LEED Lab stories: A way for students to be directly involved with sustainability at UCSB

Published on: 
13 Jun 2016
Sarah Buente

Recently, we announced that the second LEED Lab project has received certification! Led by instructors Cassidy Green and Brandon Kaysen, the University of California, Santa Barbara’s (UCSB) Student Resources Building achieved LEED Gold under LEED v4 Building: Operations and Maintenance (O+M). In a follow-up to our article last week, we continue our discussion with Cassidy and Brandon on the significance of the project’s certification, what they learned by participating in LEED Lab and its future at UCSB.

UCSB has a longstanding commitment to green building practices. What is the significance of this LEED project certification?

Brandon: The Student Resources Building (SRB) was a significant project for a number of reasons. The building was the first LEED v4 O+M project on campus and the first building to get certified in our first year teaching the LEED Lab course. The SRB is a hub for students from all walks to come and study, relax and interact with other students and access critical resources. Aside from the library, there truly is no other space quite like the SRB at UCSB.

Cassidy: This is the first of many LEED projects on the UCSB campus that will be certified by the students. Many sustainability initiatives are developed and put into place by staff or administrators, and this LEED Lab was a tangible way for the students to be directly involved with sustainability efforts on campus.

What was the biggest challenge in involving a student in a LEED project certification, and what advice would you give others interested in offering this experiential learning course?

Brandon: Students are good at understanding the reference guide. Having each student become the “expert” on one or two credits was a great approach, one that I think we will continue. The hard part is getting students engaged with the reference standards and understanding the ASHRAE technical audits. Starting IEQp1 and EAp1 early on is essential, but it is challenging to find the right students (who typically invest more time and energy into these credits than other students).

Aside from the technical credits, getting students engaged with LEED Online is difficult. I started by having them download the offline versions to interact with and then had them upload everything to LEED Online. It is important to get the students engaged with LEED Online early on in the course. Setting up some assignments to get them interacting with LEED Online would be a good way to do this.

Cassidy: The hardest concept the students had to learn wasn't anything nitty-gritty about green building, it was time management. The professional world functions differently than the higher education world. One can't expect to email the person in charge of purchasing, let's say, and set up a meeting for two days later. Most professionals need at least two weeks of advance notice to fit anything into their busy schedule, and it was a lesson many students had to learn the hard way. So with that, the advice I would give to others interested in offering a similar course to LEED Lab is to help the students understand this concept early. That way, they'll understand that when you give them a month to coordinate with people outside the course, it doesn't mean they can expect to complete everything in the fourth week!

What was the biggest success? Any surprises that you didn’t anticipate?

Brandon: Completing certification on a critical building under a new rating system on campus. We had to develop new plans and policies in line with LEED v4 and take on some new review comments that we had not seen before. The students really took this project on and made it their own. It is really important to have an attractive building for LEED Lab, something the students are excited to be a part of.

Having students take and pass the LEED GA exam is a huge win. Seeing students take the material seriously and want to further their career in sustainability is an achievement that we had set out to accomplish from the beginning. The other big success of this class was the publicity assignment. Getting the word out about the class to internal and external media sources was a huge win and has created even more interest about the class.

Cassidy: By and large, the biggest success was the students' enthusiasm. Even though it took past the end of the course to get the building completely certified, the fact that students completed the course ready to go out in the world and earn their LEED Green Associate accreditation or pursue a path in green building was the true measure of the course's success.

As far as surprises, Brandon and I learned a lot about what items should be prioritized in a LEED O+M project timeline. For example, while doing the ventilation measurements during the middle of the performance period, we found out that one of the outside air dampers was broken. It took a while to get repaired, and wouldn't have been as much of an issue if we had started the measurements earlier. So, we learned how to better mitigate surprises in the future via the project timeline.

Now that UCSB has one project certified, what are the future plans for LEED Lab?

Brandon: There is a current building going through the same course format right now. It’s a much older building (San Nicolas Residence Hall) and thus has chosen to go through the version 2009 rating system. Although this project is quite a bit different than the SRB, there are many more opportunities to improve the building this year than there were last year.

Cassidy: It just so happened that the environmental studies department had been talking about incorporating a course about green building into its course offerings, so the LEED Lab was a hit with the department as well as the students. LEED Lab is continuing its second year, and the department plans on finding a way to offer it to students each year.