What Does Sustainability Mean to Georgia Tech?
By Rachael Pocklington
For Georgia Tech, being sustainable means much more than simply being “green.” It is a result of embracing a transformative process where everyone is responsible for making choices that promote the health, human security, and well-being of today’s — and tomorrow’s — society.
“Being sustainable positively impacts our environment as well as our economy and our community,” says Steve Swant, executive vice president for Administration and Finance. “The best guidance is to act responsibly and make smart choices by considering how decisions and actions impact all three factors.”
Georgia Tech is uniquely positioned to fully integrate its powerhouse of resources —ranging from academics, to research, to campus operations — for a sustainable future. And for years, Tech has been advancing the concept of a sustainable campus on many levels.
But not until recently, with the announcement of the Living Building Challenge™ project, has there been a concerted effort to bring all these initiatives together and use all of Georgia Tech, especially its technologies and physical space, as a living-learning laboratory to develop and test the ideas that can make a real impact both on campus and in the greater community.
Living Building Challenge™ renderings created by Lord Aeck Sargent and The Miller Hull Partnership during the ideas competition, (left) the “porch scheme” with views of the Georgia Tech Eco-commons and (right) the “bridge scheme” spanning across a re-envisioned Dalney Street.
With more than 100 instructional courses throughout all six colleges focused on sustainable issues, every Tech student has the opportunity to incorporate sustainability into their education.
Often, students will engage with teams from Facilities Management and Capital Planning and Space Management to better understand the real-world application of what they are learning in the classroom. The Carbon Reduction Challenge is just one example of this collaboration that has yielded tangible results for the campus.
“Since 2007, students in my energy class have participated in the Carbon Reduction Challenge wherein student teams plan and implement a significant carbon reduction initiative in the space of three short months,” said Kim Cobb, professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences.
“As part of the challenge, students must quantify carbon and monetary savings of their projects, which usually involve either on-campus or corporate partners. In that sense, we are very fortunate at Tech, since we have a huge breadth and depth of knowledge on energy right here on campus. In particular, Facilities Management’s Energy Conservation team has been a partner for many years in helping students plan and design their proposals using the campus as the living laboratory. In fact, they are analyzing results from two of this year’s student proposals for application on campus.”
Furthering its commitment to experiential learning with real-world sustainability challenges, the Institute has launched its Quality Enhancement Plan (QEP), Serve-Learn-Sustain, which will create a win-win for the students and the Institute.
While the main goal of the QEP is to prepare, through contextual learning, students for success after graduation, the real opportunity is to leverage the growing interest among students in environmental, societal, and economic issues and couple this with Tech’s in-house expertise on service learning and sustainability.
In addition to the 23 interdisciplinary research centers, corporate partnerships, and funding opportunities focused on environmental sustainability, Tech has many highly referenced (h-index), green chemistry award-winning researchers (including winners of the Presidential Green Chemistry Award), as well as many accomplished graduate and undergraduate researchers dedicated to the cause of sustainability.
A notable research example making a real impact is the Smart Energy Campus Program that uses Georgia Tech as a living laboratory where data from energy utility systems throughout campus are collected and analyzed. Through collaboration among multiple campus departments, including the Aerospace Systems Design Laboratory (ASDL), the School of Electrical and Computer Engineering, and Georgia Tech Facilities Management, insights from this project will directly impact energy planning and consumption on campus, with the goal of making Tech’s energy utility systems more efficient and resilient.
Another research-related testament to Tech’s commitment to developing sustainable solutions is the Carbon Neutral Energy Solutions (CNES) Laboratory, Georgia Tech’s first LEED Platinum building. It enables a diverse mix of experts to come together and solve some of the big technological challenges in clean energy. As the hub for low-carbon thermal energy research on Georgia Tech’s campus, the CNES Laboratory building is a literal prototype for living-learning laboratories and offers lessons learned for future net-zero construction on campus.
“The Carbon Neutral Energy Solutions Laboratory was designed to engage students and faculty, as well as partners from industry and government, in a collaborative research community focused on fostering new discoveries and advancing disruptive innovations in clean energy technologies,” said Tim Lieuwen, executive director of the Strategic Energy Institute. “By maintaining the highest LEED design standards, the facility itself also serves as a model for sustainable energy use and environmental practice.”