Growing Green Building Policies

Growing Green Building Policies

It's rare to even hear about a single new campus building these days that wasn't built with sustainability principles in mind. Inevitably, institutional officials are learning not to reinvent the wheel every time a new construction project comes up. Creating a green building policy is one way of ensuring sustainability is a collective goal--a goal that will likely benefit future project design teams.

Back in 2006, when the Sustainable Endowments Institute published its first College Sustainability Report Card, less than one-quarter of institutions had a green building policy. The 2011 report card, released this past fall, revealed that 79 percent of institutions now have such a policy. Rebecca Caine, a senior research fellow at the institute, says the Presidents' Climate Commitment--which had 677 signatories as of press time in mid-May--is likely one of the major reasons for the growth in green building policies. One of that commitment's seven "tangible actions to reduce greenhouse gases," according to the commitment text, is that the school will establish a policy that all new campus construction will be built to meet or exceed the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED Silver standards.

Nestor Infanzon, Education and Health Studio Leader at KAI Design & Build, headquartered in St. Louis, has seen some colleges simply adopting the LEED rating system and others using the system "as a benchmark of where they want to start and how it impacts their campuses in particular," he says, adding that whatever standard is set becomes the basis for any new building's design. Also, having a common operational platform for all buildings allows for cost savings and systems integration as a whole.

Caine notes that "some instances of schools' adoption of the policy may also be the result of wishing to keep up with current trends in sustainability"--keep up, that is, from a competitive standpoint.

That may well be a key in recruitment and retention. "Many studies show that a college's sustainable policy and its reach can be a factor in a student's choice to attend," says architect Deborah Shepley, the Community College Practice Leader for Los Angeles-based HMC Architects. As Dan McAllister, a principal at California-based KTGY Group puts it, green building policies allow sustainability objectives to reach "the top of the priority list in all programming criteria" and indicate that sustainability will be "discussed at length throughout the design process."

"One of the benefits of working with institutions that have established sustainability policies is that they typically have already undertaken the soul searching necessary to identify the aspects of sustainability most important for their campuses, as well as having established the internal teams responsible for implementation," says Jim Nicolow, an Atlanta-based principal at Lord, Aeck & Sargent and the firm's director of sustainability.

Principal Kate Diamond of HMC Architects explains that when there's discussion about whether or not to prioritize sustainability, the design stage is extended--which eats up resources. "A well-crafted green building policy will eliminate this back and forth," she says, so it's no longer about what should be done but about how to implement the outlined strategies. As McAllister points out, the whole process is more "a matter of selection between alternatives and less about pioneering new ways to solve sustainable issues," because today there are more materials and systems available to meet green objectives than in the past,

Still developing a green building policy? Shepley says it's important to include a process to ensure the guidelines are continually updated and in line with industry standards. Aligning standards with outside agencies such as the USGBC helps in making sure processes "aim for continuous, cost-effective, and proven solutions," she explains.

Shepley also suggests institutions consider going the route some other colleges and universities have--linking green policy development to the curriculum. That helps turn the entire campus into a living laboratory, "educating and encouraging everyone who comes through on the benefits and strategies of environmental stewardship." --Melissa Ezarik


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