STARS Findings on Campus Infrastructure and Sustainable Development
This article looks at infrastructure development among colleges and universities participating in STARS. Data related to building construction and maintenance, GHG emissions, and energy consumption can shed light on how campuses are developing, whether improvements are being made over time, and how infrastructure relates to campus sustainability on a grand scale. The analysis was conducted on 237 STARS rated institutions in Spring 2013, and focused on data submitted within the Buildings, Climate, and Energy subcategories.
Building Operations & Construction
Two credits in STARS depict how colleges and universities address building operations and new design and construction. OP 1: Buildings Operations & Maintenance and OP 2: Building Design & Construction award points based on the proportion of sustainable building space on campus. Points are awarded at incremental values based on earned LEED ratings. STARS awards minimal points for space that is not certified, but is designed or maintained in accordance with green standards.
Comparing Building Operations & New Construction - all Institutions
When comparing building operations and new construction side-by-side, a significant disparity on green building standards can be found. In the area of existing building operations, only one percent of total building space earned a LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance (EBOM) rating. The majority of building space was identified as being “maintained in accordance with green standards.” For new construction, over one-third of new building space earned a LEED rating while one-quarter was identified as being “designed and constructed in accordance with green standards.”
What can account for the disparity between the rate of LEED EBOM and LEED for new building certifications? One explanation may be that new building certifications are more established, with EBOM coming on the scene later. Other possible considerations: Is it more difficult or costly to attain a strong LEED EBOM rating? How does deferred maintenance and aging campus infrastructure play a role? We welcome readers’ feedback.
Perhaps the more important question is, how do these campus infrastructure trends affect the state of campus sustainability on a larger scale? In higher education, building operations tend to generate the greatest proportion of greenhouse gas emissions and energy consumption. For this reason, a review of Climate and Energy credits may shed additional light on the question.
Greenhouse Gas Emissions
OP 5: Greenhouse Gas Emissions is the central credit in the Climate subcategory, with up to 14 points available for reducing Scope 1 and 2 emissions per weighted campus users (WCU) compared to a 2005 baseline (see page 109 of the STARS Technical Manual to see how WCU is calculated).
STARS data reveal that over time, average emissions per WCU decreased from 6.5 to 5.5 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent (CO2e). Sixty percent of rated institutions reduced their net greenhouse gas emissions relative to WCU between the 2005 baseline year and performance year (institutions select performance year based on when the most-recent data are available). While a drop in average emissions per weighted campus users does seem promising, can this be considered enough in the grand scheme of things? It is after all total emissions that cause harm to our environment and society.
The graph above depicts total GHG emissions reported for the 2005 baseline year and performance year among all STARS institutions. Scope 1 & 2 emissions decreased slightly between the baseline and performance years, while carbon offsets generated on-site increased marginally. Purchase of carbon offsets grew ten-fold between 2005 and performance years (though still covered only a fraction of total emissions).
Despite a promising reduction in GHG emissions per weighted campus user, STARS data depict a more modest reduction in total emissions. Does this demonstrate a sustainable rate of reduction? It may be too soon to tell, but it’s clear that more needs to be done in the area of climate mitigation.
OP 7: Building Energy Consumption is one of two central credits in the Energy subcategory of STARS. Institutions are awarded up to 8 points for reducing total building energy consumption per gross square foot (GSF) of building space compared to a 2005 baseline.
Energy consumption per GSF dropped from .18 to .16 MMBtu between the 2005 baseline and performance year for all STARS institutions. Overall, 68 percent of rated institutions had reduced energy consumption per GSF of building space during that time.
Once again, a review of total energy consumption presents a less-optimistic reality. STARS data reveal that total energy consumption (above-left) actually increased between 2005 and the performance year, despite a decrease in consumption per GSF. A slight increase in energy consumption can primarily be explained by growth in campus building space (above-right). The analysis reveals that a lot more needs to be done to achieve a sustainable rate of energy reduction.
Among STARS institutions, few existing buildings are earning EBOM ratings, though most are being maintained in accordance with green practices. A much higher rate of new building construction results in earned LEED ratings. Despite these findings, STARS data suggest that an increase in building space resulting from new construction and major renovations is a significant obstacle for achieving sustainability in the higher education sector. More should be done to plan for growth more effectively while cutting emissions and consumption.
Tackling the Problem
Emissions and consumption rates must be reduced by significant amounts regardless of the size and growth of our built environment and population. AASHE’s Climate Action Planning How-to Guide provides specific recommendations for GHG mitigation strategies related to all of the following and more: energy conservation and efficiency; on-site renewable energy technologies; maximizing space utilization; and designing and building only the greenest, most energy efficient new buildings. The Operations section of AASHE’s Resource Center also provides relevant suggestions and resources.
What else can colleges and universities do to encourage sustainable campus growth? What are some successful outreach strategies that campuses are using along with mitigation strategies? We welcome feedback on additional suggestions and ideas.
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