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Top 10 Ways to Reduce Campus Building Emissions & Accelerate Campus Sustainability

The operation of campus buildings can generate more than 80% of total institutional greenhouse emissions. If building emissions footprint related to construction or renovation activity it may be even higher. Increasingly, new buildings are built to standards intended reduce operational GHG emissions, but unfortunately the process followed to commission buildings fails to ensure intended emissions and energy efficiency performance isn’t achieved. Reducing the emissions of existing building stock is critical to achieving ambitious campus GHG emission reduction targets.


Building managers, construction and renovation professionals need to improve processes and standards used to design, procure, construct, renovate, commission and operate buildings. This will take significant and ongoing effort across disciplines, regulation and government. The unique environment on campuses, where operational equipment, staff alongside students and researchers, means that trying new approaches can be more tolerated, while successful approaches can be rapidly distributed to other buildings operators create a significant opportunity for communities to create value. Students and researchers benefit from exposure to the best technology and techniques.


The need to reduce GHG emissions is urgent. Across the globe rising levels of GHG’s in the atmosphere are spurring increases in temperatures, sea levels and the frequency and ferocity of flood, drought, hail, accelerating the spread of infectious diseases. These events are reducing the productivity of agriculture and natural environments and spurring mass migration and human suffering.


10+1 Ways to Accelerate the Decarbonisation of Campus Buildings and Improve Campus Sustainability Performance.


1.        Strategic Sustainability


Campuses are increasingly considering their approach to campus buildings within a broader context of Campus Sustainability, developing a Sustainability strategy based on data and putting in place governance structure reporting to Senior Leadership teams is growing in popularity because it is effective at helping campuses achieve ambitious goals, while remaining cost effective.


A strategic approach requires an institution to prioritise sustainable practices. And that suppliers provide services and equipment meet performance standards that are stringent, while remaining affordable. By focusing procurement decisions on more sustainable options right at the start of the process a campus can become more sustainable when projects and processes begin. This approach creates opportunities to engage student and community that are critical to institutional success.


2.        HVAC Technology & Air Exchange


The single biggest source of emissions on campus is from heating, cooling and ensuring healthy air exchange in buildings. Campuses increasingly deploy highly efficient natural gas burning boilers to heat buildings and smart building automation, systems and sensors to improve energy and emissions performance. The building industry increasingly recognises the value of efficient air circulation, and the potential to leverage natural ventilation, green roofs, atriums and building orientation to maximise air circulation which contributes to occupant comfort, energy efficiency and sustainability. To reduce demand for energy, campuses deploy deep energy retrofits, which can be expensive. Old concepts in improved high technology formats is enjoying resurgence, such passive cooling and heating techniques, electric boilers, and geothermal systems. Implementing these solutions requires reliable sources of funding, from government and agencies.


3.        Lighting - Low Hanging Fruit


LED lighting offers a wide range of benefits relative to traditional lighting solutions. Compared to incandescent, fluorescent or halogen lights, LED light bulbs use as much as 50% less electricity, and last much longer, resulting in significant cost savings and short paybacks, especially if lights are on for prolonged periods. LED lights also provide improved quality of light, as they can aim light in a specific direction and light instantly, rather than taking a moment to warm up. They are also a healthier option, because they don’t give off UV emissions, or contain harmful materials and they’re 100% recyclable. Paired with smart sensors and systems LED lighting solutions are a mainstay of Campus Facilities energy efficiency retrofits and sustainability programs.


4.        Renewable energy + Storage


Solar panels, Water recycling, Bioenergy, Geothermal and efficient waste management are effective sources of energy that save money, reduce or eliminate emissions. Pairing renewable generation with storage increases the value of the renewable energy generation by opening opportunities to reduce costs, demand charges and increase resilience. The technology can also create opportunities for student learning, research and community engagement. The unique profile of post secondaries, where operations, students and researchers can collaborate to learn about, understand and develop new technology, opening doors to access funding and accelerate dissemination and adoption.  


