Amidst efforts to increase eco-friendliness on campus, the University administration announced a new commitment to the environment by mandating that all major new construction projects meet a strict standard of sustainability.

The U.S. Green Building Council’s internationally recognized Leadership in Energy and Environmental Development rating system evaluates the performance of buildings in a number of areas, including water efficiency, energy efficiency, use of materials and resources, indoor environmental quality and site location.

According to the USGBC website, the Green Building Certification Institute uses a 110-point scale to determine if a building qualifies for one of four levels of certification — certified, silver, gold or platinum.

The Office of Campus Sustainability reported that the University now pledges that all non-clinical buildings and additions with a construction budget of 10 million dollars or more will meet the LEED silver certification standards, meaning they will earn 50-59 points out of the 110 points possible.

The new initiative will add to last year’s commitment by the University to have campus buildings exceed the national standard for energy efficiency by 30 percent, said Terry Alexander, executive director of OCS.

To kick-start the University’s initiative, the new Mott Children’s and Women’s Hospital and the new law school addition, which are both currently under construction, are en route to LEED silver certification, according to the Office of Campus Sustainability.

The North Quad Residence Hall, which is set to open this fall, has been under construction for about two years but is not a LEED-certified project.

Alexander said the primary benefit of this new standard will be having an outside source recognize the University’s efforts to promote sustainability.

“The biggest change is probably that buildings will now be certified by a third party organization as being environmentally sustainable,” Alexander said. “From the aspect of getting a more sustainable building, this decision doesn’t really get you a lot … We were already pretty green in our building aspects.”

He added that the previous standard for sustainability in University construction already brought buildings about 75 percent of the way to the new LEED silver standard.

Peggy Matta, the chair of the Green Schools Committee for the Detroit regional chapter of the USGBC, said having an outside source confirm the University’s efforts in creating a sustainable campus is a valuable form of validation.

“(It’s important to have) somebody that’s not you corroborating the fact that you’ve built the building to the design standards you say you have,” Matta said. “There are other green systems out there but they’re all self-certifying … but that doesn’t go far enough we think.”

To stress the importance of green buildings, the USGBC website reports that buildings are responsible for 38.9 percent of primary energy use, 38 percent of carbon dioxide emissions, 72 percent of electricity consumption and 13.6 percent of potable water use in the U.S.

LEED-accredited professional Jan Culbertson is a senior principal at A3C Collaborative Architecture located on East Huron Street in Ann Arbor.

Culbertson said when she and partner Dan Jacobs first ventured into the world of sustainable architecture in the 1970s, the concept was more of a “counterculture” idea. Now, she said, designing buildings to “perform” to certain standards of sustainability is becoming the norm.

“(The USGBC) transformed the whole construction industry by providing that rating system,” she said. “There’s this demand for green buildings and (they’re) driving it.”

Prior to this new commitment, the University had already received two LEED certifications for campus buildings — a gold certification in 1994 for the Dana Building, home of the School of Natural Resources and Environment, and a silver certification earlier this year for the new Stephen M. Ross School of Business. Both of those certifications, however, were based on an older rating system, whereas new construction will meet the silver standard of the new system, dubbed LEED 2009, according to Alexander.

Culbertson said the new system enforces prerequisites that buildings must meet in order to even qualify for certification, including pollution prevention during construction, a 20-percent water use reduction, a 10-percent improvement in energy efficiency over the national standard, storage and collection of recyclables and a no-smoking policy both inside the building and within a certain distance outside the building.

Culbertson added that the new system also weighs points differently in a way that emphasizes energy efficiency and carbon dioxide emissions reduction, and it offers bonus points for buildings that address regionally specific environmental priorities.

Alexander said the improvements of LEED 2009 are partially why University President Mary Sue Coleman and the Environmental Sustainability Executive Council made this commitment.

“There’s been kind of this building momentum over the years and when their version 2009 came out and we looked at it, it really is a much more improved system over the earlier versions,” Alexander said.

The School of Natural Resources and Environment website details the numerous technologies and materials used in the “greening of Dana” that make the building a prime example of a sustainable building, including the use of solar power, a radiant cooling system, insulation, mechanical and electrical systems that are controllable in individual work spaces, dual flush toilets, sensor-activated faucets and low-flow plumbing fixtures.

Alexander said the Dana building costs slightly more to maintain than is expected for future construction projects.

“We do have a little history on Dana on the cost to maintain some of the systems,” he said, “and it is a little bit higher because we’ve got things like composting toilets that we normally don’t deal with … so the cost goes up there.”

He added that some of the more standard ways to achieve LEED certification like having extra insulation and using more efficient fan systems won’t substantially affect maintenance costs.

According to Alexander, the only major opposition to the new initiative is fueled by worry over increased construction costs, which he estimated would be about a two-to-four-percent increase.

“In this day and age, cost is always something you have to overcome,” he said. “The decision was made that the benefits outweighed the costs.”

Culbertson said the increased construction costs will be more than compensated in the long run through money-saving sustainable technology.

According to the USBGC website, an investment of about two percent of construction costs in green building design will ultimately result in an overall saving of about 20 percent of the total construction costs over time.

Culbertson said this type of major commitment to sustainability in buildings is not groundbreaking and, in fact, has become quite popular and continues to grow.

“It’s the way we should be building anyway,” she said.

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