Green Construction & Technology
They Say They Want A Revolution
- By Rama Ramaswami
As sustainability efforts gather steam on campuses
nationwide, educators find eco-friendly dorms an effective way
to educate students about environmental issues.
EVEN IF YOU DON'T believe-- and it's getting increasingly difficult not
to-- that the "green revolution" on college campuses is akin to the great movements for
social change that rocked universities in the 1960s and '70s, there's no denying that it
has taken root in such a way that no campus administrator can afford to ignore it. And
unlike the flower children of yesteryear, today's students are pragmatists: Their environmental
activism is actually spearheading what many social scientists and business leaders
herald as the next major grassroots movement to effect social change.
In fact, educators emphasize that green technologies are exceptionally suited to an
academic environment, since they offer a major opportunity to teach students how ecofriendly
principles apply to daily life. Houston's Rice University, for example, is set to
build a green residence hall that demonstrates sustainability in operation.
"We have a strong educational commitment to this building," says Rice's Director of
Sustainability Richard Johnson. "We want this to be a teaching tool, not just a structure
to live in. We've looking for ways of educating students. This is a university. It's about
pedagogy. Why can't buildings be pedagogical?
In keeping with the school’s holistic
vision, three new Pitzer residence halls
are constructed of locally
manufactured recycled materials.
Dorm as Green Model
The new residence hall will be the first
structure at Rice-- and among the first
buildings in Houston-- to receive gold-level
certification from the US Green
Building Council's Leadership in Energy
and Environmental Design (LEED) standards
certification is a nationally accepted standard
for the design, construction, and
operation of eco-friendly buildings.
Scores are awarded for performance in
five areas: sustainable site development,
water savings, energy efficiency, materials
selection, and indoor environmental
quality. Buildings are deemed "certified,"
"silver," "gold," or "platinum," depending
on the number of credits they earn in
each category.) Funded by former US
Energy Secretary Charles Duncan and his
wife, the $30 million residence hall (to be
christened Duncan College when it opens
in 2009), will measure roughly 110,000
square feet and house 324 students.
According to Johnson, the university is
taking "quite a lot of time and care to
select the right materials," using recycled,
regional, and organic materials
wherever possible. Selections include
low-emission paints and hardwood or
cork flooring, which eliminate the chemicals
and other contaminants found in carpeting.
One of the building's many green
features are energy-saving interlocking
thermostats from Smart Systems International
(acquired in 2007 by Telkonet). These thermostats
shut off air conditioners when windows
or doors are open, whether or not the student
is in the room. While this concept is
not new, "The linking of known technologies
is unique," says Johnson. "We
haven't seen it done quite this way."
Ed Bailey, Rice's external project manager,
notes that interlocking thermostats
are common in the hotel industry, but
they have just begun to be used in college
dorms. "The thermostat has the ability to
interlock with occupancy sensors and
with doors and windows," he says. (Note:
The sensors can also be activated so that
the air conditioning turns off automatically
when the windows are closed and
there is no one in the room.) Though Rice
does not release most vendor information
for publication, other features of Duncan
College, he adds, are a "green" roof with
low-maintenance plants that will reduce
energy needs for heating and cooling,
window shades that ward off excessive
heat, and motion detectors that shut off
lights in unoccupied rooms. Bailey is particularly
proud of the new building's prefabricated
bathrooms, which will be
brought on-site as complete units, reducing
construction waste. In addition, they
will cut down on water use. "Our fixture
selection includes dual-flush toilets," says
Bailey. "They use either 0.8 gallons or 1.6
gallons of water per flush, based on what
kind of waste is being disposed of. The
toilet gives you an option of flushes."
Condensate capture is another ecofriendly
feature. "We capture the condensate
from the air conditioning units
and use it for irrigation of the green
roofs," says Bailey, adding that in the
hot Texas climate, "there is a lot of condensate."
Storm water is also captured
and used for irrigation. (Pipe and basin
systems drain and catch the water; filtration
and treatment systems purify it.)
In for the Long Haul
The green residence hall is part of a much
larger sustainability initiative that Rice is
showcasing as it heads toward its centennial
in 2012. A utility plant under
construction, for example, will feature
condensate harvesting, energy modeling
and monitoring, energy-efficient roofing,
photovoltaic solar panels, wind turbines,
and innovative technologies to reduce
emissions. Rice also is investing in a state-of-the-art green data center. As
Johnson puts it, the university takes the
long view: "We're not looking to flip our
buildings in five years. We're building
100-year structures. The potential for
long-term use appeals to higher ed."
