Originally posted 2011-11-25 09:00:44.
For this week’s Guest Post Friday here at Construction Law Musings, we welcome Elaine Hirsch. Elaine describes herself as a kind of a jack-of-all-interests, from education and history to medicine and videogames. This makes it difficult to choose just one life path, so she is currently working as a writer for various education-related sites and writing about all these things instead.
Universities across the country are constructing new buildings in compliance with LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a system of ratings devised by the United States Green Energy Building Council. LEED is designed to provide a guide for green construction and maintenance through a building’s entire existence. When a building is LEED-compliant, it’s certified as including green technologies and maintenance practices.
LEED compliance isn’t mandatory, but certification provides evidence recognizable to the public that the organization behind the building is committed to the environment. This public recognition is important to many universities because it helps justify the cost of new construction.
University buildings are typically funded in part by state taxpayers and in part by students’ tuition, and both are less likely to bemoan the cost of new construction if it’s LEED-compliant because an environmentally conscientious building is seen as an asset to the university. Alumni, even recent graduates who’re busy pursuing master’s degrees, are more likely to contribute financially to their alma mater if they see their donations are supporting an environmentally friendly campus.
One notable example of the incorporation of LEED-compliant buildings into a college campus is at Washington University in St. Louis. The William H. and Elizabeth Gray Danforth University Center has received a LEED gold rating from the USGBC. The University Center offers environmentally friendly features such as low-flow toilets and faucets, a 50,000-gallon tank to collect rainwater and groundwater for irrigation, light sensors which automatically adjust lighting levels, and locally sourced building materials.
The building had received national recognition and press for its green features, which not only save money on irrigation and electricity, but also helps publicize the university. This publicity attracts students as well as private donations.
Other universities are following suit and planning their own LEED-compliant buildings. The University of Wisconsin at River Falls built a new River Falls University Center that has earned a silver LEED certification. Aside from incorporating green features and building materials, the art and design of the University Center incorporates the theme of the the Kinnickinnic River and the other rivers that give the town of River Falls as well as the university its name. Like Washington University’s new building, this center has garnered the University of Wisconsin at River Falls positive press.
LEED compliance may become the norm rather than the exception as more universities look for ways to cut costs on utilities, as well as justify the cost of new construction to a skeptical public. Washington University at St. Louis, for example, plans to ensure all its buildings constructed after 2008 meet the requirements for at least the silver LEED rating. Over time, the university will save millions in the cost of watering and electricity, as well as become known as one of the nation’s most environmentally-friendly campuses.
Students and alumni alike appreciate efforts like these to become more environmentally friendly. In addition to the environmental benefits of LEED-compliant construction, the additional monetary support universities stand to gain from approving alumni and as a result of positive publicity enable them to allocate more money to educational initiatives and other worthy projects.