Scb Uic Academic And Residential Complex 17

Green Challenge

May 18, 2020
Educational facilities are being built with many energy-efficient and environmentally friendly elements, but greater efforts will be needed to reduce greenhouse emissions and slow global warming.

Schools and universities that have embraced green design and construction strategies have saved millions of dollars, conserved countless kilowatt hours of energy, and reduced their dependence on fossil fuels.

But to meet the goals of environmentalists who have warned that more energy savings are needed to slow the deleterious effects of global warming and to phase out fossil fuels, education institutions and the construction industry as a whole need to find more ways to incorporate energy-efficient and environmentally friendly strategies into their newly built facilities.

Embodied carbon

Many of the energy-saving features in a sustainably designed building are elements that enable a facility to operate more efficiently over its lifetime.

Architects and builders have made great strides in constructing facilities that emit fewer greenhouse gases in their operations—they consume less energy, use less water and provide more healthful learning environments.

But to reduce carbon footprints to the extent needed to slow climate change, designers need to focus not only on the carbon emissions that result from operating a building, but also on embodied carbon emissions—the greenhouse gas emissions that result from the construction itself.

“We have to look at how a building is manufactured, delivered; the extraction process,” says Dan Piselli, director of sustainability with the FXCollaborative architecture firm. “Steel and concrete are the biggest culprits.”

Architecture 2030, a non-profit organization formed to address the climate crisis, says embodied carbon will be responsible for almost half of total new construction emissions between now and 2050.

“Unlike operational carbon emissions, which can be reduced over time with building energy efficiency renovations and the use of renewable energy, embodied carbon emissions are locked in place as soon as a building is built,” Architecture 2030 says. “It is critical that we get a handle on embodied carbon now if we hope to phase out fossil fuel emissions by the year 2050.”

Architecture 2030 says the embodied carbon of building structure, substructure, and enclosures are responsible for 11% of global greenhouse gas emissions and 28% of global building sector emissions. Eliminating these emissions is key to addressing climate change and meeting Paris Climate Agreement targets, the organization says.

Facility planners have several ways to seek reductions in a building’s embodied carbon, Piselli says.

Using steel produced in an electric arc furnace uses less energy than a coal fire blast furnace and results in less embodied carbon.

Builders also can use concrete that substitutes other materials for cement.

“The production of cement is carbon-intensive,” Piselli says. “You can replace it with materials like fly ash or slag.”

Other ways to reduce the embodied carbon in a building, Piselli says, include insulating a building with mineral wool or fiberglass instead of foam made from petroleum and installing higher-performance windows that reduce thermal bridging.

Another key to better building performance is an airtight building envelope. That will prevent drafts and leakage and enable a facility to operate more efficiently. 

“Architects have relied on mechanical engineers to get energy savings out of buildings,” says Piselli. “There needs to be more emphasis on architects designing better performing building envelopes.”

Many of these sustainable techniques were incorporated in FXCollaborative’s design of a residence hall that opened last year at Bilkent University in Ankara, Turkey.

The 247,000-square-foot facility was built with ample insulation, thermal bridge mitigation, enhanced airtightness measures, triple glazing, and energy recovery ventilation.

Each façade is designed to optimize its specific solar orientation. A nearly one-meter depth on the east- and west-facing façades provides interior shading, and external shading devices protect a south-facing curtain wall. All spaces rely on natural ventilation and passive cooling.

Green required

On many school and university campuses, students and staff have come to expect that the educational facilities will be built to consume less energy and have less impact on the environment. At the University of Illinois at Chicago, campus leaders have determined that all new construction and major renovations must be designed and built to meet LEED gold standards for energy-saving design and construction.

Last summer, the university opened the Academic and Residential Complex, a 10-story, 131,000-square-foot residence hall and an attached two-story 52,000-square-foot classroom building.

In achieving LEED Gold certification, the project incorporates numerous sustainable elements, with a special emphasis on daylighting, says Jim Curtin, architect at SCB and principal in charge of the project.

