LEED Lab in action: Catholic University's LEED Lab Legacy

Published on: 
9 Apr 2015
Patricia Andrasik

In the heart of Washington, D.C., the Catholic University of America (CUA) is the proving ground for a new approach to multidisciplinary education. Since the university has no designated sustainability office or officer, faculty developed a course which would provide the platform for environmental literacy among all university parties. It was a necessary transformation; a bottom-up-approach where students became the catalysts for change, proliferated by faculty and staff as a new approach to integrative learning, empowered by a desire to employ creative methods of education while promulgating a greater awareness of energy, water conservation and other sustainability measures on campus.

The pilot

As a means of training student architects to meet current market needs in their profession while employing multiple synergistic effects of sustainability within the university, CUA partnered with USGBC and the Green Building Certification Institute (GBCI) in 2011 to create a pilot laboratory course designed to educate students on the integration of sustainability throughout the building life cycle, thus establishing a method to apply research to practice. We named this course LEED Lab.

At its very core, LEED Lab was designed to achieve four overarching goals: provide a platform for direct student collaboration with many organizations; a prerequisite experience for LEED Green Associate or LEED AP examination; a method of engaging national building performance benchmarking codes through a systematic evaluation of campus facilities; and a mechanism for students to drive sustainability efforts on campus.

 CUA facilities personnel explain to students how to test the chemical composition of boiler water. 

LEED Lab enabled members of the faculty and administration from the School of Architecture and the University’s division of Facilities, Maintenance and Operations to employ the process of LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance certification for dynamic and ongoing facility analysis. We recognized that if students could organize, serve as facilitators, and educate university operations staff members about measures that embrace greater sustainability goals, their work would quantify, qualify and raise awareness of both current undocumented sustainable accomplishments on campus, along with inefficiencies. The success of the pilot was evidenced in our first building evaluation, The Crough Center for Architectural Studies (Crough).

First certification

A legacy of student-driven performance evaluation was documented at Crough as each LEED Lab semester built upon the last; students used the previous class’ work towards documentation, tracking and metering until final submission was met. Many new tools and procedures were introduced to students, who then applied their skills simultaneously within the context of the occupied building. 

Student learns how to use an anemometer to measure outside air flow into the air handling unit which would contribute towards the accomplishment of the indoor air quality prerequisite. 

One class oversaw the installation of electrical, irrigation, steam, and water tracking devices in the building, while all classes learned how to access those metrics, measure environmental conditions, and use simple logical solutions to abate excess environmental impacts. Overall, students oversaw a multitude of accomplishments including a 25% energy and 10% water reduction, among others. 

The culmination of this work in the summer of 2014 resulted in the world’s first school of architecture to be awarded with official LEED EB:O&M Certification. Lessons learned in directing the first few semesters of LEED Lab were the platform for a new publication called “LEEDlab; A Model for Sustainable Education” along with serving the future goal of continuing campus implementation.

Prevailing practice

The role of LEED Lab at CUA is unique; the quality of scholarly research and analysis of buildings and knowledge gained by our students is more important at our institution over the quantity of buildings certified. Consequently over the years, CUA’s LEED Lab has evolved to attract students from a variety of disciplines. Politics, engineering, facility management and chemistry majors—from undergrads to Ph.D. candidates - have become key players in LEED Lab, in addition to the architectural students who led the pilot, enabling broad-reaching ideas, procedures, and methods of calculations.

This semester we finalized CUA’s procurement, pollution, and recycling guidelines, serving our recycling campaign. Working with the Director of Custodial Services, green cleaning policies and workflow were created to contribute towards a higher effectiveness rating, vetted by occupant surveys. Non-smoking signage designed by our LEED Lab students was implemented as the university standard. Students continued their investigation of water efficient irrigation credits beyond the course to launch a campaign towards the custom design and installation of campus-wide cisterns currently in test-mode.

At our recent eco-charrette, we introduced a plan to manufacture biochar by students in a chemistry course to be used as an actual soil amendment in campus landscaping, and recorded photometrics on our entire campus to assess light trespass.

Student Charlene Dickens describes her plan for calculating exterior light trespass through photometrics and on-site measurement.

The culmination of our work resulted in the creation of an official “Campus Sustainability Tour” which describes our efforts to campus visitors. 

“Working with the students has allowed us to gain an outside perspective that has proven beneficial to evaluate our plans and processes, to rethink some applications” says Chris Vetick, Assistant Director of Grounds and Fleet, “and to put our monitoring efforts into a working document that can be modified as needed and tracked to obtain measurable data.”

Students, faculty and staff discuss innovation in operations by introducing the manufacture of “Bio-Char”  by students in a chemistry class which would be used in future campus landscaping.

LEED Lab’s legacy continues to impel our departmental integration of sustainability goals and university mission for sustainable stewardship. 

LEED Lab is a multidisciplinary immersion course that utilizes the built environment to educate and prepare students to become green building leaders. In the course students assess the performance of existing facilities on campus and chose one building where they will facilitate the LEED for Existing Buildings: Operations & Maintenance (LEED EB:O&M) process with the goal of certifying the facility. At the close of the semester the students are prepared to sit for the LEED EB:O&M professional credential exam. To learn more visit LEED Lab. Under “How” the Welcome Packet and LEED Lab Timing Chart are available for download. To express interest please complete this form.

Learn more about LEED Lab