On-campus LEED certifications: Are we being sustainable, or just point-chasing?

Julia Friedman, Contributing Writer

As an environmental studies major and a graduating senior, I often find myself reflecting on many aspects of the University culture and campus climate, both in terms of areas where we excel and areas where we can and should be doing better. In particular, I find myself disappointed that the University has not done more to stand out as a leader of college campuses when it comes to environmental sustainability.

In my Environment Research Design course this past fall, my research partner and I studied the implementation and practicality of the LEED-certified buildings on the University’s campus, specifically that of the proposed Academic East building. Its design will be largely based off that of Academic West, with minor changes to accommodate the needs of engineering departments. The goal of this research was to determine whether or not LEED buildings are the most practical and sustainable forms of eco-friendly buildings for the University community. Our research showed that a great deal of the “point-chasing” building implementations, meaning features added for the purpose of gaining a higher level of LEED recognition, are rarely (if ever) used by members of the community. These include the addition of a bike rack, showers, and parking-lot charging stations for electric vehicles.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is a “green building certification program [that] is the nationally accepted benchmark for the design, construction, and operation of green buildings.” LEED is a point-based system, requiring a designated number of “credits” in order to reach one of the three certified levels (Gold, Platinum, or Silver).

Currently, there are nine buildings on campus that are LEED certified. These include: the Carnegie Building, Lambda Chi Alpha, Kappa Delta Rho, Academic West, the four South Campus Apartment Buildings, and the MacDonald Commons Building. In addition, the University is currently waiting for approval on the Graham Building and Roberts Hall.

In order to receive accreditation by the U.S. Green Building Council (USBGC), the University works with project architects to compile documentation from all the consultants and contractors. Next, that information is submitted to USBGC for review where it is then sent back with comments and questions for the University to respond to. Due to the fact that it can take several months to receive comments from the USGBC, the University has paid $10,000 for the combined certification review for both design and construction and project review. While this $10,000 cost is a small percentage of the total LEED project (that typically costs several millions of dollars), the University should prioritize an interest in benefitting the environment, not seeking affirmation in the form of labels to be advertised.

In 2014, the Sierra Club named the University of California, Irvine as “America’s greenest college.” In 2008, the University stated that it would improve its energy efficiency by 20 percent by 2020 and surpassed its target seven years early. In addition, the University has a water-recycling program that saves approximately 210 million gallons of water each year. Our University’s mission statement claims, “Bucknell educates students for a lifetime of critical thinking and strong leadership characterized by continued intellectual exploration, creativity, and imagination… Bucknell seeks to educate our students to serve the common good and to promote justice in ways sensitive to the moral and ethical dimensions of life.”

With a mantra that claims to provide lifetime of education to “serve the common good” and “promote justice,” I believe the University can, and should, do more to make environmental sustainability a priority on our campus. As an educational institution, the University is responsible for teaching students about human impacts on the environment as well as presenting itself as a leader in the movement of conscious and sustainable future. I believe that my graduating class will leave the legacy of questioning how much more the University can and should be doing to improve efforts in sustainability.

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