Green technologies and products cost
more initially, and the payoff is not
always immediate. Whether a green
building ultimately is cost-effective,
Johnson says, "depends on what your
baseline is." He explains that a basic
LEED-certified building is fairly close
to Rice's own standards; therefore, additional
cost to bring recordkeeping and
energy monitoring up to LEED standards
would be small.
The cost/benefit issue always is at the
forefront, however. "It gets us thinking
about innovations that we might have
overlooked otherwise," Johnson says.
"With the interlocking thermostat technology,
for example, the energy savings
that we anticipate, versus that of a building
built to code, is 30 percent. For
water management and recycling, it's
between 20 percent and 30 percent."
Doing the Right Thing
UNH'S WEBSITE FEATURES a virtual dorm room that enables students to scroll over each item in the
room to learn about energy-efficient ways to use it.
Another Texas-based school, Angelo
State University (located in San Angelo
and part of the Texas Tech University system), also is immersed in green construction
efforts. Although the four residence
halls currently under construction/
renovation are not LEED-certified,
according to John Russell, ASU director
of facilities planning and construction,
"We are going with water-reducing fixtures
from Kohler and American Standard, efficient fluorescent
lighting in nearly all areas of the buildings,
greater insulation in the buildings,
and we're trying to use more environmentally
friendly materials in the construction
of the facilities. We also are
retrofitting older buildings with more
energy-efficient lighting and plumbing
fixtures, and asking the students to get
involved by turning off lights. We use an
energy management system, Andover
Continuum from TAC,
to control thermostats in all of the common
areas of the residence halls."
ASU technologists also recommend
that PCs be turned off at the end of each
day and have set up all computers on campus
with power-saving settings. Older
computers are handed down to elementary
schools in the state. In addition, ASU
is investing in projects to reclaim "grey
water" (used water that is treated and
recycled) for other purposes such as flushing
toilets and watering campus lawns.
Underlying these improvements is the
recognition that green truly is the color of
the future. "Universities are supposed to
be developing tomorrow's leaders and, as
such, must themselves be leaders when it
comes to being environmentally friendly,"
Russell asserts. "Students also want
to do what is right. On many campuses
across the country, student-led initiatives
have started the movement to go green."
As an example of student involvement,
Russell points to a recently completed
ASU residence hall that features
computer-monitored electrical meters
from Square D to
determine each unit's energy usage. "The
intent here is to make a challenge to the
students," he says. "We will offer gift
cards to the occupants of the unit that uses
the least amount of energy in any given
month. By doing so, we feel we develop
a friendly competition among the students
and save utility costs at the same
time. I am hoping the next residence hall,
which is in the planning stage, will be at
Despite the buzz about green buildings,
the concept is fairly new, Russell
says. He believes that contractors are
still wary of LEED construction and not
fully aware of the complexities involved.
"At this time, another challenge is making
the commitment to do the project
while recognizing that the project will
have a slightly higher cost." He estimates
that basic LEED certification
costs about 1 percent more than comparable
traditional construction; silver certification
would push up costs between
1 and 3 percent; and gold by 4 to 6 percent
(the costs of platinum certification
vary). In general, Russell says, the costs
are offset within five years.
Green All Over
At the University of New Hampshire in
Durham, Chief Sustainability Officer
Tom Kelly has gained national prominence--
including a Presidential Award
for Excellence in 2007-- for his efforts to
integrate environmentalism into higher
education. He views the greening of campuses
as an extension of a broader ecological
awareness in society that gathered
momentum following the landmark Earth
Summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992.
Since then, he says, "More and more people
are seeing the impact of climate
change, loss of biodiversity, land use
changes because of urban sprawl, and loss
of community identity." He adds that
soaring energy prices have thrown a new
sense of urgency into the mix, turning
what at first was just an operational issue
on college campuses into a huge movement
for cultural change.
At Angelo State University, a new residence hall
features computer-monitored electrical meters to
determine each unit's energy usage. The 'challenge to
the students' will include gift cards to unit occupants
who use the least amount of energy in any given month.
Among the first college administrators
to focus full-time on environmental
issues, Kelly has presided over many of
UNH's remarkable milestones in sustainability.
