By Ellen Berry

College students may still have to burn the midnight oil, but many of their classrooms, libraries, residence halls, laboratories, student centers, and stadiums are healthier, more efficient environments.

Over the last year, approximately 20 higher-education buildings in the US were certified as LEED Platinum - the highest level of green building recognized by the LEED international benchmark. In addition to being built with environmentally-responsible materials and practices, these projects are inspiring in their design, innovation, and thought leadership.

Significance of LEED Certification

Established by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), the Leadership in Energy Efficiency and Development (LEED) is a program for certifying new construction and renovation of residential and commercial buildings in 20 countries. There are five levels of certification: Certified, Bronze, Silver, Gold, and Platinum.

In order to be certified, projects must meet standards for sustainability in design and construction. Negative impacts on the environment and its inhabitants must be reduced or eliminated through:

  • Conscientious site planning and design
  • Efficient use of energy sources such as sunlight, wind, and water
  • Use of renewable materials and resources
  • Quality of indoor environments

Higher-Education Platinum Buildings in 2011

More than 3000 non-residential buildings in 42 countries were certified by LEED in 2011, 192 of them in 15 countries as platinum (data available are current through November 2011 from the Green Building Certification Institute; only projects where the primary contact person gave consent were included).

Of platinum certified commercial buildings, 148 of those were in the US. Approximately 20 platinum buildings were associated with higher education campuses, including:

Blackfeet Community College, Math / Science building - Browning, MT

  • The first tribal building in the US to be awarded LEED platinum, the 13,000-square-foot South Wind Lodge was also the first education building in Montana to be platinum certified
  • Natural light is maximized with insulating glass and translucent panel skylights covered by blinds that are activated by light sensors
  • Incorporating the tradition of Blackfeet tepee poles, an overhang shades the exterior in the summer

Photo Credit: Concordia University - Wisconsin

Concordia University - Wisconsin, Center for Environmental Stewardship - Mequon, WI

  • The CCES was the second Wisconsin higher education building to be designated LEED Platinum
  • The facility uses geothermal heating and cooling, and three forms of solar energy: passive energy conservation, photovoltaic, and thermal for hot water

Florida Atlantic University, Engineering & Computer Science building - Boca Raton, FL

  • FAU’s five-story Engineering and Computer Science building was the first in Florida to be awarded LEED-Platinum certification
  • Chilled beam technology was used to cut down on energy usage by mechanical systems
  • Heat gain from the data center’s computer servers and UPS is captured with heat exchangers
  • 90 percent of the building’s occupied rooms are lighted naturally

Harvard University B1 Annex, Northwest Labs, SEAS - Cambridge, MA

  • One of two Harvard buildings to be certified LEED Platinum in 2011, the subterranean B1 Annex was created by converting a section of a four-level parking garage
  • Acoustic treatments were used to mitigate noise and vibration of HVAC equipment
  • Skylights bring natural light to some of the common spaces in the underground facility
  • The second Harvard facility to be platinum certified was Vlassak Lab, SEAS

Hocking College, Energy Institute - Logan, OH

  • The first LEED Platinum-certified educational building in Ohio, the Hocking College Energy Institute uses less than half the energy of conventional buildings that are similar in size and purpose, and was built for the same cost
  • Native vegetation covers a 4,000-square-foot roof, reducing stormwater runoff; wetland retention ponds and bioswales are used to retain runoff for on-site use
  • The facility provides a refueling station for alternative energy vehicles

Hudson Valley Community College, TEC-SMART - Malta, NY

  • Hudson Valley’s Training and Education Center for Semiconductor Manufacturing and Alternative and Renewable Technologies (TEC-SMART) contains classrooms and laboratories used to train students in the manufacturing and implementation of semiconductors and environmentally-responsible technologies
  • HVCC was the first community college in New York State to achieve LEED Platinum certification

Lubbock Christian University, Welcome Center - Lubbock, TX

  • The Cardwell Welcome Center has an all-glass rotunda with double-paned glass windows containing argon and a transparent, reflective film that are three times more efficient than traditional commercial windows
  • A lake was enlarged to serve as a heat sink for ground-source HVAC heat pumps, which use the refrigerant R 410A instead of Freon; the lake also helps retain campus stormwater runoff for reuse

Photo Credit: New York School of Interior Design

New York School of Interior Design, Graduate Center - New York, NY

  • The 40,000-square-foot Graduate Center was designed to remove barriers to creativity and encourage interaction between faculty and students
  • Floor-to-ceiling windows and daylight-harvesting technology maximize sun energy
  • A water-cooled HVAC system and electrical usage sub-metering help modulate and monitor energy consumption

