Sustainability Takes Center Stage

November 15, 2012 · by Steven Baumgartner

How Lynn University improved the energy efficiency of its campus and increased its environmental stewardship.

“We would not have been as well prepared to host a presidential debate without the guidance of our master plan, which will support a sustainable future for our campus long after the candidates have departed.”

— Dr. Kevin Ross, President, Lynn University

After hosting the last of three presidential debates on October 22, the campus of Lynn University can now get back to normal.  But “normal” means something much different to Lynn than to most small American liberal arts schools.

The university has been staging its own debates on a nearly continuous basis to improve the energy efficiency of its campus and increase its environmental stewardship. These debates have paid off. In the four years since the previous presidential election the university has created a unique consensus-based approach called a Sustainability Management Tool, or SMT. This custom framework engaged the educational community and transformed Lynn’s campus into a model for sustainability.

It started with a typical master planning process spearheaded by engineers from Buro Happold and architects and planners from Gensler and was supported by a diverse expert team. What the school did not anticipate was a rich collaborative effort among students, faculty and administration, as well as municipal officials and third party consultants, to make unprecedented innovations in environmental stewardship.

Today, the university is expecting to reduce its annual utility bills by 32 percent for existing buildings. In the first year after construction of a new central energy plant and improvements to existing buildings, energy savings are expected to yield about $650,000 in cost reductions. The energy savings for new buildings will be 30 percent below ASHRAE Standard 90.1-2007.

How did this come about?

The Challenge

Lynn University has been located on a 123-acre campus in Boca Raton, Fla.,  since it was founded in 1962. Like many other universities, by 2008, the school had urgent needs that required immediate attention: an aging infrastructure, unsustainable energy and water consumption, and no clear environmental strategy.

In 2008, Lynn was using approximately 30 percent more energy per square foot than other comparable universities (according to the 2003 Commercial Building Energy Consumption Survey’s Weighted Mean Energy Use Intensities for its climate zone). It paid $1.43 million in annual utility costs, easily Lynn’s largest vendor. One of the school’s best assets is its lush landscaping, but its magnificent grounds are high maintenance and operationally intensive. About 70 percent of its water use alone went towards irrigation – 50 percent more than a typical campus.

The Process

The university’s administration launched a master planning process in 2008 to set the course for a dynamic, growing campus along with a vision for sustainable development. The environmental objectives identified in the master plan by a rich collaboration of stakeholders, facilitated by Buro Happold, shed new light on sustainability, stimulating unprecedented enthusiasm for this goal. The university then retained Buro Happold to aid in the selection of an energy services company to specifically meet the energy and water targets stated in the plan.

In 2010, Buro Happold collaborated with Siemens via their Guaranteed Performance Contract (GPC), which helped further the university’s sustainability goals.  This arrangement guaranteed energy and water use reductions and used these savings to partially offset facility and infrastructure renewal projects. As a result, the savings are helping to fund the construction of a new central energy plant, which is urgently needed. Through an innovative financial arrangement, the GPC also subsidized Lynn’s ongoing sustainability initiatives.

Buro Happold used a bespoke Sustainability Management Tool — a structure, process, and document – that moved the master plan from thought into action.  While many universities have implemented similar strategies (using tools like the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, or STARS) Lynn’s SMT is unique because it brings people and processes together to implement the sustainable objectives of the master plan. It also puts all of the university’s sustainability initiatives in one comprehensive document with measurable and obtainable performance indicators that define the university’s path toward a more sustainable future.

Implementation of the SMT

Over the past three years, the SMT has resulted in action at all scales — from student events on campus to infrastructure upgrades and policy changes by Boca Raton. The success of the SMT yields four drivers that are applicable to any school that is undertaking an ambitious sustainability initiative:

1. Establish a Strong Organizational Structure

As part of the SMT, Lynn established a community-wide sustainability committee in 2010 to promote cross-pollination among students, faculty, administrators and staff, as well as strategic stakeholders from the community and city. Thomas Heffernan, the university’s dean of administration, chaired the committee, demonstrating a top level buy-in from the start. The committee is divided into the five disciplines identified in the master plan: energy, water, landscape/ecology, materials/waste and community/education. Each discipline group sets an agenda and action plan for the upcoming academic year.

