College Campuses Are Leading the Way in Energy Efficiency



While green building certification among U.S. commercial building projects has slowed since a 2013 peak, schools are stepping into the gap by building a near-record share, putting up 134 LEED-certified buildings so far this year according to the U.S. Green Building Council.

Colleges and universities may be doing more than saving money by going green: A 2017 survey from The Princeton Review found that a school’s commitment to the environment has a big influence on teens and parents looking at schools; 64 percent of them said it matters.

From giant solar arrays and green roofs to waste heat recovery, here are some of the ways U.S. colleges and universities are making an impression by lightening their footprint.

Cornell Tech

Leave it to a New York City campus building connected to the city’s ex-mayor and philanthropist Michael Bloomberg to set the curve for sustainability and energy efficiency.

The Emma and Georgina Bloomberg Center, the academic hub of the new Cornell Tech campus on New York’s Roosevelt Island, aspires to be among the largest buildings in the U.S. to produce all its energy needs and achieve a platinum LEED rating. A “lily pad” roof sprouts 1,465 photovoltaic panels. The exterior is 40 percent transparent, with insulating copper and aluminum to boost energy efficiency. The landscape among the buildings features native plants and runoff-slowing rock gardens.

Arizona State University

ASU’s Interdisciplinary Science & Technology Building 7, aka ISTB-7, is being planned for the school’s Tempe campus. The school already boasts a handful of LEED-certified buildings with features including daylighting, reflective pavement and roofs, stormwater reservoirs and low-flow plumbing. Initial designs for the new building include photovoltaics, sunshades and a large atrium biome filled with plants for evapotranspiration, in which the moisture exhaled from the plants’ leaves creates pockets of cool air. Instead of relying on electric pumps to drive wastewater through manmade filters and membranes, a wetland landscape will use plants and soil do the job.

Campus-wide, ASU uses technology to promote energy-saving behavior within its community. An interactive web tool called Campus Metabolism keeps track of energy use on campus and pushes updates to students’ phones.

Loyola University, Chicago

Boasting six LEED-certified buildings and 55,000-plus square feet of green roofs on its urban Lake Shore campus, Loyola is one of the Sierra Club’s top 10 greenest colleges and universities. This year the private, Jesuit university won the Climate Leadership Award for four-year institutions from the U.S. Green Building Council and Second Nature. Loyola has cut carbon emissions by 38 percent since 2008 and features a campus shuttle run on student-produced biodiesel. At four data centers, waste heat recovery is used to warm the buildings, while approaches such as raised floors and free air economizers provide more efficient cooling.

Portland Community College: Leading with zero

Portland Community College’s Newberg Center was the country’s second higher education building to achieve net-zero energy use when it opened in 2011. By leveraging solar energy production, radiant heating, passive ventilation and natural daylight, the structure produces as much energy as it consumes.

Oregon’s largest college, it won the Climate Leadership Award in the two-year institution category for reducing its energy consumption by 65 percent per square foot since 2006. The school produces more than 700 kilowatts of solar energy among the Newberg Center and two other installations.


Sonja Elmquist is a writer with more than 15 years of experience writing about subjects including construction, finance and U.S. commodity producers.

Photo Credit: Matthew Carbone for Morphosis


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