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Green building and smart lighting solutions for colleges and universities

It’s the start of a new semester, and everywhere sleepy college campuses are awakening from their winter break slumber. From study halls to lecture halls, students and faculty are flocking to donor-named buildings armed with new schedules and new syllabi.

Colleges and universities nurture growing minds, and in many cases, they illustrate a growing trend in green building. The Eaton’s Lighting Division team spoke with Jeanne Mercer-Ballard, associate professor of interior design at Appalachian State University in Boone, North Carolina, to learn more about green building on college campuses and the role lighting plays.

What is a green building?

Historically, green building has been presented as a way to increase energy efficiency. But these days, the environment is not the only beneficiary of green building practices.

“The focus on green building has shifted over the years to be more inclusive,” Mercer-Ballard said. “Now, going green also means thinking about how decisions directly impact the building’s inhabitants, not just the natural environment. Indoor air quality, building materials used, lighting solutions and outdoor views are all important considerations.”

Today, many builders are incorporating green building considerations such as:

  • LED lighting that emits less heat than alternatives, keeping buildings cooler and energy costs lower
  • Living or vegetative green roofing alternatives as a solution to the heat island effect
  • Low VOC paints that drastically limit harmful or irritating emissions and enhance indoor air quality
  • Recycled building materials or materials made from renewable resources that lower a project’s carbon footprint and reduce landfill waste
  • Local materials, which require less energy for transport
  • Low-flow plumbing fixtures that conserve water usage

Why is green building a trend on college campuses?

Green building is a major focus on many college campuses.

“All new buildings on the Appalachian State University campus are required to meet LEED Silver certification,” Mercer-Ballard said. “Students and faculty spend 80 to 90 percent of their time inside buildings, so it’s important to provide a quality experience.”

By implementing energy savings improvements including fume hood replacements, HVAC efficiencies and lighting retrofits, Appalachian State has made a commitment to building green; today, the campus includes nine buildings that have earned LEED Silver certification.

What are lighting solutions for campuses committed to green facilities?

Lighting has a huge impact on students, faculty and staff. With modern lighting technology and thoughtful lighting design, college campuses can continue to be a dynamic and effective environment for students to learn and live.

A growing trend in newer buildings is increased daylight, which can have a dramatic effect on performance and productivity. On the Appalachian State campus, for example, many students hit the books in a solarium, where floor-to-ceiling windows and tranquil water features help provide a bright yet calming study spot.

Prioritizing lighting in building design, including proper light sources, levels and color temperatures, also supports the natural circadian rhythm. In addition, modern LED technology can help regulate facility temperature, lower lighting fixture count and reduce the need for overhead lighting.

“Over-lighting a space can cause distractions,” Mercer-Ballard said. “At Appalachian State, LEDs emit bright, ample, task-appropriate light to help our students stay on track.”

Lighting controls also play an important part on campuses committed to green building. They save energy but also provide just the right amount of light for everything from lecture halls to library carrels.

“For me, lighting controls are a no-brainer. They save money, save electricity, allow more control over light levels and are responsive to occupant needs or available daylight,” Mercer-Ballard said. “My office has dual controls. That means that with one switch, I can turn off half the lights in my fixtures to reduce the light level, save energy and cool the space.”

LEDs and lighting controls can have a dramatic impact on everyday life and enhance student and faculty experiences.

“We’re getting a better grip on green building concepts and are considering human behavior in our planning,” Mercer-Ballard said. “I’m excited about current and future possibilities for our campus community."

(Photo by Marie Freeman and courtesy of Appalachian State University)