Market Outlook

Sustainability trends continue to be major cost drivers for buildings in the Northwest. As the resources in our world become increasingly scarce, and as we learn more about human health and well-being, Sellen remains dedicated to sustainable practices not only in the way we build but also in the way we live our day-to-day lives. The major sustainability trends that will affect pricing in the upcoming years include LEED version 4/4.1, materials disclosure, and changing energy codes.

For more information, contact David Walsh, Sellen’s Director of Sustainability and Design Integration:

LEED v4 and v4.1 Update


LEED remains the world’s most widely used sustainability rating system. LEED version 4 (v4) is now the current version, and some owners view LEED certification as an important component of their corporate sustainability commitments. In some jurisdictions, LEED certification is the key to attaining zoning bonuses, so rating systems can have a permitting and financial importance as well.

As rating systems evolve and the performance bar raises, both the LEED and the A/E/C industry are at an inflection point with this newest version of LEED. Sellen is currently working on eight buildings pursuing LEED v4 and is gathering key information on the availability of compliant materials and potential impact on costs.

It’s fair to say that some designers, manufacturers and suppliers are finding LEED v4 to be a challenge, as some credits have a limited number of compliant products or documentation. In response, the United States Green Building Council has launched a pilot version 4.1 (v4.1) rating system that brings many welcome changes. In some cases, v4.1 offers feasible options to meet rigorous material transparency and low-emitting materials requirements. We are investigating the newly published v4.1 and the potential benefits for our current v4 projects.

Additionally, other sustainable certifications, such as WELL or Zero Carbon, are gaining attention in the industry, reflecting an interest of viewing sustainability through the lens of health or greenhouse gas reduction. While early rating systems — including LEED — covered many topics, they had a heavy focus on operational energy performance. Newer systems are focusing more on health and well-being, as well as carbon emissions.

Materials Disclosure


We are entering a new era of material disclosure as more people understand that by measuring and publishing the environmental impact of materials, projects can make better long-term choices. The idea of materials disclosure is relatively simple – it’s trying to understand every type of material that goes into the making of an object, regardless of scale. While the idea seems straightforward, the execution is anything but, and the building industry has a number of challenges to overcome before materials disclosure can become the norm.

One of the primary challenges is that not everyone thinks about the accessory components, such as glue, and for this idea to truly take hold everyone along the supply chain should be thinking about the materials they are using and identifying those materials. Additionally, the industry is still rallying around the basic standards that should be used for materials disclosure; while norms exist, there isn’t one single database where information is easily available. Environmental Product Declarations (EPDs) are an important resource for disclosure, and projects, such as the Helen Sommers Building constructed by Sellen, can be a lever to increase disclosure. For a case study on the new concrete EPDs that this project created, click here.

In the cycle of storming, norming and performing, the industry is somewhere between the storming and norming phase for materials disclosure, but the overall intent is a focus on human health and well-being. It stands to reason that if a material is healthy for the end user, then it should also be healthy for the installer, as well as the manufacturer and any others along the supply chain.

Helen Sommers Building
2018 Energy Code


Codes are a major sustainability and cost driver. Washington state will enact a new energy code in 2020 that is less aggressive than Seattle’s, but will still have a major impact on costs. We are monitoring how these changes will affect new buildings in the state.

For more information on the effects of the current 2015 Seattle Energy Code, check out our white paper online.

Pictured at Right:
With the adoption of the 2015 Seattle Energy Code (SEC), Sellen teamed with PAE Engineers and MacDonald-Miller Facility Solutions to research how the changes will affect high-rise office and residential projects, especially with the increased level of glazing that we’ve seen. Overall, our study found that increased glazing in high-rises is possible under the new code, but it comes with a cost.

To evaluate the changes, our team compared: 1) a baseline case (actual mechanical costs from a recently completed Seattle office building that had a 42.3% window-to-wall ratio (WWR); with 2) the separate forecasted costs for the mechanical systems to be 2015 SEC compliant with no change to the WWR for the core and shell scope and then the tenant improvement scope; and 3) the separate forecasted costs for the mechanical systems to be 2015 SEC compliant while increasing the WWR to 60% for the core and shell scope and then the tenant improvement scope. Below are the summary results of the forecasted cost increases that owners should expect under the 2015 SEC.