Campus Crusaders

 By Kiley Jacques

Student participation in LEED Lab has far-reaching impacts—from the classroom to the community to the consciousness of tomorrow’s green industry leaders.

Sustainability at institutions of higher learning is increasingly evident around the globe, and USGBC’s LEED Lab has played a significant role in that achievement. The interactive, multidisciplinary immersion course is designed to transform the academic environment to prepare students for 21st-century careers in sustainability.

UC Merced has set a goal to attain LEED certification for all of its buildings.

In the course, students learn the principles of LEED and receive actual project experience by assessing the performance of existing facilities on their campus, facilitating the complete LEED Operations and Maintenance (O+M) process with the goal of achieving certification. LEED O+M ensures that the building is operated in a sustainable way and that the systems are well maintained. The LEED Lab effort originated with a pilot course created and taught by Patricia Andrasik at the Catholic University of America, and officially launched in January 2014. Today, LEED Lab courses are offered in 25 academic institutions including nine international universities.

Two campuses in particular are leveraging LEED Lab beyond the classroom: the University of California (UC) Merced and the Panamerican University in Mexico.

UCMerced’s Science Center and Engineering 2 is a 102,000-square-foot facility that achieved LEED Platinum certification.

UCMerced’s assistant director of sustainability Mark Maxwell.

UCMerced’s assistant director of sustainability Mark Maxwell.

UC Merced, University of California

Established in 2005, UC Merced is the youngest campus in the world-class University of California system that was founded in 1869. The university has set a goal of certifying all of its buildings to LEED, and to date, all 17 of its newly constructed buildings on campus have earned LEED certification. The goal of LEED Lab is, in part, to additionally certify those buildings under LEED O+M and become the first college campus to do so.

As significant as those accomplishments are, it’s the level at which students are engaged in the certification process that earns UC Merced its unique reputation as a leader in sustainability in higher education. They are using LEED Lab as a starting point for teaching, and then go on to implement campus-wide policies and practices.

Assistant Director of Sustainability Mark Maxwell has been part of all efforts related to LEED since the school’s inception. He managed all of the university’s LEED-certified new construction projects and now helms LEED Lab, which was introduced at UC Merced in the fall of 2015. “LEED Lab is the perfect opportunity to have students work on projects directly with the goal of certifying the buildings,” says Maxwell, adding that the class falls under the auspices of the Engineering Service Learning program, which includes a range of projects that students take on in conjunction with various nonprofits. LEED Lab is a year-long program broken into two semesters, which means each semester brings a new group of students from all grade levels and disciplines to the table.

LEED Lab was introduced to the campus in 2015 in an effort to allow students to work on projects directly.

LEED Lab was introduced to the campus in 2015 in an effort to allow students to work on projects directly.

In the first year, the class targeted the LEED Gold Classroom and Office Building (COB), a flexible classroom, academic support, research, and office facility. The inaugural group of 15 students broke into three teams that included a project manager and three team leaders. Each team addressed the six credits and prerequisite of the LEED Sustainable Sites credit category, authoring summaries for each (a student-initiated project). Those summaries served as a template that mapped out what was required to earn each credit, how long it took, and the number of points that could be achieved. Using that master template, the second-semester group tracked the building’s performance. Part of LEED Lab students’ responsibilities include continually updating that information. Additionally, after taking LEED Lab, students are prepared to sit for the LEED AP O+M exam, though they are not required to pass in order to complete the course.

LEED Lab’s first year yielded LEED Silver certification for COB under LEED O+M, and the class is now targeting the LEED Gold Science I Building for LEED O+M certification. The hope is that each year of UC Merced’s LEED Lab will work toward another dual-certified building.

The students participating in LEED Lab are pursuing diverse courses of study; Maxwell names mechanical engineering, biology, material science and engineering, computer science, bioengineering, and business among them. “You’re getting all these different majors,” he notes. “Sustainability reaches everything that we do.”
Student response to the course has been profound. “Students have expressed surprise at how involved green buildings can be—how far in depth they go.” Maxwell feels that because they are learning about both the construction and operations side of green buildings, they are developing a deeper understanding of sustainable design. And it goes beyond the classroom, filtering into their personal lives and decisions. Maxwell explains: “It makes them more conscientious when they are out buying stuff. It gets them thinking about sustainable products. When they are throwing away trash, they are a lot more aware of what they are throwing away. It really hits home. This class has become very popular.”

Built in 2005, UCMerced central plant was the first energy plant in the United States to be certified LEED Gold.

Built in 2005, UCMerced central plant was the first energy plant in the United States to be certified LEED Gold.

“We are living up to the commitment of our late chancellor, Carol Tomlinson-Keasey,” says Maxwell. “Her vision was that this campus was going to be sustainable from the ground up—from the time we built our buildings and infrastructure . . . to when we started operating the buildings, and in the academics and in everything we do.”

Sustainability awareness begins with student and employee orientations at UC Merced. There are student-led campus organizations whose mission it is to educate the general student body, faculty, and staff about sustainability. There are also carbon-neutrality fellows, Global Food Initiative fellows, and a program that has students working on roughly 30 energy-related projects. Furthermore, the school’s Green Lab program implements sustainable practices and technologies in laboratory buildings. “There are multiple ways in which we reach out [to the campus body],” says Maxwell. So thorough are their efforts that they even have an online dashboard that provides real-time data on energy and water consumption of each building, while also tracking their usage history through LEED Lab.

Sustainability is clearly a big part of the school’s identity—the entire campus community is aware of it. For LEED Lab students, that awareness is only heightened. “I want to keep this movement going,” says Maxwell. “I would like all of this knowledge and experience to transfer over to the students because they are the leaders here, they are going to lead the next generation. Without us doing this, there wouldn’t be a movement of students going out and promoting green building and green operations.”

