LEED Buildings Program Leads Sustainability Efforts on UF’s Campus

Earth Day means promoting sustainability and celebrating our planet. This year's Earth Day is quickly approaching (It's on Sunday, April 22!) and, luckily, it's easy to participate in the holiday in Gainesville because we go to a school that loves Earth and continuously contributes to sustainability efforts just as much as the next hippie does.

Most students at the University of Florida have likely seen the timers in residence hall showers used to encourage shorter showers and save water or the recycling bins next to every trash can. However, many students might not know that these features on campus barely scratch the surface of the university’s sustainability efforts.

The LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) buildings initiative is the most widely used green-building rating system in the world, and the University of Florida actively uses the system to ensure that its buildings are sustainable. All new construction on UF’s campus must meet a minimum of a LEED-gold standard, but the university often strives for the highest rating of LEED-platinum, according to UF’s Office of Sustainability.

Behind the many sustainability projects that contribute to the university’s overall prestige are people who care about the ecology of campus.

Allison Vitt, outreach and communications coordinator for UF’s Office of Sustainability, believes the university’s efforts have the potential to be revolutionary if staff and students alike contribute.

“If we can continue to move the university towards this culture of personal responsibility and care for the environment and for the social issues in sustainability, I think we’ll be able to have an even greater impact and more involvement from everyone on campus,” Vitt said.

Although many students may not know about the LEED program, it is something that’s present in everyone’s daily life at UF. With 74 LEED-certified buildings on campus and 12 projects in the works, it is likely that every student has had a class or will have a class in one of these sustainable buildings. UF is in the top three universities in the country for the highest number of LEED-certified buildings, right behind Harvard, according to Vitt.

Newell Hall is one of the newest additions to the LEED-certified buildings on campus and has certainly done a lot for sustainability, Vitt said.

According to Dustin Stephany, the sustainability coordinator for the Planning, Design and Construction Division of UF, a few of the notable features of Newell Hall include water-efficient fixtures, LED lighting and the use of recyclable materials.

“Sustainability is rather complex and there is no single solution,” Stephany said. “LEED provides a platform for addressing these sustainability complexities in the built environment.”

Whether students know of Newell Hall’s groundbreaking sustainability features or not, they can certainly appreciate the building as a whole.

“I like the pods, the confined spaces and the quiet,” said Lina Soufny, a UF student studying at Newell. “This is where I go for all-nighters.”

From constructing Rinker Hall, the first LEED-gold project in the state, to the platinum-level Heavener Football Complex to the recent addition of Newell Hall, the University of Florida has a vision with the LEED program and is committed to achieving it, Stephany said.

“Everyone plays a role in sustainability,” Vitt said. “It all adds up and helps make our campus – and world – more sustainable.”

To learn more about the LEED program, other sustainability projects on campus and how you can put your love for the Earth into action, visit the UF Office of Sustainability in person or online.