Topics: Sustainability/Environment, Geothermal

August 19, 2011

 In further fulfillment of Ball State's strategic emphasis on sustainability, the university's David Letterman Communication and Media Building has been granted LEED silver certification by the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC). At the same time, the university as a whole has earned a silver STARS rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) — even with Phase I of its nation-leading geothermal energy project yet to come online later this fall.

"The maturity is there," says Robert Koester, professor of architecture and director of the Center for Energy Research/Education/Service (CERES). "What's happening is we now have a whole system, a complete operation in place whereby different parties up and down the chain of command recognize and emphasize the importance of sustainability. It's all led to the compilation of a lot of data that, when you add it all up, clearly places Ball State ahead of many of our peers in terms of environmental action and I believe that's what's being reflected in these certifications."

LEED, or Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, is an internationally recognized building certification system developed by USGBC that provides building owners and operators with a framework for identifying and implementing practical and measureable green building design, construction, operations and maintenance solutions.

STARS — for Sustainability, Tracking, Assessment and Rating System — is similar to LEED but applies to the entire campus, not just individual buildings. It also takes into account, among many other factors, social responsibility and an institution's overall environmental stewardship.

The Letterman building now joins Ball State's DeHority residence complex and Park Hall as a LEED silver certified structure on campus, noted Kevin Kenyon, associate vice president for facilities planning and management. He indicated that similar certifications for Kinghorn Hall, the Student Recreation and Wellness Center (SRWC) and Studebaker East residence hall are pending, with recognition of the former two expected still this year.

As to why facilities completed after the Letterman building — which was dedicated in September 2007 — should receive certification so much more quickly, Kenyon said the version of the LEED standard used for the Letterman building required copious amounts of printed documentation as proof that the standards are met; whereas, more recent versions of LEED use an online system for point submittal and approval that has accelerated the certification process significantly.

Over the top

The rush of recognitions for Ball State's sustainability efforts is more than mere quirks of the calendar, however, says Koester. The university boasts the longest-standing green committee within Indiana's higher education community (its roots going back to 1991) and has worked diligently to promote environmental awareness and action — from the biodiesel-fueled hybrid electric buses that shuttle back and forth across campus to the green roof atop the North District Energy Station that is a key component of Ball State's geothermal conversion.

Ball State is a charter signatory to the American College and University Presidents' Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), President Jo Ann M. Gora having been among the original 12 members of the organization's leadership circle. In 2010, Ball State was honored with the inaugural Second Nature Climate Leadership Award for Institutional Excellence, adding to accolades that include an Energy Patriot Award bestowed by U.S. Sen. Richard Lugar in 2007.

For two years in a row Ball State also has earned a spot among the nation's most environmentally responsible colleges as selected by The Princeton Review.

"That we come in with STARS at the silver level, without the geothermal project, really sets us up well for the next step," which is seeking gold certification, as appropriate, says Koester. He hopes to see those lofty goals incorporated into the university's next strategic plan.

"We've raised the bar to a fairly high level," Koester observes, "and with five or six of these major projects now under our belt, in the next cycle we should be able to raise it even higher. And with geothermal, maybe go over the top."

Healthy living and learning

Proven sustainability is an increasingly important credential for colleges and universities to have, adds Stacy Wheeler, Ball State's sustainability specialist, citing a recent study reported in The Princeton Review indicating that a majority of college-bound students want information about a school's commitment to the environment and that it influences their decision making.

"A campus like Ball State that is committed to green initiatives such as LEED building construction, the geothermal project and our annual residence hall energy challenge can transform the college experience for students," says Wheeler. "It creates a healthy living and learning environment while saving energy and money for the university. Those are valuable lessons in many ways and another way that Ball State stands out."