A Degree of Green – New Major Sustains College, Global Missions

- by Heidi V. Mack, supervisor of design/publishing. Photos by Larry Kauffman, except as credited.

Problems cannot be solved at the same level of awareness that created them.
-Albert Einstein

Green has evolved over the past decade from a word to a lifestyle choice, from an adjective to a verb. It has long been associated with money, envy and vegetables. Nowadays, the mention of the word more likely triggers thoughts of rain forests, recycling and hybrid cars. Once associated primarily with environmental-activist trends, it has since transformed to define our daily choices, with far-reaching impact on almost every aspect of lifestyle, society, resources, climate, politics and economy.

Green building is one of those choices. It began quietly as an unconventional alternative for those who disliked the extravagance or the inefficiency of much traditional housing. It is now broadly acknowledged as a mainstream movement that will neither be reversing its direction nor slowing its momentum.

Heating, ventilation and air conditioning technology students install hot-water solar collectors for heating-lab instruction and eventual outdoor installation and use.

Consistent with its basic mission to provide educational opportunities that are “responsive to economic and employment realities,” Pennsylvania College of Technology has instituted the building science and sustainable design major within the School of Construction and Design Technologies. This Bachelor of Science degree with a focus on technology- and construction-related programs is structured to address industry needs and promote a better way of building, along with a healthier environment.

Building science examines how to achieve the highest performance from the various interacting systems of a structure. It looks at how these systems influence air quality, heat loss and moisture infiltration. These issues are fundamental to supporting the goals of environmental sustainability. Students enrolled in this major will study sustainable aspects of materials, construction, site design, building design and the production of energy, along with the technologies for recording and measuring those factors. Additionally, the interdisciplinary major will equip students with skills in renovation and reuse of existing buildings, including historic preservation.

“One of the major factors in considering the implementation of this degree was the enthusiasm of our current students,” said Tom F. Gregory, associate vice president for instruction at Penn College. “When some found out about the curriculum-development process for this new major, they sent a petition signed by more than 20 students to Academic Affairs asking for a rapid implementation so they would not have to interrupt their studies.

“Students are well aware of the issues facing our country, and they see this as a career area where they can make a positive difference.”

Different Words, Same Idea

Student Brice A. Conway Jr. reads a pocket weather meter – a tool that measures temperature, relative humidity, wind chill, heat index and dewpoint.

In the early ’70s, “energy” was the buzzword, sparked by the awakening oil crisis that made OPEC a household word. In response to those events, numerous government agencies were created, including the Federal Energy Office and the cabinet-level Department of Energy. Renewable and alternative energy sources gained immediate, widespread interest. Special-interest groups also formed, such as the American Institute of Architects Energy Task Force that later became the AIA Committee on Energy.

In the ’80s, the word “sustainability” appeared with prominence. In 1987, the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development provided this definition of sustainable development: “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Julie R. Younes, a residential construction technology and management student, traces shadows on a solar pathfinder.

Today, the word “green” is most often used to refer to that which is sustainable. In 1999, an executive order established a President’s Council on Sustainable Development, and the final report of that council contained 140 recommended actions to improve the nation’s environment, many of which were related to building sustainability.

For much of the 20th century, the availability of cheap energy had been the driving force of most building practices. However, world population has soared from 2 billion in 1930 to 6.7 billion today. Globalization has more closely connected communities with diverse lifestyles, whetting a universal quest for a higher standard of living. Energy and resources are no longer cheap and, in many cases, not renewable.

Geoffrey M. Campbell, assistant professor of architectural technology at Penn College, has been instrumental in gathering data and providing the rationale for this new program. He emphasizes the urgency of the need: "We can no longer design, construct and operate buildings as we’ve done in the recent past. The buildings erected today will have a significant impact on the planet. Architects, contractors and building owners can contribute to a healthier tomorrow by learning about and adopting sustainable building practices."

