Colleges go the green route

by Liz Bertko | 1/17/01 6:00am

Investment in"eco-friendly" buildings is a growing trend among college campuses across the country.

David Orr, professor of environmental studies at Oberlin College, led the planning and implementation of the Adam Joseph Lewis Center, a new and highly conservationist environmental studies center at Oberlin College.

According to the Cleveland Plain Dealer, the Lewis Center is "a conservationist's dream... No other campus building in the country incorporates so many environmental design ideas."

Three years ago, when plans were originally developed, scientists had in a building that would be powered by current sunlight, purify its own waste water and, theoretically, be constructed in a way that would not compromise "human and environmental health somewhere else or at some later time," according to David Orr.

The Lewis Center is innovative in both the philosophy involved and the strategies of conservation with which it was created.

To maximize environmental efficiency and minimize fossil fuel usage, it was placed along an east-west axis, carefully aligned to correspond with solar rays and enhanced with solar absorbing glass that magnifies energy efficiency.

Closed loop geothermal wells and radiant coils under the concrete slabs enhance heating and daylighting as well, and R-30 and R-40 roof assemblies and energy efficient lighting design help to reduce electrical spenditure.

The building was designed as a model for the city of Oberlin, Lorain County and Cleveland communities, as well as to serve Oberlin College itself.

Future goals of the program include the promotion of solar power as a main energy source, increased climate stabilization, waste disposal analysis, and biological diversity and damaged ecosystem restoration.

Other colleges and universities across the country have been taking similar moves within the past few years to make their campuses more "environmentally friendly."

"I think it's certainly a trend. At Columbia we have a great interest in energy and efficiency. I think it might be a trend nationwide because it makes sense from both an ideological and a personal point of view," said Susan Trimel of Columbia University.

According to Trimel, the primary goal in environmental design at Columbia is reduction of both winter and summer energy use, in additon to improvement of water and electricity conservation standards.

"In fact, we've gone through old buildings and made changes in renovating and bringing them up to the latest energy efficiency technology," she noted.

Cornell, Princeton, Brown, and Harvard have all taken similar steps in updating their systems in order to accommodate more energy efficient environmental policies.

Most notably, Cornell has created Ecovillage -- an "environmentally friendly" housing program -- as well as the Work and Environment Initiative, a program associated with the Cornell Center for the Environment that focuses on the relationship between work places and environmental integrity.

Whether these programs are indicative of a sustainable, long term trend in environmental conservation at college campuses remains a question.

"I certainly think that this stuff has occurred mainly within this decade. We weren't doing much construction in the 1970s and 1980s. You'll find there has been a very large construction boom in the 1990s due to the economy and other factors. I don't know if this is likely to continue," said Trimel.