Chase Canas, Matthew Mills, and Clark Shao
University of California, Santa Barbara takes pride in their commitment to global leadership for sustainability through their education, research, and action. Many students are aware of this promotion for sustainability on campus; however, how it is accomplished is often overlooked.
UCSB has been a national leader in environmental activism and sustainability for the past 40 years. Most recently, a leading objective for UCSB is to obtain a high density of Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) certified buildings on its campus.
A LEED certified building indicates that it has reached a certain level of “sustainability.” This means it displays a significant reduction in waste, electricity usage, water consumption, materials diverted into landfills, and promotes an overall environmentally healthy consciousness amongst campus. Due to the campus-wide awareness and demand for sustainability, the Environmental Studies department has created a specialized pilot class, denoted ES 194GB, for students to collaborate about green practices and ultimately certify more buildings on UCSB to be LEED certified.
Currently, the Student Resource Building located outside Pardall Tunnel is rated “Silver” under the LEED certification program. Created for the first time in fall of 2014, this pilot group study lab was designed specifically to enhance the SRB’s sustainability by re-certifying it for a “Gold” rating. Students were given the opportunity to interact with campus staff and students, and work hands-on in the process for recertification of the SRB. UCSB will be the first school where a student body has been responsible for certifying an LEED rated building.
Let’s explore what it takes for a building to obtain LEED certification and ultimately become “Gold” rated. The LEED program was founded by the United States Green Building Council (USGBC) in order to establish a standard of reference for buildings that strive to go above the requirements in terms of environmental health. The SRB must seek certification under the Existing Building Operations and Maintenance certification program, following a point system that demonstrates how sustainable a building is. Points can be awarded through categories such as Sustainable Sites, Location & Transport, Energy & Atmosphere, Water Management, Materials & Purchasing Policies, and Indoor Environmental Quality.
There are a maximum of 110 attainable points. A score between the range of 50-59 awards the building with Silver certification, which the SRB currently possesses. A score between 60-79 awards the building with Gold certification. After our combined efforts, we have fulfilled just over 80 points and submitted our credit information for the SRB to become “Platinum” certified, and we are now awaiting reviewal for our credit submissions. Platinum certification is the best possible rating a LEED certified building can obtain, and the students, faculty, and management couldn’t be more pleased.
To fulfill credit information, students analyzed the SRB and advised strategies and solutions to environmental and energy issues. For example, in the Energy & Atmosphere group, students conducted a walkthrough energy audit to determine how the SRB could improve its energy efficiency. Students detected an array of halogen lighting fixtures, which were radiating unnecessary light during the day. Students advised to deactivate this lighting fixture during the hours of the daytime. As a result, the new lighting schedule was implemented and savings of up to $3,000 per year were achieved from energy conservation. In the Water Efficiency group, students petitioned for the placement of aerators on sinks in the bathrooms to reduce the amount of water flow per minute. Although the Student Resource Building was already very water efficient, this alteration would create an even more significant difference in water reduction.
Other than working on the certification for the SRB, students in class have gained tremendous knowledge about green building and practices, which has allowed the students to prepare for the LEED exam. The exam awards accreditation for potential green building specialists who wish to follow a career in sustainability.
“The class was challenging at first since I didn’t have the technical background in the LEED system,” says Conor Grimes, a second-year environmental studies student involved in the LEED Lab. “However, the more I interacted with campus professionals and other students in the class, I have gained a footing in dealing with the challenging aspects of LEED and sustainability in general.”
With the knowledge obtained in these year long laboratory course, almost every student has plans for pursuing and passing the LEED examination to become an LEED certified green building professional. Through The Green Initiative Fund, the LEED Lab was provided with a grant to incentivize students with funding to cover a portion of the exam fee. The hope is to encourage students to take the exam without having to worry about the application fee.
Based on the LEED Lab’s initial goals of certifying the SRB, promoting sustainability on UCSB’s campus, and preparing students for the LEED exam, the class was a major success. Like any pilot class, there are always new and innovative directions the class can take in successive years, but it is up to the student body to decide what these directions are. With tremendous support and action from the students at UC Santa Barbara for enhanced sustainability, UCSB will continue to lead the way for sustainability and be the role model for other campuses to follow.