Economy Spurs Action

The current economic impact of energy demands has greatly accelerated attention to the issues of residential and commercial building sustainability at all levels, including individual consumers, architects, engineers, manufacturers, builders, educators, government and environmental agencies.

Commenting on how this focus will affect the market for “green collar” jobs, Gregory notes: “Recent economic developments make the implementation of this degree even more important to our region. Energy production, conservation and efficient management of resources are key areas for careers that can have a direct impact, and our graduates will be in high demand as jobs in these areas rapidly develop.”

A Penn College survey of Pennsylvania employers in the architecture, engineering and construction industries highlighted an increasing need by these firms to employ workers with an understanding of sustainable practices. The American Solar Energy Society predicts that the number of renewable-energy and energy-efficiency industry jobs will grow to 40 million by 2030, with the appropriate public policies in place to support those initiatives.

Penn College graduates of the building science and sustainable design major will stand ready to play a vital role in this green growth, moving into jobs with employers such as architects, engineers, contractors, environmental organizations, building-materials manufacturers and government agencies.

The new program at Penn College is uniquely modeled to fit students with varying backgrounds in design and construction. This approach provides the opportunity for students to work together and learn from their counterparts in the industry. Green-building projects benefit greatly from this integrated team strategy.

Melissa A. Maruszak and Nicholas L. Fragello darken tracing lines on their Solar Path Finder graph

Measuring the Future

The U.S. Green Building Council, one of the leading proponents of green building, is a nonprofit organization made up of corporations, builders, universities, government agencies and nonprofits dedicated to expanding green-building practices and education. USGBC developed the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Green Building Rating System to provide the standards by which sustainable buildings can be measured.

To date, more than 2,271 commercial buildings in the United States have achieved LEED certification. LEED-certified buildings typically have energy savings of 30 percent, carbon savings of 35 percent, water-use savings of 30-50 percent, and waste-cost savings of 50-90 percent. According to the most recently available data, Pennsylvania has the second-highest number of newly constructed LEED-certified buildings in the country.

Equipping both new and existing buildings with renewable-energy technologies will be a significant action for the ultimate sustaining of green principles. Augmenting its teaching tools and shrinking its footprint, Penn College is integrating several forms of solar-energy processing into instructional programs and the campus environment.

Rasheed F. Prioleau studies output from a HOBO data logger. Data loggers gather data such as temperature, relative humidity and light levels over time at a particular location.

The college received a $15,000 grant from the Sustainable Energy Fund that will be used to construct a photovoltaic solar panel array on campus grounds. Once installed, the system will use solar energy to monitor and produce electricity for the Victorian House, a campus building that already has one green technology in place – ground-source heat pumps. The solar-panel system will also serve as an excellent instruction model for students in the schools of Construction and Design Technologies and Industrial and Engineering Technologies.

Students in heating, ventilation and air conditioning majors can now experience similar hands-on learning from recently installed solar collectors for hot water. These collectors, donated by Sun Source Energy Products, of New Jersey, will become permanent working tools to teach skills to save energy for both the consumer and the environment.

5 Key Elements of a Green Building

  1. Sustainable Site Design - Minimize urban sprawl's destruction of land and habitat, and preserve key environmental assets of the site.
  2. Water Conservation and Quality - Preserve the existing natural water cycle and hydrological systems of the site.
  3. Energy Conservation and Renewables - Minimize adverse impacts on the environment and maximize use of renewable energy.
  4. Indoor Environmental Quality - Provide a healthy, comfortable and productive indoor environment.
  5. Materials and Resources - Minimize the use of non-renewable construction materials.

Two students in electronics and computer engineering technology focused their senior project on the setup and launch of a system that will collect, monitor and analyze the power output of a photovoltaic panel system that will be located off-campus. Patrick F. Potter, of Middleburg, and Curtis T. Wrable, of Howard, stated their objective was to determine which forms of green energy are most efficient in comparison to the system installation costs.

