This story originally appeared in UCLA Today, a discontinued publication.

Green construction surges at UCLA, cutting energy bills

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It’s a big year for green buildings at UCLA, and they’re helping the campus save a bundle.

Since 2006, UCLA has certified five buildings under the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, which uses a point system to award buildings a green status. But this year, UCLA’s likely to see a spike in LEED certifications as nine more projects come to completion.
 
A rendering of the Court of Sciences Student Center, with its garden roof.
A rendering of the new Court of Sciences Student Center with its garden roof. Courtesy of Capital Programs.
“It’s an exciting year for green buildings on campus,” said Todd Lynch, UCLA’s LEED specialist in Capital Programs. “We've been nurturing a lot of seeds that are finally getting ready to bloom.”
 
Spieker Aquatic Center, Hedrick Hall and the first-floor renovation of Young Research Library are getting their final review from the Green Building Certification Institute, and UCLA is preparing to submit six more building projects for review this winter and spring, Lynch said. Among them are projects such as the Kinross Fitness Center, Hershey Hall and the Court of Sciences Student Center, featuring a drought-tolerant rooftop garden.
 
Two existing LEED buildings, La Kretz Hall and the new police station, save approximately 70 tons of carbon dioxide emissions every year, and cut thousands of dollars out of UCLA’s energy bills – conservatively, more than $30,000 per year between the two buildings, Lynch said. The greenhouse gas reductions come from their lower energy needs compared to non-LEED buildings of their size.
 
The renovated Luskin School of Public Affairs has saved about $390,000 in energy costs since its retrofit in 2009. La Kretz, the police station and Luskin also conserve more than 800,000 gallons of water each year. Two student apartment buildings – 750 and 824 Hilgard Avenue – just earned LEED Silver status last summer. They’re all helping UCLA meet its greenhouse gas emissions reduction targets, already down 27 percent per square foot since 1990.
 
La Kretz Hall was the campus' first LEED building when it was built in 2006.
La Kretz Hall was the campus' first LEED building when it was built in 2006. Photo by Reed Hutchinson.
UCLA’s green building boom boasts carpets made of recycled soda bottles, solar-powered hot-water heaters in some residence halls, and rooftop and courtyard gardens with native plants. Spieker Aquatic Center is heated by circulating water through a radiant floor, slashing the building’s energy consumption since water transfers heat far more efficiently than air.
 
Over their lifespans, these LEED buildings will have lower operational costs because they’re built to use less energy and water while emitting fewer greenhouse gases and chemicals. UC and UCLA policy requires that all new buildings and major retrofits meet LEED standards. Altogether, UCLA has about two dozen LEED projects in the works set to join the five current buildings by 2015.
 
"The UC system serves as a role model, not just from a policy standpoint but also in the way it motivates and engages people across its campuses and communities in the conversation," said Kristin Ferguson, higher education associate for the Center for Green Schools at the U.S. Green Building Council, which first issued LEED guidelines in 2000. "The culture of sustainability that the UC system has been able to create is admirable and gives peer institutions a model to replicate on their campuses."
 
Green buildings cost on average 2 percent more than standard construction, according to one UC estimate. That can make it challenging to convince people of the benefits, said Nurit Katz, UCLA’s sustainability coordinator. But now the U.S. Green Building Council’s certification process has become the gold standard, further incentivizing the drive to go green.
 
“The U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED certification helps us institutionalize a longer-term perspective, and focus on the full lifetime and operation of the building,” Katz said. Green building features that cost more up-front no longer get lost on the drawing-room floor, she added. “This way, you save money every year.”
 
Last year alone, UC added 38 LEED-green certified facilities during 2011, bringing the total number to 87, which continues to be the most of any university in the country, according to the 2011 UC Annual Report on Sustainable Practices. Early on, UC recognized that using LEED guidelines could help cut energy use and the carbon footprint of its buildings. It became an early adopter, serving as a pilot site for evaluating the certification process in university settings.
 
Now, “if you’re not doing LEED,” Lynch said, “people will say, ‘Why not?’”
 
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