Oregon State University, Energy Center - Corvallis, OR

  • The OSU Energy Center, which replaced a 90-year-old heat plant, was the first platinum-rated power facility in the US
  • The combined use of heating and electricity, called cogeneration, allows the OSU campus to generate nearly half of its electrical needs on site; the university expects to save approximately $650,000 per year in energy costs

Portland State University, Lincoln Hall - Portland, OR

  • Lincoln Hall is the seventh LEED certified building on the PSU campus
  • The renovation of the 100-year-old building addressed seismic vulnerabilities and old hazardous materials like asbestos
  • Solar panels and double-paned windows make use of sunlight

Richland College, Sabine Hall science building - Dallas, TX

  • A 57,000-gallon cistern under the 118,000-square-foot Sabine Hall collects roof runoff, rainwater, and building condensate for use in toilet operation and landscape irrigation
  • To reduce cooling costs in summer temperatures, the roof is covered with white reflective material, a green roof terrace, and native plants on walls

University of Montana, Payne Family Native American Center - Missoula, MT

  • At the time of its completion in 2010, UM’s Payne Family Native American Center was the first building on campus to achieve LEED-Platinum certification, and the first of its kind on any university campus in the US
  • During construction, only one tree was removed and later salvaged
  • 12 poles that represent Montana’s 12 tribes were dredged from the Blackfoot River and encircle a gathering area

University of California - Santa Barbara, Tipton Meeting House - Santa Ynez, CA

  • UCSB’s Tipton Meeting House is a 3,000 square foot visitor center for Santa Barbara’s Sedgwick Natural Reserve. The building uses 60 percent less energy than does a traditional building
  • Natural, recycled, and local materials were used with minimal impact on the land
  • Sustainable design features systems to harvest the sunlight, wind and rain, which provide natural heating and cooling

University of California - Davis, Graduate School of Management, Maurice J. Gallagher, Jr. Hall - Davis, CA

  • The most recent recipient of platinum certification, Maurice J. Gallagher, Jr. Hall and the adjacent conference center was the third UC Davis project to achieve this distinction
  • Other LEED-platinum campus buildings are the Robert Mondavi Institute for Wine and Food Science, which was the first winery, brewery, and food-processing complex on the planet to go platinum, and the Tahoe Environmental Research Center in Incline Village, NV

University of North Texas, Stadium Complex - Denton, TX

  • UNT’s newly constructed football complex uses 25 percent less energy and 52 percent less water than a conventional stadium, and its 3 wind turbines make it the first college stadium to produce renewable energy on site
  • Native landscaping was preserved or restored on over 50 percent of the facility’s site: permeable pavers were used to reduce runoff and minimize heat island effect

University of Texas at Dallas, Student Services building - Dallas, TX

  • The Student Services building at UT - Dallas earned the 2011 Innovation in Green Building Award from the USGBC’s Center for Green Schools, and came in $1.1 million under budget
  • The lighting system adjusts itself to the amount of available sunlight, and 93 percent of occupied spaces have outside views
  • Exterior terra-cotta shades provide energy-efficient cooling when the temperature rises

University of Wisconsin, Madison School of Education - Madison, WI

  • A renovated 111-year-old building, the Madison School of Education's facility was the first state-owned building to receive an Energy Star rating, and the first in the Midwest to use an active chilled beam system for cooling and ventilation
  • 77 percent of the building’s core and shell was reused, and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood was used for 85 percent of new wood supplies

University of Virginia at Wise, Science Center - Wise, VA

  • Science buildings typically have the need for increased ventilation, and therefore traditionally consume more energy than other academic buildings. The Science Center at UVa-Wise was renovated to use alternative energy sources including on-site energy from 112 solar panels, reducing modeled energy usage by 26 percent
  • The building is projected to conserve 52,273 gallons of water per year - a usage reduction of 52 percent - through the installation of low-flow faucets, dual flush toilets, and waterless urinals

Western Oregon University, Ackerman Hall - Monmouth, OR

  • Ackerman Hall was the first newly-constructed residence hall of large-scale in the US to be awarded LEED-Platinum certification
  • Heating ducts heat both air and water
  • An outdoor courtyard's surface is covered with a material made from recycled glass to help water filter down into the soil below

For additional information on green campus projects, sustainability profiles for many US and Canadian colleges are available on

Related posts: LEEDNot just a pretty plaque, and certainly not perfect

Ellen Berry has been writing professionally for more than 15 years, and is currently a freelance writer for Her previous articles have included many pieces focused on colleges, real estate, and optimizing work environments. Ellen studied creative nonfiction writing while earning her BA degree in Sociology from Colorado State University. She worked as a freelance journalist for the Wilmington News Journal in Delaware. She now lives in Winston-Salem, NC, and in her free time serves as vice president of the non-profit organization In Need of Diagnosis.