Greener Behrend: Goal 6, Green Practices

GOALS:

Incorporate “green” practices into the construction and renovation of facilities

The environmental sustainability of the college’s buildings and grounds during design, construction, renovation, and maintenance is an important component of an integrated plan to address sustainability. By using practices that create healthy places to work and enjoy and that are environmentally responsible and cost-effective, we can successfully address this goal.

Our daily interactions with buildings are much more common than our contact with nature. It has been estimated the average American spends up to 90% of their lives indoors. The air that we breathe while inside buildings is usually re-circulated air from an HVAC system. HVAC, which stands for heating, ventilation, air-conditioning, controls all of those functions. HVAC seems like an essential part of a building's system, but it is not. Humans have lived in inclement climates for centuries and had innovative ways to maintain desirable temperatures in their buildings.

In hot climates, buildings were designed to maximize natural ventilation, walls were used to keep courtyards cool, and plantings were used for shade. In cold climates, buildings were oriented to absorb maximum amounts of solar heat, material had high thermal mass (good for insulation and heating), and plantings were used to protect from the wind. HVACs are detrimental to buildings' inhabitants. Re-circulating air can spread airborne disease and certain fungi are known to grow in air conditioning ducts.

Issues such as these can be resolved by designing green buildings that respond to their environment by using some vernacular building styles. Inclusion of plants inside buildings not only provides access to nature (which is known to be beneficial), but they can also help with air quality, heating and cooling. The use of green practices creates buildings that are healthier and more enjoyable to be in, and more energy efficient. Two of the better methods for evaluating the greenness of buildings are the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) ratings system and the EPA Energy Star program.

The Penn State Behrend Master Plan calls for all new buildings to fit into the design standard set by the older, historic buildings. This standard will eliminate the use of flat roofs on new buildings, however there are a number of buildings on campus now that possess flat roofs. Left as they are, they will continue to be eyesores and stand out more, as more pitched-roof buildings are built. The master plan also calls for buildings to be built into the hill where applicable. This practice eliminates grading work that needs to be done for normal construction, and also helps the insulation of the building. In the winter the earth heats the building and in the summer it is kept cool. With all the new development happening on and around Behrend, it is important to ensure the greenness of all new buildings.

Indicators of our "greenness" will be: number and ranking of LEED and Energy Star buildings.

The first step in having buildings recognized by the LEED or Energy Star programs is understanding the requirements. Therefore, there needs to be a review of LEED and Energy Star standards to aid in our understanding of the issues related to the sustainability of building construction and maintenance. With a better understanding of what constitutes a green building, new buildings can be evaluated before they are built.

Included in the LEED rankings are not only issues related to the building itself, but the maintenance as well through the use of environmentally safe cleaning products. The opportunities to reduce the salting of walkways and roadways by using practices such as heating of walk ways (geothermal energy), and using environmentally acceptable materials to melt the ice, etc. will be explored.