By Taylor Lockman, Clementine Powell, Cole Hyatt, Tori Greenen, and Brian Jones
Nestled on the edge of UC Santa Barbara’s picturesque campus, perched on a bluff above the Pacific Ocean, is Bren Hall, a four-story building that, from the right angle, resembles a concrete honeycomb. Those who have toured Bren Hall know that sustainability at the Bren School goes beyond academics in the classroom. Built in 2002, Bren Hall was the first LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified building on UCSB’s campus and the first ever laboratory facility in the country to receive LEED-Platinum, the highest possible certification.
LEED is the standard-bearer for sustainable buildings in the US. The US Green Building Council (USGBC) creates the LEED criteria, updating their reference guides regularly to reflect developments and innovation in the green building industry. LEED standards address numerous areas of building performance, including energy and water use, choice of building materials and ongoing sourcing, access to alternative transportation, and occupant comfort.
The LEED process does not end with certification when a building is completed. To ensure that buildings maintain their performance, and keep up to date with the latest innovations, USGBC requires buildings be reevaluated periodically to retain their certification. This year, an interdisciplinary group of students from UCSB’s Environmental Studies department and the Bren School teamed up in a hands-on LEED Laboratory course, led by Bren alumni Brandon Kaysen (‘16), to recertify Bren Hall.
“As a Gaucho, it is an honor and a privilege to have created and now to teach the LEED Lab course at UCSB,” Kaysen said. “I was gifted the opportunity to explore and work on green building projects while I was an undergrad, and now having over 5 years of project management experience, it means the world to me to be able to give back to the students at UCSB and help improve campus sustainability.”
Under Kaysen’s guidance and mentoring, students immersed themselves in green building strategies, and learned about the LEED certification process over the course of three quarters. Working in small teams, students tackled the many credit categories in which a building can earn points that ultimately contribute to the building’s LEED certification.
Because energy use is a major contributor to a building’s environmental footprint, LEED focuses heavily on energy efficiency. With help from Bren Hall’s Building Manager, Sage Davis, and UCSB’s Energy Manager, Jordan Sager, students conducted an ASHRAE Level 2 energy audit. The audit looked at major building systems, like heating, ventilation and air conditioning (HVAC), and lighting, and identified ways to improve energy efficiency. Some of the suggested improvements come at no cost, such as adjusting temperature setpoints during unoccupied hours. Others, like installing highly efficient LED lights and additional air quality sensors, require significant upfront investment, and don’t pay for themselves until years down the road.
Another aspect of environmentally friendly building operations is covered in the LEED credit category Green Cleaning. To earn credits from this category, students conducted a Green Cleaning Effectiveness Audit, to ensure that Bren Hall is adhering to UCSB’s “Low Environmental Impact Cleaning Policy”. The results of the audit were encouraging, with the building scoring well within the allowed range stipulated in the LEED guidelines
The primary function of a building like Bren Hall is to provide a workspace that is conducive to occupant comfort and productivity. With this in mind, students conducted an occupant comfort survey for the Indoor Environmental Quality credit category. Those who responded to the survey expressed concerns about excessive noise, as well as discomfort on hot summer days in the office wing, which is naturally ventilated. Bren staff are now pursuing a project to install window glazing in the hopes of alleviating the excess heat and allowing for closed doors, which will help improve noise control and privacy. These steps, taken as a direct result of the survey responses, are just one example of LEED’s goal to contribute to the ongoing improvement of green buildings.
A Bright Future
Now in its 3rd year of being offered, the LEED lab course continues to be an invaluable experience for everyone involved.
“Having graduated from the Bren School, the certification of Bren Hall under LEED version 4 is something that I’ve dreamed of since coming back to Santa Barbara,” Kaysen remarked. “This year’s project pursued 95 out of a total 110 points. With only 80 points required for LEED Platinum Certification, our initial submission is evidence that the quality of Bren Hall is extraordinary and the building was designed and operated as intended—to be a beacon for sustainable buildings around the world.”
The LEED lab course is also an important component of the Bren School’s mission to help train the next generation of environmental leaders. For the students, recertification of Bren Hall is only the beginning of their work in sustainability. With support from UCSB’s The Green Initiative Fund (TGIF), many of them will go on to earn LEED Green Associate accreditation, the next step for budding green building professionals. Kaysen is optimistic about the role these students can play in building a more sustainable future: “I hope that the LEED Lab class, this project, and UCSB as a whole serve as a case study for how sustainability, green building, and student involvement can help us create the communities – and the world – that we want to live in.”