Learning to LEED at NC State

In 2014, a new Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Laboratory class was introduced to NC State. The course was designed to emphasize the importance of interdisciplinary work while working toward sustainability goals and providing students with real-world experience in upgrading campus facilities for energy savings and long-term sustainability.

The main goals of the course are threefold: to engage students in a rigorous, interdisciplinary, collaborative environment; to participate in a real-world project impacting campus; and to better understand the issues of the built environment, from a variety of perspectives, after occupancy, according to Traci Rider, coordinator for Design Initiative for Sustainability and Health and co-instructor of the course.

“We weren’t sure if we were going to be able to do a LEED Lab class at NC State because of the complexities with a large public institution, but we found a way to do this here that makes students consultants to Facilities and makes Facilities expert teachers for students,” said Liz Bowen, program coordinator for the University Sustainability Office and course co-instructor. “There’s a mutual learning that goes on.”

Rider said the interdisciplinary element of the course is her favorite. “Traditionally, team projects in architecture programs are with other architecture students, and if they are ‘interdisciplinary,’ they engage other design disciplines,” she said.

Even though the LEED Lab is a graduate-level course, the 23-student class is filled with a mix of graduate students, Ph.D. students and upperclass undergraduate students. The class also differs in nationality, gender and major, with students from the College of Design, the College of Engineering, the College of Sciences and the College of Natural Resources.

Because of the diversity of lab participants, the first few classes were spent doing team-building exercises and understanding the inherent biases that each student brings to the table, according to Bowen. The first two weeks focused on group dynamics because that’s what students will encounter in the real world.

“The course forces them to work together, closely, on a real-world project,” Rider said. “Watching communication methods adapt and modify over the semester is fascinating.”

The course also provides documented experience the students need to take the LEED AP exam, which is important to employers because it demonstrates an individual’s deeper understanding of green building.

This year, there are a few changes in the curriculum. For example, the class upgraded to a LEED v4 rating system, which is more stringent and more comprehensive than v3. LEED v4 has an increased emphasis on transparency. According to the U.S. Green Building Council website, LEED v4 takes a more performance-based approach to indoor environmental quality to ensure improved occupant effort.

Bowen said the LEED rating system is broad and covers everything from habitat, wildlife habitat, to daylight and use for occupants, to indoor air quality, to purchasing local food, to reducing potable water for irrigation.

“It’s almost everything you can do to be sustainable in the built environment,” she said. Because Americans spend about 90 percent of their time in the built environment, the LEED rating system provides a way to improve the environment for humans, but also for the environment itself.

The course also works with residence halls to make them more sustainable. Bowen is evaluating the campus through two subject buildings, one of which was for University Housing. The first building evaluated was Nelson Hall, home to the Poole College of Management. This year, the course focuses on Bragaw Hall with the goal of earning points for all the categories on the Building Operations and Maintenance checklist. Some of these categories include sustainable sites, energy and atmosphere, indoor environmental quality and innovation. To become LEED certified, the building must earn at least 40-49 points.

At the end of the class, the participants’ recommendations will be delivered to a team, called a charrette, which is a meeting where all participants of a project attempt to resolve conflicts and map solutions. The recommendations will be discussed in December with EcoVillage, Facilities, University Housing, College of Design and the Sustainability Office to talk through the next steps to sustainability for the building

Delivering this information to University Housing allows Housing to make informed decisions about residence halls to improve operations and maintenance. Bowen said EcoVillage will help in a variety of ways, including raising money, providing labor and time, and the passion and emphasis to move the project forward. EcoVillage students are key in advancing the LEED Lab recommendations.

“That’s where we’re excited to work with EcoVillage, to carry some of these recommendations forward,” she said.

For all new buildings, and for buildings more than 20,000 gross sq. feet, the Sustainability Office is pursuing LEED: Building and Design Construction. Most buildings at NC State are more than 20,000 square feet, if not bigger. However, the class focuses on existing buildings and looks at the operations and maintenance of the buildings.

Bowen said the class focuses on existing buildings because the most sustainable building has already been constructed. “LEED Operations and Management sets the standard for best practices in operations of existing buildings,” she said. “Students are the catalyst for improving our university’s standards for maintenance and operations.”