LEED Lab at the University of California, Merced

Published on: 
25 Aug 2016
Mark Maxwell

USGBC Northern California is pleased to present a guest blog by Mark Maxwell, Assistant Director of Construction and LEED Coordinator, and Design and Construction at the University of California, Merced, where he leads their LEED Lab

LEED Lab™ is a post-secondary course that uses the built environment to educate and prepare students to become green building leaders by learning how to reduce the environmental impacts of buildings. In the course, students facilitate the LEED® for Building Operations and Maintenance (LEED O+M) process with the goal of certifying a new facility each year. Completing the LEED Lab course gives students the skills, knowledge and expertise to manage future certifications and other projects in sustainability. Students who attend and pass this course will also be positioned to sit for the professional certification exams to earn their LEED Green Associate (LEED GA) and LEED Accredited Professional (LEED AP) credentials. In addition, this course provides the study guide and practice exams for the LEED Green Associate exam.

At UC Merced, LEED Lab started in the fall of 2015 and allows for a maximum of 15 students under Engineering for Service Learning, bringing together students from all grade levels and disciplines. Each semester has a new group of students, so making a clear hand off of materials and projects timeline from the first semester to the second is crucial for the project’s success.

In the first semester, stakeholders from various departments were identified (purchasing, energy, recycling, custodial, etc.), since students will be collected and gathered data from them. After the students met with the stakeholders, they broke up into three teams, each of which was assigned a credit category or categories. Some categories are much easier than others, so some teams could take on more.

Next, the teams read all the credits in their categories to determine which credits they were going to pursue. They then developed a scorecard for the project of the credits the class was pursing, to come up with the total number of points and certification level they could achieve. I then gave a 15-minute presentation on LEED Online. This presentation explained how to access LEED Online, once they registered with USGBC and could navigate through documenting credits.

Finally, each team was assigned to put together credit summaries for the next semester class, which allowed the team members to have a basic understanding of every credit the team was going to pursue. Each credit summary would have the name of the credit, the intent, possible points, list of implementations, timeline for documentation, the stakeholder and contact information to coordinate with for data collection and other pertinent information to help the team member document the credit.

The second semester teams then read all the credit summaries and decided when the three-month performance period would be so that they could begin to document the credits. Once the performance period started, students began contacting and working with the stakeholders to collect data. Students documented their credits to LEED Online as they were completed.

Measurable benefits from this class include LEED certification for the project, lower operating costs for the building, a more healthy and productive working environment, reduced waste sent to the landfills, energy and water conservation, reductions in greenhouse gas emissions and education of the students and UC Merced community.

Several students with whom I spoke about the class felt they had a broader knowledge of sustainability and the built environment as a result. One student told me that he secured an internship at Frito Lay because of the class. LEED Lab engaged students in many different majors, not just ones who would typically take an engineering class. When I asked several students who were majoring in history, English or economics why they took this class, they told me they wanted to learn more about sustainability.

If you think about it, sustainability touches on everything we do, as well as every major. Not just buildings themselves, but how we operate buildings, our lives and the day-to-day things we do that impact our environment.

If you are interested in volunteering or supporting LEED Lab at UC Merced, please email USGBC Northern California.

Interested in learning more? Attend the “LEED Lab Case Study: Creating a project-based course at the University of California, Merced” virtual presentation on Sept. 21, 2016 at 12:00 p.m. ET. To sign up, please contact Jaime Van Mourik. A recording will also be available for interested parties who are not able to attend.