The Greening of Xavier
n a quiet office in Xavier’s physical plant, Thomas Kearns and Stephen Erwin take a break from a whirlwind round of meetings. The men, principals in the Boston-based design firm Shepley Bulfinch Richardson & Abbott, are completing a two-day visit to campus to discuss plans for Xavier’s new Williams College of Business. The afternoon light filters into the otherwise dark room, carrying with it some color from the trees outside, a fitting underscore for the topic of conversation. While they’re months away from addressing such things as color schemes, Kearns and Erwin agree: Xavier’s future is green.
Once disparaged by many as the province of fringe-dwelling tree-huggers, “green building,” or sustainability, has become mainstream. In these days of soaring fuel costs and an uncertain economy, green suddenly means dollars—and sense. And while a wide range of green initiatives have long existed on a number of levels across campus, for many, the new Williams College of Business building is the first concrete representation of the University’s larger commitment to environmental responsibility.
Yes, Kearns and Erwin agree, the new building may have such “green” features as energy-efficient glass and bamboo flooring. And yes, “you’re going to see energy efficiency in the space between the windows, the walls, the roof and the foundation,” Erwin says.
But, Kearns adds, sustainability transcends any one building and impacts a number of areas on a number of levels. “It’s social, economic and environmental,” he says.
All of which raises the question: What does it mean to be green?
It means saving energy and money, of course. But, Kearns and Erwin say, those savings are often the result of doing what’s practical in the first place. Sustainability is more subtle and far-reaching. It means using space wisely. It means selecting materials manufactured in the region that not only promote local markets but also reduce both shipping costs and fossil fuel. It means educating individuals in areas like saving water, electricity and fossil fuel, or on why it’s OK for them to walk or bike a few extra blocks instead of driving to class. And it means care for the community.
“It’s so connected,” says Patrick Welage, assistant director for peace and justice programs and chair of the University’s environmental subcommittee. “It doesn’t end.”
Perhaps more than anything else, then, green means recognizing the interrelatedness of things. As an example, Erwin points to one of the goals for the new Williams building as introducing as much natural light as possible, which some people would see only in terms of saving energy dollars. “It’s a healthy environment,” he says. “Studies have shown that clean air and daylight reduce the number of times people call in sick. People just feel good about the environment they’re working in.”
It’s also important to note that green, at least in buildings, is quantifiable. Over the past decade, the non-profit U.S. Green Building Council developed LEED, a voluntary, consensus-based national rating system for developing high-performance, sustainable structures. There are four progressive levels of LEED certification: certified, silver, gold and platinum. Plans call for Xavier’s new construction to meet specifications for the silver level.
Yes, sustainability requires more front-end investment, but there are larger issues to consider. The Catholic Church has long staked out a position in support of sustainability.
Pope John Paul II addressed the issue head-on in his 1990 World Day of Peace message. “Modern society will find no solution to the ecological problem unless it takes a serious look at its lifestyle,” the late pontiff wrote, adding, “Christians, in particular, realize that their responsibility within creation and their duty toward nature and the Creator are an essential part of their faith.”
More recently, Pope Benedict XVI remarked, “Encouraged by the growing recognition to preserve the environment, I invite all of you to join me in praying and working for greater respect for the wonders of God’s creation.”
Perhaps not surprisingly, given its Catholic, Jesuit mission, the University has long been quietly going about the business of being green. “We’re way ahead of most places,” says Bob Sheeran, associate vice president for physical plant. “We’ve been thinking about sustainability for many years, long before it became a buzzword.”
And here, it’s often the little things that add up to a big difference—fluorescent light bulbs rated at 15,000 hours that use 75 percent less electricity than traditional models; systems that turn off lights when no one is around; heating and cooling fans programmed to throttle back at night; efforts to encourage students to bring in only energy-efficient appliances to their dorms; purchasing only energy-efficient equipment; installing energy-efficient washers in dormitories; placing sensing valves in restroom sinks to conserve water; and buying small vehicles for University use, then combining trips to save even more fuel.
The University already cools many of its buildings with an ice-based system set up to run at night, when energy use is cheaper. “The University spends $3 million annually on utilities,” says Mark Hanlon, operations supervisor for physical plant. “And that keeps growing as the campus expands and the cost of energy continues to rise.”
“Going way back, we had the idea of large central plant equipment, with large chillers and large boilers located central to campus,” adds Dave Lococo, associate director for facility maintenance for physical plant. “It diversifies the load and gets the equipment to operate more efficiently and more effectively. And in terms of longevity, it far exceeds the life of rooftop units.”
The University also routinely improves the insulation on any roof that’s replaced. “In terms of remodeling, we replace windows with double- or triple-pane glass, depending on the use,” Lococo says. “For the future, we’re looking into window tinting or reflective screen.”
This kind of thinking extends to the grounds crew as well. Xavier is well known for its lushly landscaped campus. But what many people don’t know is some of the dead leaves and grass clippings never leave campus. Grounds foreman Walt Bonvell says the leaves are composted to fertilize the University’s 25 acres of display beds, and the cut grass is mulched back into the turf. Even tree limbs are trucked away by a local company to be turned into mulch.
About 90 percent of Xavier’s campus is under irrigation that includes rain gauges and is set to operate on remote control. And here, Xavier will also gain from the new construction. Currently, the University buys water. But plans now call for several retention ponds in the low-lying area between the Williams College of Business and Xavier Square. These will collect runoff water for use in irrigation. There are also recycling bins. Found literally all over campus, most have separate slots for cans, paper and trash. Materials from the bins are taken to large dumpsters—designated for either recycling or trash—and collected.
And recycling is about to become even more visible with the demolition of a number of buildings to make way for both the James E. Hoff, S.J., Academic Quad and Xavier Square.
“As we’re starting on Xavier Square, we are recycling 90 percent of the demolition,” says Sheeran. “That’s a big part of sustainability—recycling all the metal, steel, concrete and brick.”
Sustained awareness is a key component in going green. And green advocacy initiatives are found in many less-visible ways across the campus. Over the years, the University’s environmental subcommittee has made a number of efforts to keep the idea of sustainable buildings in front of the administration, says Kathleen Smythe, former subcommittee chair and associate professor of history. And there have been a number of educational initiatives aimed at raising student awareness of the importance of recycling.
This year, Smythe and assistant professor of theology Elizabeth Groppe took over as co-directors of Xavier’s ethics/religion and society (E/RS) program, where they intend to highlight environmental and sustainable issues through faculty development and the E/RS lecture series. “This is one of the critical issues that we, as a society, face,” Smythe says.
Indeed, all of those efforts come more clearly into focus now with the major construction projects at hand. “The campus has a great advantage right now in that you’re considering the development of more than one building at a time, and all of the open space systems and infrastructure systems that connect those buildings,” Kearns says. “Sometimes those larger infrastructure initiatives are lost on people. If you can get your infrastructure to be sustainable, you can save carbon, save energy, save huge amounts of dollars.”