Extremely Green—Designing Living Buildings

December 7, 2015

By Emma Brewer As an engineering student, I’m excited about the growing field of green infrastructure. It is a fairly new industry with innovative advancements in technology that are changing the built environment to coexist with the natural environment rather than damage it. Since it is a growing field, it is also something engineers need to pay attention to and prepare for. Green building already has a huge impact on the environment we live in. Since buildings account for almost 40 percent of the total energy use in the United States, creating more buildings that are more energy efficient will substantially improve quality of life and create economic benefits in addition to environmental benefits. Not only is sustainable building vital for the state of our environment, it is also important to facilitate learning through these types of buildings and infrastructure. Many of the existing green buildings are centered on education, research, and human interaction with the building itself, like at the Syracuse Center of Excellence. One green infrastructure initiative, the Living Building Challenge, aims to break all barriers associated with everyday infrastructure—going beyond the requirements of all other green building certifications, such as LEED. The Challenge was launched in 2006 and since then, only 21 projects have achieved some level of certification. Only five of those have achieved full certification. Creating structures that pass the Challenge’s rigorous certification process is changing the world we live in. The main challenge in planning a living building is figuring out how to use zero net water and zero net energy. This means that whatever energy and water the building consumes, it also has to create and output. The buildings that are certified by the Living Building Challenge capture and treat their own wastewater, generate energy through clean renewable resources, and use appropriately sourced, non-toxic materials. These projects can be considered the “greenest projects” because of the amount of environmental awareness that is taken into consideration. Before being fully certified by the Living Building Challenge, the building must be in operation for one year, the operation of the building rather than the modeled or anticipated performance is taken into consideration, and it must meet the seven performance categories, which they call “petals.” These include place, water, energy, health and happiness, materials, equity, and beauty. Each of these categories focuses on what the building is doing to improve the environment around it as well as human well-being. In each category, there are subcategories called imperatives that further focus on specifics of each petal. Syracuse University boasts green infrastructure of its own. Ernie Davis Residence Hall received the LEED Gold Certification and the Green Data Center, located roughly a mile away from campus, is one of the greenest computer centers in operation. The City of Syracuse is also no stranger to sustainability practices. Syracuse was been recognized by the EPA as one of the top ten leaders in green infrastructure in 2011. So should Syracuse take its commitment to green infrastructure to the next level by participating in the Living Building Challenge? I believe so. Although it would be a costly project, the environmental and educational benefits outweigh the costs. Eventually it could be a possibility for the University or even the city to develop a sustainable building of this degree, adding to Syracuse’s own green infrastructure and further positioning us as a leader in a greener future. ___________________________________________ Emma Brewer ’17 is a civil engineering major with a minor in geography. Within the College, she is a member of the American Society of Civil Engineers and a Pathfinder for first-year students. She is also involved with the SU Club Ski Team and a member of Alpha Gamma Delta Sorority. Initially, Brewer chose to become a civil engineering major because of her interest in green buildings and infrastructure, but over the past few years that interest has broadened to include planning and development of sites, especially in urban areas. In the near future she hopes to secure an internship for summer 2016 to gain experience within her field. Her passions outside of engineering include playing soccer, hiking, watching the Mets, and skiing.