Elon University, located in central North Carolina, is a liberal arts university with nationally recognized professional programs in business, communications, education, law and health sciences. Since its founding in 1889, Elon has been grounded in a mission to develop global citizens. It is a recognized leader in engaged learning and is consistently honored as one of the nation’s top universities for community service and study abroad. The 620-acre campus is itself a botanical garden, and in late March, Elon received its 25th LEED certification.
Global Residence Hall, LEED NC Silver, one of five buildings in the Global Neighborhood.
In light of this significant achievement, we connected with Elaine Durr, director of sustainability at Elon University, for a Q&A session. Here are her insights into the elements of Elon’s journey with LEED that have made the school so successful.
Elaine, can you tell us a bit about the most recent LEED-certified building on Elon’s campus?
ED: Elon’s most recent LEED-certified buildings are the six buildings in the Global Neighborhood, which together total over 225,000 square feet. Each building received LEED Silver certification. Five of them are residential and house a total of 600 students.
In your opinion, what has been the driving force behind Elon’s pursuit of LEED in so many of the buildings on campus?
ED: Elon completed its first Sustainability Master Plan in 2006-2007, which included a recommendation to use LEED as a guideline for new or renovated facilities. Lindner Hall was the first new facility built after the plan was published and achieved LEED Gold certification. Subsequently, Elon moved forward with a Green Building Policy. The policy states that new construction projects and major renovations consisting of 8,000 or more square feet of conditioned, occupied space will achieve LEED certification. LEED Silver certification or better is the target for each project. Projects less than 8,000 square feet and minor renovations must follow the university’s Sustainability Design Standards at a minimum.
How do the students consume information about sustainability on campus? Are there specific initiatives to raise awareness or encourage certain types of behavior in and around the LEED-certified buildings?
ED: There are many opportunities for students to learn about sustainability on campus.
Incoming students receive information the summer before they enter on Elon’s sustainability initiatives, including the car share and ride share programs, and sustainable packing tips. During their first weekend on campus, they participate in two zero landfill events. There is a Sustainable Living Guide for each residential neighborhood and for those living off campus. The Eco-Reps program, a sustainability peer education program, works with Residence Life to incorporate sustainability into the residential experience. Other opportunities include volunteering or interning with the Office of Sustainability.
Additional opportunities open to all students include the Sustainability Walking Tour and Sustainability Pledge. The tour highlights some of Elon’s sustainability initiatives; and the pledge encourages everyone on campus to participate in sustainability through personal actions, such as reducing food waste and washing clothes in cold water.
The Office of Sustainability also hosts Phoenix Cup, a team-based competition to reduce the campus’ collective footprint over the course of the academic year. In the fall, the focus is energy conservation; and in the spring, the focus is waste reduction.
We also have a detailed Sustainability web site and social media accounts.
Looking ahead, what are you most excited about? Are there more LEED certifications in the pipeline on campus? Are there other sustainability initiatives taking hold?
ED: In the fall, Elon will have a ribbon cutting ceremony for a 15-acre solar farm located at the Loy Farm area of campus. It is expected to generate nearly 3 megawatts of electricity. Loy Farm Solar LLC arranged the project’s funding and is leasing the property from the university for 20 years.
The system will consist of 9,900 photovoltaic panels expected to generate about 4,500 megawatt hours of electricity each year, enough to power 415 homes for a year. This amount of solar energy is the equivalent of removing more than 2,100 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions from the atmosphere or removing more than 450 cars from the road.
The solar farm adds to the rich experiential learning already taking place at Loy Farm. The Elon Environmental Center, which is adjacent to the solar farm site, demonstrates the integration of food and natural systems with the built environment. It is utilized for courses and research and includes a greenhouse, agricultural plots and a responsible architecture studio.
The newest building on Elon’s campus is the Inman Admissions Welcome Center. The design and construction team is undergoing the LEED certification process now and expects to receive LEED Silver certification. Construction recently began on a new School of Communications building, which is registered with a LEED Silver certification target.
Elon recently completed an update to the Sustainability Master Plan focusing on the next 10 years and building upon the three primary goals of the initial plan by:
- Maintaining the goal of carbon neutrality by 2037,
- Enhancing and expanding programs to educate students, faculty and staff about sustainability and
- Continuing identification and implementation of strategies that support sustainable operations.
There are many exciting objectives in the updated plan. One project is to expand the food production capacity of the campus. Elon currently has composting in all of the dining halls and two retail locations. The plan calls for expanding composting efforts, initially as pilot projects in various campus buildings. We also intend to further utilize the campus as a living laboratory for sustainability and to strengthen academic sustainability-related initiatives.
Elon’s sustainability efforts depend upon cross campus collaboration, and I look forward to continuing these partnerships to advance sustainability at Elon.