Building a new green campus and adopting a philosophy of sustainability is exciting, but if not done properly, it is not always the wisest decision. As you consider the education, health and safety of a campus community, along with its business objectives, you may discover that there are numerous ways to make the campus more sustainable without razing a building or erecting a new facility. Sustainability should be about the business solution, as well as the environmental solution. It also must be endorsed, encouraged and embraced by the highest level of authority in the district or college administration.

When you begin thinking about new construction, remodeling or campus updates, consider using a planning approach model that analyzes the concepts in a Venn diagram of four concentric circles: budget-driven costs; value-added life-cycle cost savings; more healthful buildings for people; and environmentally responsible materials, methods and systems (see diagram above).

Pick and choose

Whether remodeling a facility or just making a few adjustments and replacements, here are 10 ways to make your campus greener—first with the people, then with the products and building systems:

1. Equip teachers and students. Many misconceptions exist about what it means to be green and the benefits it provides in terms of indoor air quality, visual appeal, daylighting, and environmentally friendly products and systems. Make facility users part of the solution, and get them engaged in the process. Consider how you can communicate effectively with teachers and students. Get them involved with experts such as planners, architects and construction managers, and provide a holistic knowledge of sustainability via assemblies, class projects, contests and inner-campus television programming.

2. Develop buy-in with parents. Help parents understand the enhanced value and health benefits that can occur through integrated, responsible, sustainable solutions. Educate them through PTA meetings, handouts, new-student orientations and Web updates. Parents need to see how environmental solutions affect their children’s education in school and at home.

3. Use new furnishings and building finishes that have low or no VOCs (volatile organic compounds). It is becoming common to consider the amounts of VOC in paint, flooring, carpeting, adhesives and sealants, but you also should consider the VOC levels in furniture, fixtures and equipment. A wide array of no- or low-VOC products—including desks and chairs—increasingly are available at competitive prices. Many also incorporate recycled content and are made with future recyclability in mind.

4. Electric audits of lighting, IT and other systems. Some energy providers offer an electric lighting audit as part of an energy-reduction strategy. Some even provide financial incentives for converting existing lighting to energy-efficient lighting. A lighting survey of lighting levels, fixtures and lamps supported by economic analysis will provide the basis for energy-saving changes and lighting improvements that can improve the bottom line while reducing a building’s carbon footprint.

Dining facilities often have the highest potential for increased savings. Assessment of lighting levels and light quality relative to the visual task being performed is important. Overlighted areas waste energy, and inadequate or poor-quality light may reduce employee and student productivity. Time clocks, and occupancy and photosensors can reduce unneeded lighting in unoccupied or daylighted spaces.

5. Consider glare and thermal performance in window selection. In recent years, technological advances have enhanced the thermal and daylighting performance of windows. These technologies include better edge-sealing techniques, improved framing materials, low-emissivity, tinting, and solar-control coatings, low-conductance gas fills and edge spacers. These advances should be used to provide views and optimize building performance. Window films can improve the performance of existing windows.

6. Reduce water use. Annual water consumption can be reduced by up to 50 percent by using low-flow toilets, urinals, sinks and showers, and tankless water-heating systems. But don’t stop inside the building; consider what you can do throughout the grounds. Consider adding retention basins to retain stormwater and replenish groundwater, and remember to use native plant species that do not need irrigation.

7. Evaluate heating, ventilating and air-conditioning (HVAC) systems. HVAC system operation or upgrades play a critical role in reducing energy consumption and costs over the life of facilities. It’s important to monitor and evaluate your system’s performance to be certain it runs at its optimal level. Also, monitor the CO2 levels to be certain that air quality is at a level that is healthful for students and staff. Once a system is installed, preventive maintenance likely is the most important consideration. Simple behaviors like changing filters regularly can translate to significant energy savings. Continuing HVAC education for maintenance personnel is a wise investment to lower the need for expensive outside technicians and to keep systems fine-tuned and running at optimal levels.

8. Establish critical baselines and measure performance. Establish a baseline for existing energy and water use, and then set targets for improvement. Over time, measure performance and savings against these targets. Assign one person to collect and monitor data to evaluate facility performance. If system inefficiencies are discovered, make adjustments. Evaluating the updated facility before and after can ensure you are receiving the anticipated economic benefits.

9. Let your neighbors serve you. When schools buy products and services from local businesses, they have a positive effect on the environment. This reduces the energy needed for transportation, keeps dollars within the local economy, and develops stronger relationships within the community.

On one recent project near St. Paul, Minn., a school district specified a local wood window manufacturer that developed a new glass and used FSC (Forest Stewardship Council) wood for its commercial window product lines. The district’s choice was a boon to the local economy and helped a business achieve a new product offering, which ranks among the most sustainable wood windows on the market.

10. Be clean and green. Educate facilities staff on how cleaning products can affect the health and welfare of facility users. New York state school districts now are required to reduce the exposure of children and school personnel to harmful cleaning substances. As a result, every public school in the state is cleaned with environmentally preferable products. Establishing a program like this could build community respect and appreciation as you care for the needs of students and staff.

Hoffman is president of Hoffman LLC, a Wisconsin-based architectural and construction-management firm. He can be reached at phoffman@hoffman.net.