Going Green

Sustainable or“green” building design is of increasing interest to many academic institutions. As committed owners, academic institutions are concerned with long-term maintenance and operations costs, and they can realize the paybacks that accrue from building efficiency and durability, which are among the hallmarks of sustainable design. Moreover, academic institutions value the quality-of-life advantages associated with sustainable design, including the well being and enhanced human performance associated with features such as daylighting and high indoor air quality. In addition, students’ interest in the environment is often a catalyst to explore sustainable design. For many owners, architects and engineers, sustainable design practices are part of a value system to be implemented from the inception of every project; in other cases, the opportunity emerges and gathers momentum as the project progresses. Two current projects scheduled for completion in 2006 — new science facilities at St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., and a new residence hall at Emerson College in Boston — illustrate the continuum. These institutions have also taken a step further, pursuing certification under the LEED Green Building Rating System.

Timing Is Everything

The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System is a voluntary, consensus-based national standard for developing high-performance, sustainable buildings. It was developed by members of the U.S. Green Building Council . The system has seven prerequisites and awards up to 69 points for meeting standards in the following categories: Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy & Atmosphere, Materials & Resources, Indoor Environmental Quality and Innovation & Design Process. There are four certification levels; basic certification requires 26 points.

In general, early planning is required to achieve certain points. Site selection and a landscaping strategy must be determined early and are crucial to achieving certain points under Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency and Energy & Atmosphere. For example, the site has a significant impact on the architect’s ability to orient the building on a true north/south axis, which affects daylighting opportunities. In contrast, owners, planners and designers have greater time flexibility under the category of Materials & Resources. For example, low-impact materials, such as low-VOC (volatile organic compounds) paints and carpets and wood products from sustainable forest sources, can be selected later in project development.

Driving Commitment

Two projects reflect a commitment to green building principles. St. Lawrence University’s new 123,000-sq.-ft. science building will provide flexible space for biology and chemistry laboratories, faculty offices and student gatherings. LEED certification was a goal at the inception of planning for the project; it was a stated goal in the request for proposal to architects. Daylighting goals drove site selection, building orientation and shape, which were facilitated by the rural location of the campus. The project is a joint venture between The Stubbins Associates of Massachusetts and Croxton Collaborative.

The project’s sustainable design features include the following.
• The building was sited and oriented on a true north/south axis, and its footprint and floor-to-floor heights were set for optimal sun exposure.
• Landscaping features native/adaptive vegetation, reducing the need for irrigation and chemical fertilizers.
• The building is separated into two connected wings — one for labs and the other for offices — served by two separate mechanical systems, which are appropriately sized and optimized for energy efficiency.

Emerson College’s new 185,000-sq.-ft. residence hall and campus center is located on Boylston Street, overlooking Boston Common. The building will include residential suites, athletic facilities, dining facilities and administrative offices.

The project’s sustainable design features include the following.
• The urban site redevelops a vacant lot, promotes development density and favors public transportation options.
• Low-flow plumbing fixtures will reduce water consumption by 30 percent.
• The building will provide daylighting and views to all living spaces.
• Energy-efficient mechanical systems use off-site power generation from renewable energy sources.

At Emerson, green building opportunities emerged after site selection was completed. It was fortuitous that a vacant lot was available at a prime location overlooking a park. The site is compatible with sustainable architecture in general and the LEED system in particular because construction does not involve disturbance of a“greenfield” site and because of direct connections to public transportation. Daylighting was incorporated as a best practice because it is desirable in a living space, which is also compatible with the LEED system. As the commitment to LEED certification gained momentum, additional choices were made with that goal in mind. The college is now targeting a silver rating.

Green Building Costs

The capital cost of incorporating green building principles is believed to be a small fraction of the total project cost, although metrics are still being developed by the industry. At Emerson College, for example, the capital cost of it is estimated at 1 percent of the total project cost. In general, total project cost is only about 10 percent of a building’s total life-cycle cost, which is significantly reduced when a building uses energy-efficient systems and materials.

Increasingly, academic institutions are interested in “going green.” Experience shows that institutions can successfully incorporate sustainable principles into their projects at any stage of the planning and design process to realize significant benefits in preservation of the Earth’s resources, building efficiency and quality of life.