Higher education institutions are implementing environmentally friendly practices as never before. According to a 2009 survey undertaken by the Sustainable Endowments Institute, a nonprofit organization based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, more than 300 colleges and universities have become greener over the past few years despite tighter budgets and widely fluctuating energy costs. Three-quarters of these schools have adopted green building policies and about 44 percent have at least one LEED-certified building or are in the process of constructing one.

Emory University in suburban Druid Hills outside Atlanta, Georgia, is one of the more forward-looking of these institutions. In 2005, university president James Wagner began the greening of the 600-acre campus by forming a committee to develop an environmental agenda for guiding the institution's future. The following year, Emory opened an Office of Sustainability Initiatives to implement this policy.

The university's long-term goals include reducing campus energy use by 25 percent per square foot and food, materials, and electronic wastes by 65 percent per square foot—all by 2015. Already, the installation of water-saving fixtures and irrigation in accordance with drought restrictions helped to reduce water consumption by 12 percent between 2007 and 2009.

As part of its eco-friendly policy, Emory now requires all new structures on campus to earn a LEED silver rating from the U.S. Green Building Council. So far, the university has achieved LEED certification of 13 buildings on campus—5 gold, 5 silver, and 3 certified, including classroom, administrative, research, and healthcare facilities. In addition, six completed or nearly completed buildings are awaiting LEED certification.

Ayers Saint Gross Architects and Planners of Baltimore helped to boost the sustainability at Emory, beginning in 1998 with a master plan for the campus. The firm updated this strategy in 2005 just as the university began studying ways of becoming greener. Responding to this mandate, the plan called for native plantings and recycling receptacles on campus, and rerouting vehicular traffic away from the university core, among other environmentally sensitive measures.

Ayers Saint Gross has gone on to complete four, eco-friendly buildings at Emory. Each design conveys a distinctive architectural identity through varied types of metal panels and fenestration patterns. At the same time, the buildings' red-tiled roofs and exteriors of stucco and stone harmonize with the historic architecture originally designed by Beaux-Arts architect Henry Hornbostel at the heart of the campus.

These new structures include a mixed-use building housing the university's admissions office, a bookstore, and a café. A green roof is positioned over the parking garage connected to this building. Rainwater is collected in tanks below grade for irrigating the site.

More sophisticated are the rainwater harvesting and graywater recycling systems devised by Ayers Saint Gross for two of three freshman residence halls designed by the firm. These green measures are particularly well suited to residence halls as they capitalize on constant water usage in the buildings through toilets, sinks, showers, and laundry facilities. At the same time, they educate the students as to the merits of sustainable design by making visible the process of collecting and recycling water from inside and outside the residence halls.

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