Warren Wilson College EcoDorm Is First Platinum Dormitory in the Nation
by Margo N. Flood, Executive Director, Environmental Leadership Center
Chief Sustainability Official, Warren Wilson College
Climate change is the sustainability challenge of our time. As part of Warren Wilson College's ACUPCC commitment, sustainability principles are woven throughout our Climate Action Plan, highlighting the benefit to at least two bottom lines - the operating budget and greenhouse gas emissions. Case studies like the story of the EcoDorm, the only LEED EB-Platinum dormitory in the nation, demonstrate that if you monitor energy usage, the built environment serves as a terrific entry point into sustainability education and significant emissions reductions. With a cost premium of only 10 percent, the EcoDorm uses 69% less energy than conventional structures of the same size.
One of the most potent EcoDorm lessons for higher education has been the value of student engagement. In 1998, students at Warren Wilson learned of plans for a new dorm, urged the administration to build sustainably, and were added to the EcoDorm’s design team of architects and college staff. Students recommended innovative best practices; developed a lifestyle commitment for residents; wrote the EcoDorm Manual; established permaculture landscaping; and now welcome over 300 Green Walkabout visitors a year to their dorm.
The built environment is a potent entry point to sustainable decision making and climate action planning. Buildings in the US account for 65% of electricity consumption and 36% of primary energy use. Designed as a demonstration site, the EcoDorm’s green cost premium was 10%, instead of the average 6.5% premium for LEED-platinum buildings, with payback set at 20 years. For monitoring practices, it served as the case study for the passage of North Carolina’s S668 which directs the conservation of energy and water use in state buildings. In addition, the newly LEED-Gold certified Village dorms perform at a 59% energy savings with a 5% green premium cost and an anticipated 8-year payback.
For Warren Wilson College, climate defines our way of life. Here in the Southern Appalachians, the University of Maryland Center for Integrative Environmental Research’s forecast that “the southeast states may be some of the hardest hit in the nation by climate change” is a call to action. When we consider the environmental, economic, and social/cultural impacts of our options for the short- and long-term before making decisions, they look different.
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