The US Department of Energy
ranks the university in the top 5 percent
for energy efficiency among similar institutions
in the country (go here to see the rankings). UNH brought a
combined heat and power (cogeneration)
plant online last year, and in 2008 will
become the first US university to use
landfill gas as its primary energy source.
In yet another first for a university, in May
2006 UNH earned the Environmental
Protection Agency's Energy Star rating for three of its residence
halls. Since then, it has earned
Energy Star ratings for four more residence
halls and one administrative building.
The university estimates that
compared to buildings of a similar size,
the eight Energy Star buildings will prevent
pollution equivalent to annual emissions
from 230 vehicles-- more than
135,000 gallons of gasoline-- while saving
UNH more than $180,000 a year in
While emphasizing that eco-friendly
dorms are just a piece of the entire sustainability
effort on the UNH campus,
Kelly does believe that green residence
halls are a unique way to educate students.
"Dorms are part of the physical
infrastructure of the campus," he says.
"Through energy efficiency, lighting, and
so on, sustainable buildings have some
operational impact. But from the educational
point of view, depending on the
greenness of the buildings, dorms can
have a very powerful effect. Students live
in dorms every day; green tech can be
woven into their educational experience."
Clearly, Kelly is all for having students
participate fully in the greening process.
But although eco-friendly features can be
built into structures invisibly, he warns
that educationally, that's a missed opportunity.
"If the green technology is builtin
but invisible to the students, you'll
miss the chance to educate. Technology
needs to be paired with education. We
see them as two essential components.
When you practice sustainability, you're
teaching students the 'how,' but technology
shows them the 'why' of sustainability."
Even old buildings, says Kelly,
can be retrofitted for energy efficiency
and serve as teaching tools. "A lot of
what goes on at universities involves
incremental upgrades. The same is true
in dorms. Sometimes they're still heated
with electricity and are dinosaurs. But
you try to combine technological
upgrades with behavioral changes."
Not surprisingly, green behavior is now
an integral part of student life at UNH.
The university's website features a virtual
dorm room that enables students to
scroll over each item in the room to learn
about energy-efficient ways to use it.
They learn, for instance, that notebook
computers use 80 percent less energy
than desktops, and have the added advantage
of mobility. (To see the virtual dorm
room, go here.) The "room" was designed by Stan
Barker of AdWorks,
an advertising and marketing agency.
In fact, the first three residence halls to
earn Energy Star ratings did so because of
student involvement: As part of a course
on energy and the environment, undergraduate
students entered data on each
building's energy use into the EPA's Portfolio
Manager software (available from
the Energy Star website), which scores
buildings on a scale of 1 to 100, with 50
representing an average building and 75
or more qualifying for an Energy Star
label. One of the dorms scored 87 and
each of the other two scored 84. The students also measured the lighting, ventilation,
and temperature in each building.
And there are other ways to engage students,
including energy efficiency competitions,
says Kelly. For example, the Energy Waste Watch Challenge, run by the
UNH student group Ecological Advocates, is an energy
and water-use reduction contest held on
the UNH Durham campus during the fall.
Students compete to see which residence
hall or apartment complex has most
reduced energy and water consumption
from their building's average consumption
over the previous three years. The top
three winners receive cash prizes and a
trophy. UNH reports that thanks to the
contest, its residence halls and apartments
saved 227,600 kilowatt hours in
electricity and $45,000 in energy and
water costs in fall 2007 and spring 2008.
In addition, through its "power down" initiative,
the college encourages all faculty,
staff, and students to turn off and unplug
all electronic equipment when they are
away for nights, weekends, or breaks.
Kelly emphasizes that precise monitoring
of energy use and savings is essential
to educate students about environmentalism.
"Without metering, it is very difficult
to show them direct evidence of their
impact," he says. "Real-time feedback
allows education and technology to come
together in an interesting way." Like
many of his counterparts, Kelly is reluctant
to pinpoint a precise return on investment
for green technologies. "It depends
on how far you go," he says. "Lighting
and occupancy sensors from WattStopper have paid for
themselves, and as energy prices go up,
they will pay off more quickly. By contrast,
photovoltaic panels have long payback
periods, and the savings alone may
not justify them. Yet, in the Northeast, a
case can be made for solar hot water. You
pick and choose the green aspect of buildings,
depending on their payoff."
