Monday, September 28, 2009

Homecoming Sustainability Panel

This Saturday, I had the privilege of presenting on a Homecoming panel focused on sustainability efforts at Georgetown and in higher education in general. The discussion was specifically focused on Georgetown’s newfound dedication to sustainable construction and building operations.

The trend of universities becoming leaders in environmentally sustainable development has been a process largely driven by student demand over the past several years. Our campus is a wonderful example of this type of progress. Three years ago the average Hoya assumed the recycling bins were emptied into the trash stream, that ICC’s solar panels had fallen out of use, and that composting was something Roy Hibbert did with his back to the basket (…get it?). In the time since, sincere student dedication to environmental activism has led to improvements all over campus, not least evidenced by a sustainability committee focused on the issues long term. Today, students may be surprised to learn that 85% of our campus’ waste is either recycled or incinerated to produce electricity (a number that is sure to improve due to our new recycling bins); that each residence hall’s energy use can be tracked real time (data that’s being used in an inter-dorm energy saving competition this year); that our GUTS buses are being converted to use biodiesel; and that our electricity is being offset by investment in a large and growing percentage of Green-E certified renewable energy resources.

Perhaps the best evidence of Georgetown’s dedication to sustainable development – and the main focus of the panel – is the administration’s plan to seek LEED certification on all new building projects. The LEED program, which is run by the nonprofit US Green Building Council, judges buildings on their level of energy efficiency and general environmental friendliness. The new Rafik Hariri building will probably receive a LEED Silver certification for practices such as offsetting 129% of the building’s energy use, installing low-flow fixtures to save water, using sustainable construction materials, recycling construction waste, and utilizing smart control devices to turn off lights and heat when rooms are empty. Meanwhile, the science building is being designed to achieve LEED Gold status – quite impressive for an energy-hogging lab facility.

The pattern of investing into greater upfront construction and design costs to create more sustainable buildings is not unique to Georgetown. As the effects of global energy waste and environmental degradation have become mainstream knowledge, all aspects of development have grown to be more sustainable. Simply put, when long term costs are considered as present financial values it is usually less expensive to build green. This author is glad our university understands that relationship as our campus continues to grow.

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