5.        Building Envelope – more than a place to frame a door.


Building envelopes, long taken for granted, are increasingly being recognised as the first line of defense in the battle to reduce emissions. Made up of the roof, door, windows, floors and walls – and all the spaces joining these elements, building envelopes are a seal of protection preventing heat being transmitted outdoors during the winter and preventing cool being transferred outdoors when its hot.


Building envelopes account for 30% of energy consumed to maintain comfortable temperatures in campus buildings. Construction standards and techniques are making it easier to ensure new buildings are energy efficient, but existing building envelopes were often not designed or built with a focus on energy efficiency. Post secondaries operations, students and researchers can play a leading role developing and disseminating building envelope design and construction best practices.


6.        Supply Chain Considerations - Sustainable Material


Construction projects start with the materials used to build them. Focusing designers and methods on using more sustainable materials is a very effective tool to improve campus sustainability, while managing cost, performance and appearance.


Using Life Cycle assessments to prioritise using materials with less embodied energy helps ensure projects use less energy to be created and made into a usable form, locally available and energy efficient. All aspects of projects can be assessed through this lens, from lighting to fixtures. Technological advancements mean that there are a variety of options to choose from which cost effective and environment friendly. The multiple roles of campuses as Operations, student training, research and community leader create opportunities to engage students and community in projects that support student learning and employment opportunities.


7.        Reducing, Reusing and Recycling Construction Waste


Eliminating waste using highly efficient construction techniques by reusing rubble or adopting 3D printing building structure can make a big difference to the environment. Deep Energy retrofits are expensive, but tearing down and sending building materials to landfill before they are expired is also expensive, particularly from a sustainability perspective. Finding ways to reinvigorate existing building infrastructure cost effectively is critical.


8.        Water is Precious


The profound disruption of the hydrological cycle by climate change is impacting human processes across the planet, from drought, flood, hail, hurricanes that drive wildfire, impair food production and destroy critical infrastructure upending lives, livelihoods, food production and cause suffering. Our youngest and under represented populations that post secondaries serve face a lifetime of facing catastrophic impacts.


Campus Operations, from grounds, building construction and operation are significant consumers of water. Designers, building construction and operators increasingly take water consumption into consideration. Buildings integrate rainwater harvesting systems, grey water use and smart building systems to reduce water consumption are becoming increasingly standard practice.


9. Building Orientation


It is important for building designers, builders and operators to consider the impact of a building’s orientation and general environment on building energy efficiency, lighting and occupant comfort. Orienting the building to face south in the northern hemisphere will help maximise solar gain in winter and minimise it in summer and support the performance of solar photovoltaic systems. This can reduce the need for lighting and heating in winter months but may increase the need for cooling in the summer, while improving solar photovoltaic performance. Orienting a building to capture prevailing winds can enhance natural ventilation, reducing reliance on mechanical systems for air exchange. Overall, building orientation is a fundamental consideration in creating sustainable, efficient and resilient structures.


10. Landscaping – Green Techniques


Campus landscaping is often a point of pride of campus users. Lawns require significant maintenance, high cost herbicides and pesticides and consume a lot of water. Foreign varieties of plants and trees are difficult to maintain. As many communities are dealing with the threat of flood, drought and a need to manage costs, campuses are choosing to plant local varieties of vegetation that require little or no maintenance.

Campus landscaping integrates green features, such as swales and green infrastructure that can thrive in drought and help manage runoff during heavy rainfall, while supporting fauna and environments. Local trees provide shade and sequester carbon. Landscaping that considers local environments contribute to campus sustainability.


11. Sustainability Reporting Charting a Path to Achieve Institutional Goals


Campuses are increasingly adopting the post-secondary standard for sustainability reporting, AASHE STARS, while also creating a campus GHG inventory and integration of UN SDG’s. They use these reports to transparently report and benchmark campus sustainability performance. They are valuable tools for Senior Leadership team decision making, and engaging students, staff, academics, donors, funding agencies and community.


Leading Institutions use this information to inform Senior Leadership to set sustainability and GHG emission reduction goals, create a Campus Sustainability and GHG reduction strategy and plan to achieve those goals. This approach delivers valuable opportunities to integrate sustainability into curriculum, research, engagement strategies and Campus strategies and plans, from Academic & Research Plans to Campus Master Planning, etc.

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