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Drexel Uses New Green Monitoring System

From "Business Briefs" department in November 2010 issue of Business Officer

By Karla Hignite

With a number of new construction projects in the works and a desire to take a comprehensive approach to facility-related sustainability, in 2009 Drexel University, Philadelphia, became the first higher education institution to commit to using the Green Globes monitoring system. The university plans to apply the system, owned and operated by the Green Building Initiative (GBI), to all new capital projects as a way to help inform design decisions and measure the operations of completed projects.

Promoting Sustainable Practices

The mission of GBI, a nonprofit organization, is to accelerate adoption of practices that result in healthy, energy-efficient, environmentally-sustainable buildings. GBI's Green Globes certification and monitoring system offers a Web application to aid architects, engineers, construction professionals, and building operators in evaluating, quantifying, and improving the sustainability of new building projects and major renovations. The tool provides best-practice guidance, allows project teams to evaluate and rate the benefits of different design scenarios, and helps monitor key areas of operation, including energy, water, emissions, and indoor environment.

Highlights of Drexel's eight current Green Globes-registered projects include:

  • An 84,000-square-foot recreation center addition that collects storm water to reuse for flushing toilets and includes rooftop light scoops (windows that “scoop” daylight into the central core of the building) that eliminate the need for daytime electrical lighting for 87 percent of interior occupied space.
  • A 17-story, 110,000-square-foot student residence hall that incorporates a 3,000-square-foot green roof to reduce heat absorption and storm water runoff and help insulate the building.
  • A 130,000-square-foot multiuse integrated sciences facility that includes a multistory “bio wall” with plants to filter the air by removing carbon dioxide and volatile organic compounds while naturally cooling the air during summer months and acting as a humidifier in the winter.

Barbara Clarke, project architect and sustainability coordinator for Drexel, took the lead in the university's recreation center addition. “I gathered together our full team of architects, engineers, and building managers, and we used the Green Globes dashboard to walk through each design decision. This process encouraged everyone to share ideas and concerns. With these different perspectives and areas of expertise, we were able to achieve a realistic self-assessment of the project design and construction,” says Clarke.

Multiple Benefits Accrue

One of the real benefits of the Green Globes system is the way it helps tighten the design process and broaden communication among all who are ultimately involved, she adds. In fact, Clarke believes that colleges and universities are ideally positioned to benefit from such a system since institutions have strong ownership of their building projects.

“We don't simply design buildings and go on to something else,” says Clark. “We operate and occupy these buildings, and we pay their maintenance and energy bills, so we all have a vested interest in how they perform.”

Something else Drexel leaders have learned from using the Green Globes system is the value of energy modeling as part of the up-front design process, says Clarke. “This allows for incorporating efficiency measures on the front end that would otherwise increase project costs if tacked on in later stages of development.” As a result, the university may consider adding energy modeling to its own set of design standards.

Four-Level Certification

There is a nominal fee to formally register a project for Green Globes certification and a fee for GBI's third-party independent assessment, conducted one year after occupancy of the completed project. In the interim, the institution performs its own online self-assessment. The final on-site assessment and documentation review culminates in a certification of between one and four “green globes” based on a project's achievements:

  • Four globes are reserved for buildings that serve as national or world leaders in reducing environmental impacts.
  • Three globes demonstrate leadership in energy- and environmentally-sensitive buildings and a commitment to continual improvement.
  • Two globes demonstrate excellent progress in reducing environmental impacts by applying best practices toward energy- and environmentally-efficient buildings.
  • One globe demonstrates movement beyond awareness and a commitment to good energy- and environmentally-efficient practices.

Embracing High Standards

While Drexel has committed to using Green Globes for all new construction initiatives, the university has for some time pursued and incorporated many Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) principles in spirit even without formally registering for certification. “A number of our design team members are LEED-accredited professionals, including me,” says Clarke. She notes that Drexel's integrated sciences building is formally registered and on track to achieve a LEED Gold rating—a priority goal from the outset of that project proposal.

That said, Clarke understands that the process of documentation required for LEED certification can be a drawback for many institutions. “More important to us is that we are consistently applying the highest standards possible to each project, and the Green Globes system is one good tool for ensuring that we do so.”

RESOURCE LINK Progress reports and results of all of Drexel's new Green Globes projects are posted online. Drexel is also working with GBI to incorporate its existing facilities within the Green Globes monitoring system.

SUBMITTED BY Karla Hignite, Universal City, Texas, a contributing editor for Business Officer