Floor-to-ceiling windows illuminate student rooms, and windows also bring daylight to shared lavatory spaces. The windows also provide students a scenic view of the nearby downtown Chicago skyline from student lounges on each floor.

The classroom building has three large, tiered lecture halls with a rounded glass wall at the back to admit daylight, and folded aluminum fins on the outside of the building to control glare.

“Most large, tiered classrooms on college campuses are dark,” says Curtin. “Putting glass on the back walls radically transforms the space.”

The lecture halls have a “turn-to-team” configuration in which students face their seats forward to listen to a lecture, or they can turn their seats around to form small groups with the students behind them.

Outside the facility, a native plant rain garden and a green roof atop the classroom building help reduce stormwater runoff.

Best of 2020

Ten individuals or organizations have been named 2020 recipients of the Best of Green Schools Award.

The Center for Green Schools and the Green Schools National Network bestow the awards on people, schools, campuses and organizations that are making significant strides in school sustainability. 

The center says the efforts of each awardee contribute to helping reduce environmental impacts and costs, improve health and performance, and increase sustainability literacy shaping the next generation of leaders.

The award winners:

K-12 School Award: Common Ground High School in New Haven, Conn.

Over the last five years, Common Ground, the nation's longest-running environmental charter high school, has created a new core curriculum that focuses on food and environmental justice, and has built a new LEED Gold school facility. It supports 23 New Haven public schools in creating school gardens and outdoor classrooms, and has launched a regional network of urban public high schools with a focus on the environment and social justice.

Higher Education Institution Award: Center for Public Engagement with Science at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

The Center partners with Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools on the Northside Outdoor Wondering and Learning Initiative, which engages elementary school teachers in year-long professional development, preparing them to integrate environmental and sustainability education in their curriculum.

School System Award: School District of Palm Beach County Florida.

The district has fostered a culture of sustainability that supports 180 schools across the district with improving waste, energy and water conservation, and alternative transportation. 


Transformation Award: Bruce Lindsay, manager of energy and resources Conservation, Brevard County (Fla.) Public Schools.

Prompted by the need for the school district to reduce its energy footprint, Lindsay led a pilot program to conduct energy audits at three K-12 schools with volunteer professional engineers and mechanical engineering students from the Florida Institute of Technology. The program provided hands-on experience for mechanical engineering students and led the school district to continue auditing additional schools.

Ambassador Award: Reilly Loveland, project manager,New Buildings Institute, and chair of the Portland Green Schools Committee in Portland, Ore.

Loveland has dedicated her professional career and volunteer efforts to improving school environments for students, providing trainings across the country that have led to greener schools, including schools pursuing zero energy and zero carbon.

Business Leader Award: Grimm + Parker Architects, which has offices in Maryland and Virginia.

A large percentage of the firm’s LEED projects are K-12 public schools. Project managers go beyond greening the physical building; they also engage school leaders on how to operate and maintain high-performance buildings and how to integrate the school site into school curriculum.


Michelle Curreri Collaborator Award: Eco-School Network in Portland, Ore.

The network equips parents and students in Oregon to lead school communities toward sustainability through free training and ongoing support. Their 150 volunteer parent leaders engage more than 35,000 K-5 students in practicing sustainability every day at school.

Policy Maker Award:Washington Gov. Jay Inslee.

As a result of Inslee’s leadership, Washington teachers receive training to teach climate science and how it relates to green careers, helping to ensure that students become more knowledgeable about climate change and environmental stewardship.


Student Leader Award: Henry Anderson at Sunset High School in Portland, Ore.

After seeing the prevalence of microplastics in the environment at local beach cleanups, Anderson organized a pilot program to eliminate all plastic silverware from his school cafeteria. He raised the necessary funds, collaborated with school staff and produced creative outreach and communication materials. His efforts have resulted in 20 additional Portland-area schools eliminating plastic utensils in their cafeterias.


Special Recognition – Moment for the Movement Award: Student-led climate protests.

The international student climate strikes touched every corner of the world, and made young activists the face for the next generation of sustainability leaders. Advocates of green schools have been moved and inspired by these student activists, who have ignited the discussion around the urgent climate issues affecting our planet.

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