All groups include at least one third-party consultant or city official who advises the groups on technical matters, such as civil engineering, ecological wildlife, city codes and waste laws. The SMT’s success relies upon the involvement of everyone within the Lynn community, as well as tight collaboration with outside parties. The diverse perspectives of the group members are critical to its success.

2. Eliminate Boundaries and Think Broadly

Boundaries dictate everything from areas of study to election districts. However, Buro Happold has a saying: “boundaries are fictional.” This is particularly true of campuses, which have constant flows of people, energy, water, materials, transport and data. In this same spirit, the SMT broke down boundaries by working across scales, departments and disciplines in order to provoke intelligent design, assess the impacts of decisions on various scales of the campus and achieve the greatest benefit for all stakeholders. 

For example, by dissolving traditional “town/gown” boundaries, Lynn came up with an innovative solution to save water at the university, as well as in South Florida.  Top university administrators, with support of the water subcommittee of the SMT, partnered with Boca Raton to use its In-City Reclamation Irrigation System (IRIS) water for irrigation, reusing a scarce resource and conserving energy. Lynn was the first school in South Florida to connect to IRIS, which mutually benefitted the university and the city.

The university is also getting approval from the municipality to use IRIS for non-potable water in its new School of Business (currently in design), as well as make-up water to the cooling towers in the new central energy plant. When finished, these will be the first applications in South Florida to connect to the IRIS system for uses other than irrigation.

3. Embrace Partnerships

Two of the major goals of the SMT are better energy efficiency and control of existing buildings and improved energy and water infrastructure. Since Lynn’s central energy plant and most of building systems dated from the early 1960s, building and infrastructure upgrades were badly needed. They also required the greatest financial investment.

The Siemens-Buro Happold team collaborated with the university to meet the master plan’s aggressive energy and water reduction targets. In addition, the innovative financing structure of the GPC even funded additional energy strategies, such as signage, surveys, educational awareness and joint campus/community events. The SMT framework was funded through the GPC, at Buro Happold’s recommendation – the first time that Siemens had ever used this type of arrangement.

Under the GPC, Buro Happold defined energy and carbon benchmarks for the existing facilities, a full-campus energy model, and a life-cycle cost assessment for a new central energy plant. Ultimately, the team created a solution for chilled water generation that included an innovative hybrid heat rejection system that aligned seamlessly with the university’s economic, sustainable and operational objectives.

4.  Expand Discussions

The success of a broad-based sustainability initiative depends upon a university’s ability to expand the discussion beyond the campus. The SMT did exactly that, by creating a conduit for greater dialogue between the university and the local community. It also shifted the conversation from individual needs to a discussion of shared responsibility and mutual assistance. As a result, funding sources became more transparent, partnerships were easier and networks were leveraged to create innovative funding streams.

For example, the Lynn campus is dotted with lakes that are an iconic element of the campus and a big part of its stormwater management system. The master plan identified a more passive and sustainable operational strategy that drastically reduced operational and maintenance costs. In order to implement this plan, the university initiated high-level discussions with Boca Raton, the Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District. These conversations allowed the parties to create a more sustainable lake management plan that benefitted the campus and, ultimately, helped all of the parties involved.

Conclusion

The SMT is a useful tool for a campus-wide sustainability initiative because it does everything from enabling the organization and prioritization of sustainable initiatives to establishing measurable targets and short-term actions. It also integrates sustainable initiatives into all levels of activity including daily operations, student life and awareness, the design of future buildings and even the educational curriculum.

Ultimately, this process enables significant change by aligning stakeholders and building consensus so that all groups feel they are reaping the benefits of sustainable actions.  The changes adopted by Lynn — the natural lake system, the new energy plant, sustainable building design and the use of non-potable water — are as good for the local community as they are for the campus. Even more, they demonstrate how creative thinking can set up a domino effect where strategic sustainable changes extend past the boundaries of a campus to towns, cities, regions and far beyond.

Steven Baumgartner, PE, CEM, HBDP, LEED AP, is an energy engineer with Buro Happold.  He creates strategic energy solutions for properties and campuses for clients throughout the world that bridge multiple scales and make the business case for sustainability.  He teaches at Columbia University and is president of ASHRAE New York.

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