Going green

Chico State University leads energy-minded CSU with first certified ‘green’ building

WHEN THEY BUILD IT Annie Sherman, Associated Students commissioner of environmental affairs, is excited that Chico State is the first campus to register a building to be certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. The Student Services Building will be erected at Second and Hazel streets.

WHEN THEY BUILD IT Annie Sherman, Associated Students commissioner of environmental affairs, is excited that Chico State is the first campus to register a building to be certified by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program. The Student Services Building will be erected at Second and Hazel streets.

Photo By Tom Angel

More green:
To get a building LEED-certified, the contractor must submit a fee to the U.S. Green Building Council. At 120,000 square feet, the new Student Services Building would cost about $2,400 to certify.

When it opens in summer 2006, the new Student Services Building at Chico State University probably won’t look a lot different from any other new structure. But the way it’s built will make a huge difference to the environment.

The building, to be located on Second and Hazel streets at the former site of Sutter Hall, is the first campus project to be registered by the California State University system as a “green” building.

That means the $34 million project will follow guidelines set by the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, a part of the U.S. Green Building Council. LEED-certified buildings use fewer raw materials, use water efficiently, employ renewable energy, match landscaping to the surrounding ecosystem and more. The 120,000-square-foot Student Services Building, to be built by Turner Construction of New York, will even include hypoallergenic carpet glues and wall paints.

“We want to have buildings that are as smart as the people inside of them,” said Mark Stemen, a Chico State professor and environmental advocate who has called on the campus to become climate-neutral—running on the power of the sun—by 2020.

It may cost 5 percent more to build green than conventionally, Stemen said, but that money would easily be repaid by the long-term savings in energy and other costs.

The university’s Faculty Senate agreed in May 2003 and unanimously voted to support LEED standards, as well as solar, wind or fuel cell power when possible, in all new buildings or renovations on campus. The resolution hammered home the Talloires Declaration of 1990, in which administrators agreed that high education should take the lead in sustainable building.

While Chico State may be leading the way, the entire CSU is on board with the new, green way of thinking. The University of California system already has six registered green buildings, and U.C. Merced is planned to be entirely LEED-certified. The CSU was not to be outdone.

With a little push from some student activists, the California State University system has been examining cutting-edge methods for energy conservation and clean-energy use.

The CSU Board of Trustees voted unanimously in May 2004 to utilize cleaner energy sources by agreeing to research what it would take to create a systemwide clean-energy policy.

“Universities and college systems across California are making real commitments to clean energy,” said Matt Ewing, a campaigner for Greenpeace, a California State Student Association organization not affiliated with the widely known worldwide environmental organization. “Cal State needs to do the same.”

Greenpeace was the driving force behind ReNew CSU, the six-month campaign that prompted the trustees’ decision, as well as a major player in getting the University of California system to change its approach to energy use.

Thanks to Greenpeace, UC campuses have initiated a policy with specific mandates, such as requiring that 10 percent of the universities’ energy come from clean or renewable sources.

The organization, along with concerned students in the CSU system, urged Chancellor Charles Reed, through petitions and letters, to support the clean-energy standards proposed for the CSUs.

The campaign was aimed at convincing the CSUs to change the minimum standards of making buildings more environmentally friendly.

According to A.S. Commissioner of Environmental Affairs Annie Sherman, these standards include adding solar panels and encouraging energy reduction in pre-existing buildings and using more sustainable wood products, such as ash and bamboo, and creating more natural-light sources in new buildings.

Studies have shown that students do better when there is more natural light in the room as opposed to artificial light, Sherman said.

The proposal also suggests supporting local businesses whenever possible.

“The plan not only benefits the environment, but people as well,” Sherman said.

Other benefits of solar energy include decreasing greenhouse emissions, which would help slow global warming and create thousands of new jobs for installation and maintenance of the system.

Although research for the proposal may show that the initial cost of these changes is significant, that startup cost can also be considered an investment that will eventually save the university money, said Greenpeace campaigner Maureen Cane.

“With a huge university system like the CSU, it makes sense to make the investment,” Cane said. “Universities need to be the leaders in this.”

While it makes sense on paper—the schools invest some upfront money to save in the long run and at the same time help the environment—where does the seed money come from?

Student fees are spiking, faculty positions are being condensed, and the funds are just not there.

CSU building-project funding has to be pre-approved in bond measures passed by the voters of California, explained Kathleen Kaiser, a CSU trustee and Chico State sociology professor. Proposition 47, which passed in 2002, got Chico State on the waiting list for several projects, including the since-approved Student Services Building.

At Chico State, students have also pressed for going green, as in 2003 they approved an advisory measure urging the Bell Memorial Union to switch to a renewable energy source. Also, if the idea of a recreation center on campus is resurrected, students will likely advocate that it be built green as well.

Stemen said that having green buildings on campus goes beyond the immediate effect to the environment. When students and other community members see LEED-certified buildings or other energy savings measures on campus, it’s a golden opportunity to teach them about their ecosystem.

—Devanie Angel contributed to this story.