LEED Lab in action: University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

Published on: 
2 Apr 2015
Kate Nelson

Making the invisible, visible… and valuable.

The view from here is good. After five plus years in the stacks of facility plans surrounded by crisis-driven tradesmen and women, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (UWM) Office of Sustainability emerged out of the secret right of passage of mechanical rooms and loading docks. The transition to a central campus home came after a successful Facility Services collaboration that reduced campus energy usage by 27% per gross square foot, a campus-wide green cleaning program, and an entirely revamped surplus store amongst many other sustainability driven facility initiatives.

In the course of establishing our new home-base, as a welcome guest in the School of Architecture and Urban Planning, we not only discovered a new, sunny view of the courtyard, but we also found ourselves right across the hallway from an Allen Ginsberg-esque engineer, Professor Mike Utzinger.

The coalescence of sustainable operations and curriculum deepened.

We had the data, Professor Utzinger had the students in ecological building design. What would be the next step?

At the same time as our move, we had also recently completed a cross-campus sustainability evaluation through the AASHE STARS program. Professor Utzinger and his students began with the UWM Office of Sustainability by analyzing a student’s footprint and by visualizing the spatial impact of our greenhouse gas inventory.

But as we dug deeper into the data and evaluation of a sustainable campus, we paused to look around at the lay of the land to see how we might best capture the extent of sustainable facilities that would pair well with an academic mission.

Along came USGBC’s LEED Lab.

Last fall, Professor Utzinger’s class got underway. Students broke off into groups by LEED categories and dissected the data required and reviewed where UWM has already made strides. We struggled with the best scope for a university that is strewn throughout the city. We recorded outdoor lamp wattages, collected an inventory of natural areas, and crisscrossed our way through multiple building mechanical rooms, ultimately evaluating four buildings for their registration for LEED EB: O&M.

If we were to ultimately find the value in sustainable operations assessment, we had to dig deeper. UW-Milwaukee’s LEED Lab had something different. A professor well versed in building performance long before LEED, who tugs on his grey beard as he reminisces about the early solar labs of the 1970’s and 80’s, who has a fresh intrigue as well as a track record of designing carbon neutral buildings. He laid out for the class his own well-versed methods in building evaluation that model building energy flows and emissions generated by area and occupancy. The second level of his program researches in further detail the heat transfer of a building and the variables of ventilation and its impact on indoor air quality. By drilling down further, LEED EB: O&M is still the stage on which our selected buildings are set, but Professor Utzinger and the campus collaboration ask the valuable questions unique to building challenges.

Many times sustainability initiatives emphasize the absence of something, either energy, waste or water. The LEED Lab at UWM makes those initiatives visible and valuable.  Meanwhile, we’ll continue to look out over our campus courtyard and envision what’s next for our living laboratory right at our front door. 

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.

Do you know of a higher ed institution that would be a great fit for LEED Lab? To learn more visit LEED Lab. Under “How” the Welcome Packet and LEED Lab Timing Chart are available for download. Complete this form to express interest.