by :  There are green buildings and then there are green buildings. We know. We’ve covered them. From LEED-certified produce warehouses to green luxury log “cabins”; from tiny modular homes to outrageous high rises, from off-grid bungalows to net-zero housing developments. From the New Orleans to Ottawa, Detroit to Dubai. So — mirror, mirror, on the wall, who’s the greenest of them all?

While it’s nearly impossible to compare apples to apples across such a wide spectrum of structures — and built in such a wide range of climates — certain green-build projects stand out, not just for their eco bells and whistles, but for the inspiration they offer architects, designers and developers alike. These are buildings that go above and beyond the green specifications necessary to gain LEED certification. They’re buildings, in fact, that make LEED look like what it should be (and hopefully will be someday): the basic standard for mainstream construction.

These are projects that push the envelope for green building, helping to set a new standard for environmental stewardship in the built environment.

Okay, we may be jumping the gun on this one, as the Bullitt Center isn’t slated for completion until this fall. But when you lay claim to the title of the world’s greenest, most energy efficient commercial building before the doors even open, you’d better have your ducks in a line. The Bullitt Center in Seattle — the headquarters of the Bullitt Foundation, a non-profit dedicated to safeguarding the natural environment of the Pacific Northwest — will be the largest structure ever built to the ultra-green standards of the Living Buildings Challenge. This building standard, appropriately enough, was developed by the Cascadia Green Building Council, which is also based in Seattle — it mandates (among other things) net zero energy usage and on-site sewage treatment. That means that staff members and visitors to this six-story, 50,000-square-foot building going up at the intersection of Seattleʼs Central Area and Capitol Hill neighborhoods will have to take the stairs, and get used to composting toilets. The building was meant to serve as a “living laboratory” for cutting-edge sustainable building technologies and practices.

One Bryant Park, New YorkAt 2.2 million square feet, the Bank of America at One Bryant Park is one big green skyscraper. It’s also the first commercial high-rise to achieve LEED Platinum certification. The building, designed by green veterans Cook + Fox Architects, was intended to set a new standard for energy efficiency in this field of commercial construction, as well as a new standard of health in a high-rise office-work environment. The One Bryant Park tower emphasizes natural daylighting, fresh air and a connection to the outdoors, thinking outside of the glass box, so to speak. Stretching 55 stories over Bryant Park in midtown NYC, the building makes use of green roofs and an Urban Garden Room to bring the architecture into conversation with neighboring greenery. These elements combine with the natural materials used in the transparent, corner-entry lobby to offer the bank’s staff a serene, light-flooded threshold between the bustling city and the quiet office environment within.

The Crystal, London

Conceived of as an ‘intelligent, all-electric’ building, The Crystal — built by Siemens, that global powerhouse in renewable energy tech, among other things — is the center of London’s new Green Enterprise District in Newham. The building, which opens on September 19, was intended to serve as a showcase for innovative green building tech running the gamut from solar power arrays (which cover the roof of the building) to ground source heat pumps tied to geothermal wells (buried beneath the building site). As you might imagine, the development also showcases sustainable building technologies from the Siemens’ Environmental Portfolio, characterized as ”the largest and most comprehensive in the world.” The Crystal treats all of its own wastewater on site, and was designed to take top marks in both LEED and BREEAM (UK) certifications; no fossil fuels will be used to power the building.

University of British Columbia Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability

Built to the standards of both LEED Platinum certification and the Living Buildings Challenge, the University of British Columbia’s Centre for Interactive Research on Sustainability (CIRS) is a study in green. The mission in building this structure was to create the most innovative high-performance building in North America and to accelerate the adoption of sustainable building and urban development practices across Canada and beyond. The building makes use of photovoltaic panels that also act as solar shades, aided by living walls, which help to block unwanted sun in the summer while cleaning the air. The CIRS also makes the most of natural, passive ventilation systems, and heating/cooling via 30 geothermal wells. The building offers students of sustainability a “living laboratory” for green building strategies and technology.

Phipps Center for Sustainable Landscapes

Think it’s only West Coast buildings that have taken on the deep-green challenge posed by the Cascadia Green Building Council’s Living Buildings Challenge? Think again. Pittsburgh’s Phipps Conservatory has risen to the occasion in style with its Center for Sustainable Landscapes, widely believed to be one of the most sustainable buildings in the world. You name it, this building’s got it: solar power, wind power, heavy duty thermal efficiency, and even a Living Machine wastewater treatment system. Most notably, however, the building takes an “Outside-In, Passive-First” approach to heating and cooling that relies on geothermal wells tied to a heat pump system only after two other, less energy intensive systems have reached their max capacities.

 Susan DeFreitas has covered all manner of green technology for EarthTechling since 2009. She is a graduate of Prescott College for the Liberal Arts and the Environment, and has a background in marketing green businesses. Her work on green living has been featured in Yes! Magazine, the Utne Reader and Natural Home.