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Everyone wins with LEED Certifications

by Eric VanLieshout

by Eric VanLieshout

Towson University is home to more than 50 buildings, which house the living, working and learning environments of more than 25,000 students, faculty and staff. Such a large campus population and infrastructure can potentially leave a significant carbon footprint, but Towson has taken the President’s Climate Commitment Committee (PCCC) pledge to reduce the campus footprint to zero carbon emissions by 2050. Over the last few years, the university has successfully undertaken a number of projects designed to create more sustainable, environmentally friendly buildings that meet the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification standards.

In 2007, Towson committed to building all new construction projects to the US Green Building Council’s LEED silver certification standards. As a benchmark for determining the sustainability of campus buildings, LEED provides a framework for identifying and implementing measurable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions. To achieve certification, projects must meet a number of requirements related to sustainability, including measures related to energy usage, water efficiency, waste reduction, indoor air quality and the level of impact on the surrounding landscape.

Two of the newest buildings on campus achieved LEED Gold certification, surpassing the basic requirements of TU’s pledge. The College of Liberal Arts (CLA) and the West Village Commons (WVC) buildings are significant achievements that represent Towson’s dedication to sustainability. Both buildings are replete with high-efficiency HVAC systems, environmentally friendly landscaping, energy efficient lighting and occupancy sensors, recycling facilities and green roofs, among many other features. Furthermore, both buildings were constructed with a significant amount of recycled materials, taken from the older campus buildings that they replaced. But the commitment to sustainability does not end when the dust settles; LEED stipulations extend to the use, maintenance and operation of each completed building. This ensures that LEED certified buildings remain committed to sustainability throughout their lifetimes.

In addition to new buildings and projects, a lot of work has been done to renovate and update the older buildings on campus, many of which were built over 25 years ago. The Energy Services Contractor (ESCO) project saves over $1 million annually in energy costs, which is a financial way of saying that the project significantly reduces the university’s energy consumption by approximately 10 percent. The ESCO lighting project is only one of many retroactive efforts, however. Renovations of campus buildings have been keenly attuned to sustainability,  not simply addressing functional and spacial needs. The renovated administration building recycled 75 percent of the material removed from the existing structure, for example. But there is still more to LEED sustainability than buildings’ materials and systems.

The environment is also a primary consideration in LEED certifications, and Towson has worked to design not only a scenic campus, but a healthy landscape integrating man-made structures and nature. Its new buildings are situated to positively affect the flow of rainwater and help the vegetation on campus flourish.

This accommodation of nature works both ways, too. The CLA and WVC buildings are constructed with large windows and special materials to allow sunlight and the ambient atmosphere to contribute to a comfortable interior climate. Aside from the direct, explicit benefits of this environmental interaction, the LEED consideration for and use of the environment significantly increases the longevity of certified buildings.

LEED certified buildings such as those at Towson University are not gimmicks built to appease current trends. These are forward thinking structures designed to efficiently stand the test of time directly through their sustainability. LEED environmental considerations influence  buildings’ designs, which simplify their operations by implementing low maintenance, high efficiency systems. While the up-front costs may be higher, these buildings are investments, and their projected costs – even considering their longer life span – amount to significant savings for the university. And while monetary savings are important, they are only one facet of the savings of sustainable building practices.

Saving water, energy, materials and labor (which allows the university to invest more time and effort in other endeavors) are stipulations of sustainability that dovetail with the interests of any efficiently run institution. Reducing Towson’s carbon footprint is not just a matter of sustainability and environmental ethics: reducing its carbon footprint entails reducing the carbon it uses. Stated another way, sustainable building practices are part of the fundamental restructuring of University operations designed to reduce  intake, a restructuring that permits a greater output from a smaller input.

Sustainability requires new levels of efficient infrastructure that will allow Towson University to do more with less, and to evolve, to expand and to adapt to the ever-changing future of higher education while using minimal resources with the utmost effectiveness and efficiency. Years from now, the benefits of these LEED buildings will take shape in ways that cannot be guessed at. To guess what the future of higher education holds is difficult, but Towson has shown that it is ready to rise to any challenge.

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