A project team recounts its net-zero building experience

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Published in the DJC Oregon: A project team recounts its net-zero building experience

In 2007, conceptualization began for a highly energy-efficient office building as part of a mixed-use development in Milwaukie. Around 12 years later, Northwest Housing Alternatives has a two-story headquarters on track for net-zero-energy certification. The five-building campus was designed by MWA Architects and built by O’Neill/Walsh Community Builders.

Three three-story, wood-framed buildings hold a total of 28 affordable housing units, and another building serves as an emergency shelter. All of those were designed and built to Earth Advantage platinum standards. But the office building stands out for exceptional sustainability. Project team members discussed the effort on Wednesday during an event held as part of Portland’s second annual Sustainable Building Week.

Crews broke ground in summer 2018 and finished roughly one year later. But design work dates back to 2013. “The project started with net zero as the goal,” said Bill Lanning, a MWA Architects principal and lead designer for the project. “Early in the design it was going to be net-zero ready, but as we moved through design and funds were made available through grants we were able to add the solar.”

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Tour old, new zero-energy homes that make more power than they use

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Published in the Oregonian: Tour old, new zero-energy homes that make more power than they use

People living in the new Tillamook Row housing complex in Northeast Portland are expecting to pay nothing in energy bills. About a mile away in the King neighborhood, a second, smaller home makes more renewable energy than the occupants use.

Across Portland are newly built dwellings and older ones retrofitted to be so environmentally smart — with an airtight, super-insulated structure and energy-efficient features such as carefully positioned solar panels — that, over the course of a year, they reward residents with zero energy bills and a carbon-free home.

The event’s goal is to show “surprisingly simple, accessible and innovative strategies” homeowners can adopt to reduce energy bills, say organizers, who include nonprofit clean energy advocate Solar Oregon, environmentally driven builders, architects and designers like Green Hammer plus organizations that promote sustainable construction such as Passive House Northwest, Earth Advantage and the Home Performance Council of the Home Builders Association of Metropolitan Portland.

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2019 SBW Kicks Off! Join us for a Launch Party and Read our Press Release!

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May 2019 — Sustainable Building Week (SBW) has announced the dates for the second annual event-filled week for Portland’s AEC industry professionals and organizations: October 14-18, 2019.  The week will bring the best and brightest together to educate, connect and foster opportunities for future collaboration to keep Portland on the forefront of the green building industry.

Providing educational events along with partner open houses and happy hours, SBW will increase the profile of sustainable building issues through outreach, advocacy and education. A collaborative group of volunteer professional organizations and academic institutions will come together to provide a truly compelling program.

Attendees have the flexibility to choose which activities fit their interests and schedules, then sign up for each organizations’ event – there’s no commitment to attend all events and no subscription required. Events will provide the opportunity to learn about new trends in sustainable building design and use, connect with fellow professionals and build a coalition of practitioners that can strive for continual improvement in our built and natural environments.

New this year
The kick-off Launch Party event will be held on June 13th from 4-7 pm in downtown Portland. Join us to celebrate the official launch of the second SBW collaboration season!

For more information on this and other upcoming events, please visit:

Mission Statement
Sustainable Building Week works to maintain Portland’s green building leadership by curating a week of events to promote cross-disciplinary education, connectivity and collaboration in the design and construction industry.

How can you get involved?
Organizational support of SBW is essential to building a more sustainable Portland. We are actively accepting sponsorship for 2019 SBW. As a reminder, there are three tiers of partnership for you to consider with benefits at each level. For more information, please see our sponsorship page:

Contact us!
If you are interested in hosting an event, joining our mailing list or sponsoring, please contact us.  To contact us please email

Sustainable Building Week is a 501(c) 3 Non-profit organization registered with the State of Oregon.


The Sun Shines Again on Portland Sustainability!

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At the turn of the century, Portland was the envy of burgeoning sustainable cities. We were paving bike lanes, recycling, constructing LEED-certified buildings, and planning for the greenest future possible. Then, in 2008, the recession hit. Half of my fellow Architect friends lost their jobs! Those of us who could hold our passion for sustainable design persevered by volunteering for professional organizations such as the American Institute of Architects Portland chapter of the Committee on the Environment (AIA Portland’s COTE), International Living Future Institute’s (ILFI) Portland Collaborative, and Portland Materials Transparency Collective. We turned towards new careers that were still associated with architecture such as green building consulting, photography, construction, interior design, and teaching. As the market fell, we maintained our vision of Portland as the leading city in sustainable design.

Early into the recession, we were still making ambitious plans for projects such as the Oregon Sustainability Center (OSC) and the city’s first EcoDistrict. The OSC united us as we envisioned the world’s largest Living Building Challenge (LBC) building, an urban high-rise prepared to house the best of Portland’s green designers and thinkers. But when the OSC project deflated two years later, so did our green hearts. Without any visible signs of the building’s construction or other projects that matched our sustainable design values, many in the industry began to take any available design work just to make enough money to put food on their tables. Sustainability be damned.

Portland’s recent construction boom demanded local design and construction firms to add more jobs than the city had architects, engineers, and contractors. New-to-Portland designers with other value systems  started to flood our firms and our green heart has been slow to re-inflate to support innovative sustainable design. Was it because Portland’s green designers were still in famine mode? Was our brush with sustainable design just a fad? Did the out-of-town designers not pick up our environmental ethos?

Regardless, Portland’s pre-recession sustainable designers are still here and we are resilient. We’re working on out-of-state projects and we are heading up great professional organizations. With a concentrated effort, we can keep Portland green.

The idea of Sustainable Building Week (SBW) came about from frustration – as chair of American Institute of Architects Portland chapter of Committee on the Environment (AIA Portland’s COTE), I found it difficult to organize a green building to tour amid all the cranes dotting the skyline. Sure, there were LEED buildings and there was the lone 50% energy reduction building, but this was all I could find.  Shouldn’t designers be pushing the envelope beyond LEED and explore designing a zero energy building? Shouldn’t we have more than one LBC project building? Shouldn’t we be able to get the June Key Delta building to full LBC certification by now?!

Last year a meeting with five professional organizations all which provide similar opportunities to Portland’s design community (building tours, green bag educational sessions, “green drink” happy hours, and other networking and educational events) discussed how we could work together toward a common goal of promoting sustainable building with the aim of cross promoting each other’s events instead of competing with them. The idea grew into a focused week on sustainability. It continued to expand to include additional organizations that are supporting design and construction professionals.

SBW’s aim is to put sustainability back into the forefront of Portland’s design conversations. Environmental values must be fully integrated into the design process and not tacked onto a building as an afterthought. Our city’s professional organizations must collaborate to illustrate the importance and the feasibility of sustainable design to Portland’s design and construction community and one week of discussions, tours, and education is not enough. It’s the start of more to come.

If we can show that true sustainability is an integration of ideas, best practices, and ideas we can reclaim the throne as the greenest city in the world!


by Webly Bowles, Portland Sustainable Building Week Executive Committee Officer

Note: Portland Sustainable Building week is run by three Executive Committee Officers with support from the 14 collaborating organizations.