Currently, the campus serves 7,300 students. A plan to double in size by 2020 in order to accommodate 10,000 students has been dubbed the “2020 Project.” Also by 2020, the campus has pledged to consume zero net energy, and produce zero waste and zero net greenhouse gas emissions. “We are currently on the path to get there. We are going to get there,” says Maxwell determinedly. “We are living up to the commitment that our original chancellor made—and then some. We are going above and beyond. We never thought we would be having these classes that use the built environment. Basically our campus is a living laboratory for sustainability and everybody is on board with it.”

Mexico’s Panamerican University adopted LEED Lab to help create a more energy-efficient campus.

LEED Lab waste audit on the Panamerican University Campus.

LEED Lab waste audit on the Panamerican University Campus.

Panamerican University

Mexico’s Panamerican University is another forward-thinking, green-minded institute of higher learning. And its adoption of LEED Lab signifies the program’s ever-lengthening reach.

During the initial planning to both develop and retrofit the young campus to incorporate green practices, the university looked to LEED as their benchmark standard. They also used recommendations made by the Bovis construction firm to work toward Master Site credits. LEED Lab was implemented in order to train the campus’s operational team in LEED O+M requirements, develop LEED-related technical skills, and cultivate a “LEED culture” on campus.

As the school moves forward with the greening of their campus, using LEED Lab as their primary tool, their buildings will be more energy efficient, use less water, and employ recycling practices to improve waste management.

The university’s deep commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship is evidenced in the voices of its rector, general secretary, teachers, and students—all of whom value the role LEED Lab is playing in transforming their campus to match their vision.

“The university is just 50 years old,” notes the rector, Dr. Santiago García. “We are thinking about the next 50 years. The university doesn’t work by itself . . . We need to relate with the public sector, the private sector, with the world, and with the ecology. At the same time, we need to be more effective in the way we operate the university. Everyone cares about the green way of thinking and being a sustainable organization.”

With respect to the decision to introduce LEED Lab to their curriculum, UP-IPADE General Secretary Rafael Chávez says: “When we were thinking of the new development, we realized that we wanted to pursue sustainability not only in the buildings but as something that students have as part of their education and part of their lives when they leave the university.” From the start, they valued LEED standards and centered their efforts around them. “Before we even put in the first stone, we had in mind that we wanted to create a place that meets LEED’s green goals,” he adds.

Mauricio Ramirez, head of sustainability at Bovis and a LEED consultant, views LEED Lab as a tool for making the transformation a reality. He recognizes the campus community as one that wants to move in a new direction and believes they now have a way forward, using measurable practices. He sees this as defining the way to redo the campus and believes the right way is the green way. He also believes using LEED Lab has the value of integrating the community of teachers and students in the discussion of green practices and building operations.

Dr. Alejandro Ordóñez, Engineering School Dean, appreciates the ways in which the program helps keep the university in step with changing times while facilitating real-world understanding of the implications of those changes.

Currently, LEED Lab exists only in the engineering department but faculty are looking for ways to engage students who are pursuing other fields. “The challenge is trying to figure out how to engage law, philosophy, pre-med students, etc.,” notes Ordóñez. “We are thinking about creating a class that would have students [from other departments] work in teams on a single project.”

LEED Lab instructor Rodolfo Cobos has witnessed firsthand the ways in which the course fosters an understanding of and appreciation for sustainable practices. His vision is to have it “become part of the students’ DNA, so that they will pursue it the rest of their lives. . . . It’s more than a theory in class, it is a theory in practice.”

LEED Lab student Francisco Sierra illustrates the program’s efficacy and reach: “Doing the waste audit [showed me] the kind of negative impact we are having on the environment right now. It makes me want to do something about it—not only here, during my stay at the university, but also in my outside life. It definitely sparked new interest. I had heard about LEED before but now I am doing the courses to get the LEED Green Associate credential. And I know, here in Mexico, we have a lot of opportunities to grow in these sustainable areas because we are still quite far behind compared to the U.S. and other countries. But I don’t think that’s a bad thing; I think it is an area of opportunity.”

Ramirez notes that the University has realized the overall societal shift that sustainability represents, and its effect on many different components to campus and community life including energy, water, waste management, air quality, community engagement.

“It is critical for the university to take the lead and show consistency between the classroom message and everyday campus life—rejoining [the] efforts of academia, with the operational team and university community will facilitate and accelerate this relevant social change,” says Ramirez.


Around the Globe

There are 25 institutions of higher learning from nine countries that have implemented LEED Lab on their campuses. Egypt, India, Mexico, Peru, El Salvador, Taiwan, Italy, Guatemala, and the United States are home to participating universities, which are:

  • Agnes Scott College
  • Ball State University
  • California State University, East Bay
  • California State University, Fullerton
  • Colorado State University, Pueblo
  • Feng Chia University
  • Kean University
  • Kennesaw State University
  • Knowledge Institute of Technology
  • North Carolina State University
  • Pontificia Universidad Católica del Perú
  • Purdue University
  • Sapienza Universita di Roma
  • The American University in Cairo
  • The Catholic University of America
  • Tuskegee University
  • Universidad Don Bosco
  • Universidad Iberoamericana
  • Universidad Panamericana
  • Universidad Rafael Landívar
  • University of California, Merced
  • University of California, Santa Barbara
  • University of Colorado Boulder
  • University of Florida
  • University of Wisconsin–Milwaukee

And, as of January 2017, seven new institutions have implemented LEED Lab. They are Agnes Scott College, Kean University, Kennesaw State University, Tuskegee University, El Salvador’s Universidad Don Bosco, Sapienza Universita di Roma, and Universidad Rafael Landívar in Guatemala.