Touring a Green Building

This afternoon, I joined the Earth Ethics Committee of the Washington Ethical Society and friends for a tour of the Camille Kendall Academic Center of the Universities at Shady Grove (Rockville, MD). When this building received a LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Gold certification, it was the largest building ever to receive this designation. The building is one of three main academic buildings on this suburban campus, which serves as a branch location for nine Maryland universities. Students at USG specialize in one of several career-oriented programs geared toward meeting the needs of regional businesses.

One of the first things you notice as you enter is the terrazzo glass flooring, made from blue and green recycled glass and concrete.

Just off the lobby is a cafe. The catering service was chosen in part because of its strong emphasis on farm-to-fork responsibility. Some of the herbs used in the kitchen are raised on-campus, and the cafe staff collects food waste for composting off-site. The tabletops in the cafe are made from a composite material that includes banana fibers.

The large, sunny first-floor library makes good use of natural light. All the wood veneers in the library are from FSC (Forestry Stewardship Council) certified sources, which have been vetted for sustainable harvesting practices, and the core materials contain no added urea-formaldehyde. (The doors and wood paneling for the classrooms are also FSC-certified wood.) The floors in the library are bamboo, an easily renewable source.

A rooftop garden is easily visible from the windows on the second level of the building. This garden uses a tray-type system, which makes it easy to replace or move small sections of the garden. The garden contains several hardy, low-maintenance varieties of succulent plants. Reservoirs underneath the trays hold rainwater, so it is only necessary to irrigate the garden a few times a year.

Louvered awnings protect the rooms inside from direct sunlight, and fritted window glass filters the light coming into the main open area.

The upper levels of the building have floors made from Marmoleum, a matte-finish linoleum made with recycled paper backing. These floors stand up to a lot of traffic, and they can be cleaned with soap and water, rather than harsh chemicals.

The ceiling panel tiles are made from recycled aluminum, and the wall panels are wheatboard, a urea-formaldehyde-free material made from wheat stalks. The restrooms feature dual-flush toilets to conserve water, and the faucets use extra aeration to provide the cleaning power and “feel” of conventional faucets while using less water.

The building uses a fair amount of behavior modification features to encourage students and faculty to adopt “greener” habits. The water fountains provide filtered water to discourage the use of bottled water and cut down on the accompanying plastic bottle waste. Some of the fountains are designed to make it easy to refill a water bottle, for students on the go. Lots of open, airy stairwells encourage students to take that route rather than the elevators. A recreation area on the second level has showers, for those who bike to campus. A workout room is floored with recycled rubber tiles.

The ventilation system minimizes air turnover, which cuts down on heating and cooling bills. CO2 sensors in the classrooms and offices make sure that students, faculty, and staff get enough fresh air to stay awake. Light sensors dim the overhead lights on sunny days and brighten them when it’s dark outside.

In the office area, carpeting is certified by the Carpet and Rug Institute and meets standards for recycled content, low VOCs, and acceptable adhesives. Glass-paneled office doors let natural light from the atrium shine in. The classrooms are equipped with computer workstations and tables that have been retrofitted to accommodate cables, keyboards, and monitors. The facilities staff adapted existing classroom furniture on-site to save money, materials, and transportation costs. Computers are energy-efficient, and the printer paper has a minimum of 30% recycled content.

A conference room table, topped with a composite material containing chips of recycled aluminum, subtly reflects light from above. The walls of the conference room are covered in a long-lasting reusable fabric that also reflects light without being “sparkly”.

LEED certification requires an educational effort, of which the building tours constitute one part. The Kendall Center also has a Green Educational Room for educational displays, news, and information. Nearby is the Energy Bike, a stationary bike with a wheel generator that lights up either an incandescent light bulb or a compact fluorescent bulb when you pedal the bike. Note: you have to pedal a lot harder to get the incandescent bulb to light up. This bike was donated to USG by Richard Branson, founder of Virgin Group. He and actress Daryl Hannah had the honor of being the first and second riders of the bike.

The campus grounds are kept green and lush by a smart irrigation system that uses buried moisture sensors to signal the sprinkler system when it’s time to water the grass. You won’t see sprinklers spraying into a rainstorm here! Rainwater collected from the parking garage roof flows through pipes into an underground cistern for use in watering the yards and gardens on campus.

Prominently featured on the campus grounds is a trash receptacle with a solar-powered trash compactor. The solar panels are visible on the lid of the receptacle.

The six-level parking garage uses LED bulbs that are powered by solar panels on the garage roof. One academic building on campus also uses all LED lights, and the Kendall Center is in the process of switching to LED lights. The garage has a light-colored roof, which reflects heat away from the garage’s interior. (Other buildings on campus have light-colored coatings on their roofs as well.) The parking garage elevator runs on a pulley system that uses counter-weights to assist the electrical motors. The concrete in the parking garage contains fly ash, a byproduct of coal-fired electrical generators. Inside the parking garage, the best spaces on the ground level are reserved for cars with stickers certifying them as fuel-efficient vehicles and carpool vehicles. One of the parking lots on campus has a recharging station for an electric vehicle, and there are plans to put in more.

The green effort at SGU is spearheaded by a committee of students and faculty members. The committee identifies ways to improve the sustainability of various aspects of the campus facilities, working within the College Park procurement process. They conduct tours, collect soil samples for testing, and consult with the landscaping companies who maintain the campus grounds. The campus facilities manager collects data on energy use to document the effects of the measures that have been put in place.

Small measures, when taken separately, but it all adds up. If everyone who visits this campus takes a few of these ideas home with them, just think of the energy and materials savings that could come of it.

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