Newsletter Stories

Tuesday, 30 April 2013
People of FSC: Denis Hayes of the Bullitt Foundation

 (© Ben Schneider)© Ben Schneider

April 30, 2013

“People of FSC” is an ongoing series that highlights the people who are growing the FSC marketplace and ensuring responsibly managed forests embrace environmental and social values. 

First national coordinator of Earth Day, founder of the Earth Day Network, TIME Magazine “Hero of the Planet,” former head of the National Renewable Energy Laboratory and CEO of the Bullitt Foundation, Denis Hayes wears many hats.  

Add to these titles one more: Developer of the greenest commercial building in the world and the first office building in the US to earn FSC Project Certification, the Bullitt Center. 

Long before Hayes became a real estate developer, he earned his environmental bona fides by launching Earth Day. In 1970, Hayes dropped out of the Kennedy School at Harvard University when he was selected by Senator Gaylord Nelson to become the National Coordinator of the first Earth Day – an event often credited with birthing the modern American environmental movement. Today Earth Day is the world’s biggest secular holiday and more than 180 nations celebrate. 

In 1992 Hayes was selected to lead the Bullitt Foundation, a philanthropy dedicated to safeguarding the natural environment by promoting responsible human activities and sustainable communities in the Pacific Northwest. It is in this context that Hayes first learned about FSC.  

“It was around 1993 that we made our first grant to FSC,” Hayes said recently in an interview. “We were looking for third party certifications that help consumers make informed choices and FSC’s approach was both credible and revolutionary,” he said.  

After many years working to create a legal framework that protects the environment, Hayes saw great potential in market-based approaches. “By their very nature, laws represent the lowest common denominator, and they are generally not adequate to ensure real sustainability,” Hayes said. “Market-based approaches like FSC provide an opportunity to go well beyond legal requirements alone,” he added.  

The Bullitt Foundation’s commitment to FSC is borne of experience, most notably by spending a lot of time in the forest exploring the differences between FSC certified forest management and others. “Topsoil is not permanent. Biodiversity is not guaranteed. Clean, cool water is not a given. These are the values I have seen FSC protect with my own eyes,” Hayes noted. “I have also seen industrial forestry – some of it certified by other systems, some not – and I know that FSC brings a real difference where it matters, in the forest,” he added.

So when the Foundation began working on the Bullitt Center a few years ago, they knew FSC wood would be part of the project. In addition to his experience with FSC, Hayes selected the Living Building Challenge as the framework for the project. With this decision came an “imperative” to use 100 percent FSC-certified or recycled/reclaimed forest products.  

But Hayes also wanted a building that was appropriate for the Pacific Northwest. “One of our goals for the Bullitt Center was to foster a regional vernacular in design,” said Hayes. “We wanted a building that was suited to our region and sourced materials from our region,” Hayes said, adding, “In the Pacific Northwest we are blessed with forests so heavy timber was the way to go. And there was never any question that all the wood would be FSC certified.” 

At 50,000 square feet, the Bullitt Center demanded a lot of FSC-certified wood, with the general contractor, Schuchart, working hard to source it. “I see FSC accomplishing great things for forests and I've seen the dramatic growth in the system,” he said. “But we need to continue developing supply chains so more product can get to market,” he added.

On April 22 – Earth Day, naturally – the Bullitt Center celebrated its grand opening on a glorious Seattle day. In the days ahead, the public will be welcome to tour the building, making the Bullitt Center a showcase for FSC-certified wood.

With the building completed, the Bullitt Foundation is looking at the ecosystem service values delivered by the Bullitt Center, including the benefits provided by using FSC-certified wood. “We tried to do everything right with the Bullitt Center, and for the wood, that meant FSC,” Hayes said. “We are now at the starting point and have a great platform to show people the good qualities of wood as a building product, as long as it is FSC certified,” he added. We couldn’t agree more.  

For more information about the Bullitt Center, visit

To read about the Bullitt Center's FSC Project Certification, click here.

 (© Ben Schneider)© Ben Schneider (© Ben Schneider)© Ben Schneider