University approves Sustainable Building Policy

December 9, 2010

Effective immediately, the University of Chicago’s Sustainable Building Policy (PDF) requires that all new campus and medical center buildings over $5 million be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC). The USGBC’s internationally recognized LEED certification aims to improve building performance across a number of significant metrics, including energy efficiency, water efficiency, waste reduction, and indoor environmental quality.

In developing this policy over the past year and a half, the Office of Sustainability and Facilities Services collaborated with students, faculty, and staff across campus, including the Committee of the Faculty Council, the InterHouse Council, Student Government (including the College Council and Graduate Council), the Sustainability Council, and the Energy and Environment Policy Committee. Several Harris and Booth students led efforts to conduct a peer review of green building policies and draft the University of Chicago policy, which was reviewed by the Board of Trustees in November.

The Sustainable Building Policy will create significant changes by maximizing both environmental and economic return on investment through design, construction, and maintenance standards to improve resource conservation and create healthy work and living spaces. “With many large building projects in the pipeline for the University, design decisions made today will affect the students, faculty, and staff for perhaps a century or more,” reports Steve Wiesenthal, Associate Vice President for Facilities Services and University Architect. “The new policy allows for the consistent application of proven sustainable practices across building types while still leaving room for innovation.”

Furthermore, the policy aids in integrating sustainability features into buildings in a way that is meaningful for those who will study, teach, work, or live in them. For example, occupants of the recently renovated 6045 S. Kenwood Building requested that bike racks and showers be included in the reconstruction, a feature that contributed to the building’s LEED Gold Certification for Commercial Interiors. “These amenities make cycling to work that much more convenient and even more people have started riding their bikes to work since the renovation,” reports Heather Mirabelli, Graphic Design Specialist for the University’s IT Services Department, which is housed in 6045 S. Kenwood.

The University’s second LEED Gold certified building, the Searle Chemistry Laboratory, is one of only a few laboratories in the state to have achieved LEED Gold standards—a significant accomplishment given the high energy-intensity of laboratory buildings. “Lab space has the highest greenhouse gas emissions of buildings on campus, primarily due to the significant amounts of energy consumed, a large fraction of which is due to perpetually running fume hoods,” reports Ignacio Tagtachian, Greenhouse Gas Inventory Intern for the Office of Sustainability. “Fume hoods with sensors were installed in Searle, which can save up to 75% of energy expended.”

Other University projects currently being designed for LEED certification include the Laboratory Schools, the William Eckhardt Research Center, the New Hospital Pavilion, and the Adaptive Reuse of 5757 South University Avenue.

The Reva and David Logan Center for Creative and Performing Arts, slated to open in Spring 2012, is also being designed for LEED certification. “This state-of-the-art facility will encourage collaboration across the arts and include the University’s first solar panel installation,” says Bill Michel, Executive Director of the Logan Arts Center. “The building’s design includes many sustainable features and I am very pleased that we have the opportunity to demonstrate the potential of renewable energy sources on campus,” he continued.

The approval of the Sustainable Building Policy is an exciting milestone in the University’s work toward becoming a more sustainable campus. According to Ilsa Flanagan, Director of Sustainability, “Being more sustainable just makes sense; sustainable buildings are essentially high performance buildings designed not only to last but to adapt to the changing needs of the University.”