August 2, 2004

Emory's green buildings no longer newsworthy


John Wegner is campus environmental officer.

In March, the Math & Science Center became LEED certified. (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and was developed by the U.S. Green Building Council--more on this in a moment). But unlike the 2002 LEED silver certification of the Whitehead Biomedical Research Building, this latest certification didn't make much of a splash on campus.

Why was that? Ironically, it has to do with Emory's strong commitment to its green building program and the fact that all new construction projects use LEED's guiding principles. In fact, Emory has been at the forefront of green building on university campuses and elsewhere.

When the University of California system considered adopting the LEED standard, Emory was held up as the best example of a university that had gotten it right. Also, Emory is recognized the green building leader in the Atlanta region; recently the Atlanta City Council adopted a resolution that all new city buildings over $2 million should be LEED certified, and our expertise was used to support the resolution.

Not only has LEED become common on university campuses, but the green building movement is growing rapidly. When Whitehead was certified, it was only the 24th building in the country to carry such credentials. Now there are 107 LEED-certified projects and more than 1,300 projects registered with the program.

What does it mean to use LEED on a construction project? The system evaluates the environmental performance of a capital project based on five categories: site selection and design; efficient use of water; energy use and its impact on the atmosphere; materials and resources used; and indoor environmental quality.

For example the Math & Science Center incorporates an 80,000-gallon retention vault for stormwater. Water from the vault is used for irrigation; as a result, no potable water is used for irrigation around the building. This measure, along with a water-based laser-cooling system (used by the physics department), will reduce water use in the building by almost 70 percent.

Modeling energy use during the building's design is projected to save 20 percent of total energy used. Further, 78 percent of the material content used in Math & Science is recycled, and 70 percent of it comes from within 500 miles of Atlanta. Ninety percent of all occupied spaces in the building are daylit. Finally, the building's paints, adhesives and carpets emit low amounts of volatile organic compounds that can contribute to breathing problems.

This is an impressive list of achievements, but it only gives a hint of the environmental features of this building--and it is only part of the LEED story at Emory. Facilities Management now has seven LEED-certified professionals on staff, and more projects about to be certified. The new Winship Cancer Institute and renovated Candler Library soon will be submitting for LEED certification.

In the next year, Emory will have more than a million square feet of LEED-certified building space--more than 25 acres. And soon we will have close to 1 percent of all of the LEED building space in the United States.

Now that is newsworthy.