Resource: College Buildings as Teaching Tools
NextStep website and MnSCN are winding down
The NextStep website and the Minnesota Sustainable Communities Network (MnSCN) are winding down and will no longer function after June 30, 2015. Until then, the website will be accessible, but existing web site content will not be updated nor will new resources or other new content be added to the site. Learn more.

Title: College Buildings as Teaching Tools
Resource type: Case study
Topics: Buildings, Communities, Energy
Keywords: green buildings, green campus, green schools, dormitory
Audience: All
Region: Minnesota Statewide, Outside Minnesota
Summary: Several case studies help to illustrate how campus buildings can demonstrate green building practices.
Content: Northland College in Ashland, Wis., opened a $4.1 million residence hall in fall 1998, representing the college's commitment to apply in-practice what it teaches about developing a sustainable future. The McLean Environmental Living and Learning Center has been billed by the United Nations Environment Programme as "one of the most environmentally advanced residence halls in the world." The 32,400 square foot building uses 50 percent of the energy used by a typical Wisconsin building through energy efficiency measures (including passive solar design and active solar hot water), while generating both wind and photovoltaic energy. The building includes natural, long-wearing linoleum, recycled materials, low-VOC paints and carpeting, as well as native landscaping, 2 greenhouses and two composting waterless toilets. Cedar shakes and structural wood components were grown and milled in the nearby region.

Construction cost was $31,578 per bed, compared to the median cost per bed for student housing of $30,000. Students were involved in the design process involving Hammel-Green-Abrahamson Architects and LHB Engineers and Architects. The 114 housing residents monitor the building energy use and the impact of their life-style decisions. For more information, see: or

The Vermont Law School dedicated Oakes Hall in September 1998, a logical complement to the college's nationally recognized environmental program in law. Superior occupant health and comfort, durability, video conferencing and other distance learning technologies were the cornerstones of the design, which aims to be a place that nurtures those who use it.

The 23,500 square foot classroom building uses composting toilets that reduced overall water consumption on the campus. Construction included natural linoleum, energy efficient heating, cooling and lighting systems, an energy-efficient building envelope, water-based paints and finishes, and non-formaldehyde particleboard for cabinetry and casework. The building uses an enthalpic energy recovery wheel that recovers 80 percent of the heat in the exhaust air while keeping the building from becoming too humid in the summer and too dry in the winter.

The law school completed the project at a cost of $110 per square foot, which is in the range of a typical academic building. For extensive technical details and an explanation of design intent, see:

Oberlin College's Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies , which opened for classes in 2000, purifies its own wastewater, generates more energy than it uses, serves as a living laboratory for students and the community and seeks to be a preeminent model for sustainable architecture. The world-class design team included: William McDonough and Partners; the Rocky Mountain Institute; Living Technologies; and David Orr, director of Oberlin's environmental studies program.

The 13,600 square foot building uses 21 percent of the energy used by an average northern Ohio classroom building, relying on daylighting, operable windows, geothermal heating and cooling, and photovoltaics. Low VOC materials, durable low-maintenance recycled content materials, leased carpeting and certified forest products are being used throughout the building. The landscape includes native plants, orchards and a working garden.

The $6.61 million project also utilizes a natural wastewater treatment system that will naturally treat wastewater on site, supply non-potable greywater for use throughout the building, and serve as a research and teaching tool.

For more information (design philosophy, technical details, etc.) see:

David Orr is also studying how the entire college could become climate neutral (net zero emissions of greenhouse gases) by 2020. In 2009, Orr announced plans for a "green arts district" for the college that would incorporate sustainable design and other features in a 13-acre block owned by the college in the center of town (see

For an online Campus Climate Action Toolkit that helps college campuses to become more climate-friendly, see the Clean Air-Cool Planet web site at

Suggested by: Paul Moss
Added: 11/13/00
Updated: 03/16/11