Reinventing Residence Halls
THE DUNCAN COLLEGE RESIDENCE HALL at Rice will sport a "green" roof with low-maintenance
plants that reduce energy needs for heating and cooling, window shades that ward off excessive
heat, and motion detectors that shut off lights in unoccupied rooms.
An ambitious project to rebuild its dorms
recently earned national media attention
for Pitzer College in Claremont, CA.
Pitzer, one of seven institutions known
collectively as The Claremont Colleges,
has set out to build what may well be one
of the greenest dorms in the country. At
the end of its three-phase Residential Life
Project, part of a master plan to transform
the campus (Phase One was completed in
September 2007 with the opening of
three new green residence halls; Phase
Two is underway), the college expects to
become the first in the nation to boast all
gold-LEED-certified residence halls.
Although the media focused on the
earth-friendly dorms designed by Carrier Johnson,
Pitzer President Laura Skandera Trombley
is quick to emphasize that the
college has been committed to sustainability
throughout its curriculum for
many years, working on such projects as
xeriscaping the entire campus (landscaping
in ways that do not require supplemental
irrigation). Founded in the 1960s,
the college remains true to the spirit of
that era, emphasizing community values
and social and environmental responsibility.
"So when the opportunity came to
reinvent the residential life program,"
says Trombley, "we talked about the institutional
values we wanted to include."
In keeping with this holistic vision, the
three new residence halls included in
Phase One are constructed of materials
made of recycled content, much of it
manufactured locally. Energy-saving features
include compact fluorescent lighting
natural lighting, a high-efficiency chiller
from Trane, and windows
interlocked to an HVAC system
from Johnson Controls. The bathrooms feature
low-flow shower heads (Moen), faucets (Niagara Conservation),
and toilets (Caroma). Residential rooms and halls are
constructed with low-emission materials
including adhesives, sealants, paints, and
carpets. Photovoltaic panels from Solar
Integrated provide 15 kilowatts of renewable energy.
The buildings also sport a green garden
roof and water-efficient landscaping;
watering is monitored by irrigation controls
All of these features will generate a sizable
payoff, according to Larry Burik,
project manager at the college. "The residence
hall construction is 30 percent more
efficient than new construction that is not
green. We expect to see savings immediately
for utility usage, but over the long
haul, each system has a unique payback.
We have a break-even model of seven to
11 years, which is a fairly fast return."
AT THE END of its three-phase Residential Life Project, Pitzer College expects to become the first in
the nation to boast all gold-LEED-certified residence halls.
The idea of green IT, still slow to take
hold at most organizations, is gathering
momentum on college campuses, and
Pitzer is paying attention. "We were very
careful to include IT in the project," says
Trombley, adding that the pressure on IT
is increasing as students expect fully wireless
environments, large bandwidths, and
unlimited online access from anywhere,
at any time. Mark Ingalls, Pitzer's director
of IT, is replacing network equipment
with newer, energy-efficient versions
from Cisco Systems,
and has invested in flat-panel displays-- Dell monitors for PCs
and NEC for Mac systems-- which, he says,
are "30 percent more energy-efficient."
He also encourages students
and employees to shut down
equipment when not in use. In
addition the university recycles
its old computers, which vendors
come in to pick up.
While Pitzer doesn't have a
green data center yet, it is "starting
to move down that road,"
says Ingalls, with the ongoing replacement
of some of the college's older,
power-hogging servers. "It used to be an
advantage to hold on to systems as long as
they functioned, but not any more," he
says. But full integration of IT with
building facilities and maintenance systems--
a concept generating buzz in energy
conservation circles-- is still some
years away (see "IT Meets BAS," CT
May 2008). For the moment, Ingalls is
working on integrating photovoltaic
meters (from Solar Integrated) with the
college's website, so that energy usage is
visible. "There will be some tie-in, and we
will make that available shortly," he says.
Throughout the project, one of Pitzer's
challenges was to achieve maximum sustainability
without breaking the bank. But
Trombley is confident that earth-friendly
construction is affordable. "We're still
calculating the additional expense," she
says. "So far, it's added only 5 percent to
the overall project cost. This is a $26 million
construction project, of which $3
million is in soft costs. Building green is
not so much about budget as a commitment
to building green. It takes more time
and care. You have to be more diligent in
selecting the architect and be on top of the
associated soft costs."
New Dartmouth (NH) Dorm Cluster Broadcasts
Energy Usage to Students
Scheduling to Reduce Energy Consumption.