Shortly after I moved into my freshman dorm room, Lewis Hall construction started across the road. My beautiful view of greenery quickly turned into a dusty and cacophonous band of construction machinery. It also became the dorms’ de facto alarm clock at 6am daily. Needless to say, I’m not the biggest fan of the disruption caused by UK’s constant construction exploits and I can guess that many students share my sentiments.
What I hadn’t considered until recently, however, was the environmental sustainability of our construction. According to Shane Tedder, UK’s sustainability coordinator, 0% of buildings on campus held U.S. Green Building Council LEED sustainability certification in 2009; now, 16% do.
Three gold-level facilities were built during this time. Many other buildings reached a silver level of certification, including the new student center and 14 new residence halls. LEED, as Mr. Tedder explained, is a multi-faceted certification; buildings are scored on water efficiency, materials and resources, sustainable sites, indoor environmental quality, energy and atmosphere, and innovation and design.
“We’re trying to build systems that make the sustainable choice the one that is cheapest, most convenient, and least stressful,” elaborated Mr. Tedder, when I asked about his goals for UK’s campus. Over the last decade, this has manifested as installation of more efficient glass, LED lights with photosensors that automatically adjust, 126 geothermal wells that heat and cool Donovan and Johnson halls, mobility corridors for “pedestrian connectivity” (such as MLK corridor which flows through the new student center), renewed commitment to preserving UK’s urban tree canopy (for instance, the Woodland Glen white oak), and many other sustainability initiatives.
These actions contribute to the goal UK set in 2016 of 25 percent emissions reduction by 2025.
“As we think about how to develop the campus over the next decade, sustainability is one of the seven things that we think about at the outset of every planning process.” stated Mr. Tedder, referring to the seven-part physical development master plan created in 2012.
The everyday inconvenience of UK construction continues to be a thorn in the side of students, but it’s also heartening to know that sustainability is a goal in every new project.
When asked how students can most effectively contribute to sustainability initiatives at UK, Mr. Tedder said that feedback is key. “When we get it wrong, or if there are areas of the system that we haven’t gotten to yet (where making the right choice is too hard), reach out.”
He also raises the salient point that sustainability experience sets students apart in graduate school applications. UK, as campus that makes sustainability an institutional priority, gives students the opportunity to “get hands-on”, regardless of degree program. He encourages interested students to contact him so that he can connect them to faculty doing the work in which they have a specific interest.
On this point I totally agree — sustainability should not be a subject only discussed by Environmental Science majors. Rather, it is one that we need to integrate into every discipline on campus. While the simpler actions such as turning off the lights are always important, we as a campus community also need to consider broader applications of sustainability in our individual decisions and demand our institution continues to pursue it.