Green Is as Good as Gold

Harvard University is one of the universities leading the charge when it comes to sustainability. In fact, University administrators set a goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 30 percent below a 2006 baseline by the year 2016, including all new growth. “We’ve seen a 14 percent reduction from our baseline,” noted Nathan Gauthier, assistant director of Harvard’s Office for Sustainability. “But, we’ve also added two million square feet of space, which has taken away a lot of that reduction. So now we’re at seven percent reduction of our baseline. Still, we’ve no reason to think we won’t meet our goal.”

What Are Greenhouse Gas Emissions?
Greenhouse gases are gases that trap heat in the atmosphere. A certain amount of greenhouse gas is necessary to keep the planet warm. However, when too much heat is trapped, the planet is kept too warm.

According to the U.S. EPA (, some greenhouse gases, such as carbon dioxide, occur naturally and are emitted to the atmosphere through natural processes and human activities. Others, such as carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, and fluorinated gases, are created and emitted only by human activities.

In the United States, says the EPA’s Website, energy-related activities account for more than three-quarters of our human-generated greenhouse gas emissions, mostly in the form of carbon dioxide emissions from burning fossil fuels.

A lot of those fossil fuels are burned to generate electricity. Therefore, if less electricity is consumed, fewer fossil fuels are burned, less greenhouse gas is produced, and less heat is trapped in the atmosphere.

How Is Harvard Reducing Greenhouse Gas Emissions?
On a University-wide scale, Harvard has made four commitments to reduce its impact on the environment. The already-mentioned greenhouse gas reduction commitment is one. The other three are sustainability principles, temperature policy, and green building standards.

Two groups in the Office for Sustainability are fulfilling the commitments. “More than half our staff serves as internal consultants,” explained Gauthier. “We charge the different schools/units for our time. The other portion is the core group, which is focused on such things as advocacy, policy setting, and best practices. In aggregate, we’re doing everything we can to make the University a more environmentally friendly place.

“Within the consulting group,” Gauthier continued, “we have two arms. The first is Green Building Services, which handles everything related to building, including design, construction, operations, and LEED ratings.” In fact, the University has aggressive building standards requiring LEED Gold certification, and 30 percent reduction in energy for all retrofits and 34 percent for new projects (as compared to code requirements). Currently, the campus boasts 32 LEED-certified projects and 44 LEED-registered projects.”

The second arm is Occupant Engagement, which uses social marketing techniques to leverage a small initial commitment that can then be used to leverage larger commitments.

What Can You Do to Reduce Greenhouse Gas Emissions?
For those college and university administrators who would like a greater campus-wide commitment to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by reducing energy consumption, perhaps following that simple principle is a good way to start: first leverage a small commitment which can be nurtured to secure a larger commitment. Once you’ve secured commitment, here are some ways to maximize it.

Use LEED. “In new construction projects,” said Bungane Mehlomakulu, PE, LEED-AP, principal at IBE Consulting Engineers, Sherman Oaks, CA, “push design teams to participate in LEED, and use the process even if you don’t want LEED certification. It’s very good for administrators who have never built a green building to look at LEED and use it as a roadmap to get started. If you have built a green building, maybe you go a bit further on your next project by adding energy modeling or commissioning. In exploring options that make sense for that project, know that sources of energy consumption and solutions to reducing them vary from climate to climate, so be sure to consider what’s specific to your region.”

Design for Sustainability. “How you design a building is important for energy consumption,” said Annmarie Thurnquist, LEED-AP, a preconstruction manager with Danis Building Construction, which has offices throughout the Midwest and Southeast. She proposes two considerations when designing a new facility.

The first is siting; how the facility fits on the property. “You always want to maximize light but minimize direct east/west exposure,” she explained. “If the facility is not facing due west, you can do a lot to minimize building loads.”

The second is considering the building type. A residence hall is sparsely populated during the day, so its needs are different from a laboratory building, which is well populated during the day, plus needs systems in place to sustain experiments around the clock.

Work on the Details. As the design process continues, there are a number of things you can do to create greater energy efficiency.

“We do a lot with controls, especially in classrooms,” said Thurnquist, “such as adjustable thermostats. We also employ daylight harvesting, which is having sensors that dim or turn off lights when there’s enough natural sunlight coming in the windows to provide for lighting needs.”

Mehlomakulu agreed, noting that installing variable frequency drives on HVAC equipment allows you to meet demand, such as turning down the fan a classroom that is only 30 percent full. He also recommends looking at the building’s façade for energy savings, such as using light cells to bring in light or adding overhangs to prevent direct sunlight from entering windows. “These strategies allow you to not add or upgrade HVAC equipment,” he pointed out.

Commission New Buildings. Building commissioning is a process where an independent agent reviews a building’s design to ensure it meets intent and, when it is built, works with the contractor to ensure systems are installed and operate correctly before occupancy. “Today’s buildings are incredibly sophisticated,” said Jim Danis, LEED-AP, director of Business Development for Danis. “There is a huge payback to building commissioning. You have to manipulate the different systems to show different conditions the building will experience. Imagine opening a building in the fall and discovering the following spring that the air conditioning doesn’t work.”

Install a Central Utility Plant.
“It’s rare to see a college or university that does not have a central utility plant,” said Chris Schaffner, PE, LEED-AP, principal and founder of the Green Engineer, Concord, MA. “And it is a big-ticket item but, if you don’t have one, it allows you to make your own energy.”

Benchmark. To save energy, you must understand how each building behaves and compare that to other buildings to know which perform well and which are energy hogs. “There’s a saying,” Schaffner said, “’If you can’t measure it, you can’t reduce it.’ Each building must have a meter to understand how much energy it uses to determine how energy can be saved.”

Conduct Energy Audits. Once you have benchmarks, conduct energy audits, which allow you to look at each building for opportunities to reduce energy consumption. It might mean upgrading the HVAC system or changing the glazing on the building envelope or upgrading lighting and installing light sensors, said Mehlomakulu.

The logic is simple: Building improvements, whether in terms of design for new facilities or upgrades to existing facilities, reduce greenhouse gas emissions, which reduces energy consumption, which saves money. Who can argue with that?