed from the side to showcase new cedar wood planks which cover the west side of the building.
We’re building new public space on the Ocean Pavilion’s roof that will help connect Pike Place Market to the city’s new 20-acre Waterfront Park.

Many green building experts consider ILFI certifications like Zero Carbon Certification to be especially challenging. Why? They’re based on actual performance over 12 consecutive months—not plans or estimates. We’re proud to be the first aquarium building in the world to pursue an ILFI certification. We hope to be the first of many.

A growing number of organizations are adopting this certification:

  • Climate Pledge Arena here in Seattle (world’s first arena to be certified)
  • Google’s 6 Pancras Square office in London (world’s first building project to be certified)
  • Microsoft’s Puget Sound and Silicon Valley campuses (pursuing certification)
An overhead shot of the Seattle Aquarium's Pier 59 building, showing the long stretches of solar panels installed on the roof.
Solar panels on the roof of our existing Pier 59 building provide renewable energy for Aquarium guests and animals in our care.

Why the focus on carbon?

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

Too much carbon in the atmosphere is warming the ocean and planet. These changes are wreaking havoc on delicate ocean ecosystems. As coastal storms intensify and seawater levels rise, human communities are feeling the impacts too.

Since 2012, the Aquarium has been carbon neutral, meaning that we’ve offset any emissions we’ve produced so that we don’t add net carbon to the atmosphere. And since 2014, we’ve offset more carbon than we emit for scope 1 and 2 emissions. In 2020, we took that further by also offsetting more than we emit for select scope 3 emissions. (Learn more about scope 1, 2 and 3 emissions on the EPA website.) When purchasing carbon offsets, we work with a climate consultant to select options that are third-party verified and align with our values.

Plans are in the works to revitalize the other buildings on the Aquarium’s campus—and we’ll continue challenging ourselves to meet tough green building standards. This goal complements the work we’re doing every day to conduct marine conservation 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 members—like you!

Stewarding shared resources like energy and waters aligns with our work to research marine ecosystems and share what we learn with others.

Website maintenance

Please note: Our ticketing and membership systems will be offline for approximately two hours starting at 9pm Pacific on Tuesday, February 20. During the maintenance window, online ticketing and membership will not be available.

Thank you for understanding.

Support the Seattle Aquarium

Two sea otters at the Seattle Aquarium floating on the water in their habitat, holding onto each other demonstrating a rafting behavior.

With your help, the Seattle Aquarium builds connections with our community to inspire conservation and curiosity for marine life. When you make an end-of-year gift by December 31, you'll be joining us in protecting our shared marine environment—now and for generations to come. Thank you!

An adult sea otter at the Seattle Aquarium looking upwards with its front paws resting on its front.

Giving Tuesday

Make a tax-deductible donation to the non-profit Seattle Aquarium

Your donation will be matched dollar-for-dollar up to $10,000 thanks to a very generous anonymous donor!

Sea otter at the Seattle Aquarium laying on its back, raising its head and front paws.

Cyber weekend

Get 15% OFF all memberships!