“We will be researching solar, wind, geothermal and other alternative-energy sources to evaluate and reveal what are the most cost-effective green-energy sources,” Potter said at the outset of the project. “We chose this to study because of the increasing popularity and potential for career placement.” With the successful completion of the project, the college will be able to continue to collect and transmit data from the system for future class projects.

Expanding further to respond to evolving need, Penn College has formed a focus group to begin assessment for the development of a new, two-year degree in renewable-energy technology. The program would cover wind-turbine, photovoltaic, solar-hydronic and energy-storage technologies.

Dorothy J. Gerring, John P. Jenkins, and Justin M. Soccio look at the data choices from a Kestral 3000 Pocket Weather Meter.

Retrofitting Perceptions

Because green building is often thought to be more expensive upfront than traditional building methods, the challenges to maintain momentum will most likely increase as economic issues rise. These challenges are stimulating more interest and research into retrofitting options, acknowledges Michelle Moore, senior vice president of policy and public affairs for USGBC.

“USGBC is turning its focus to greening our existing buildings ... homes, schools and offices,” she said.

Green Resources

The Governor’s Green Government Council, whose mission is to implement environmental practices to support sustainable development for Pennsylvania agencies, reports that, although some green materials and technologies do cost more, many strategies actually cost the same and even less than traditional methods.

Michael J. Reier, an architectural technology sophomore from Pottsville, notes the hurdles he may face: “In making green building technologies more available and appealing to homeowners, the hardest challenge is getting past the usual way of doing things. Like they say, ‘If it isn’t broken, don’t fix it.’ Well, in this age of environmental and economic hardships, things need to be fixed.”

Initial planning and design, including careful environmental and site evaluation, are crucial to keeping the costs of green building more affordable. Also paramount is the close collaboration among all the participants of the process – homeowner, architect, building contractors, etc. – from concept through construction.

Julie R. Younes, a residential construction technology and management junior from Williamsport, is already tuned into the need – in her future profession – to be sensitive to the cost of green building.

“The most important ‘green’ factor for a contractor is to look at the design, make sure the design is sustainable … and make sure that the elements that they include in the home won’t cost the owner more than it normally would,” she said.

Energizing Change

USGBC’s Greenbuild, the world’s largest conference and expo dedicated to green building, attracted more than 28,000 attendees to its 2008 event in Boston, with representatives from all 50 states, 85 countries and six continents. Nobel Peace Prize recipient Archbishop Desmond Tutu was the keynote speaker. Even with the tough current economic outlook, this attendance spoke to the industry’s commitment and urgency to much-needed education and action. A group of Penn College students, accompanied by Dorothy J. Gerring, associate professor of architectural technology, attended the momentous gathering in November. The USGBC purchased offsets for the carbon footprint of the conference, making it the first large-scale conference to be carbon neutral. There were recycling stations throughout the conference, and Penn College students spent some time monitoring the stations as part of their learning experience.

Alumnus's Path to Geothermal

Twenty-three years ago, John A. Kauffman graduated from Williamsport Area Community College, a forerunner of Pennsylvania College of Technology, with an associate degree in air conditioning/refrigeration. He planned to enter this field of work in the traditional manner, installing the various tried-and-true heating and cooling systems.

An English class was a turning point. For a research paper, he chose the subject of geothermal energy. He became so interested in what he learned that upon graduation, he teamed up with some friends to start his own company. Today, Geo Climate Control Inc., of Danville, is a prosperous business providing a greener energy solution.

Geothermal heating uses the Earth’s naturally occurring thermal energy to heat or cool a space. Hot water and steam near the Earth’s surface were accessed to heat buildings and spas during the Roman Empire, and the first record of this phenomenon being utilized is in 1904 in Italy, where Prince Piero Ginori Conti is credited with inventing the first geothermal power plant.

More recently, geothermal heating and cooling is achieved through the use of a geothermal heat pump, which pumps cool water through pipes underground. The water circulates, absorbing heat from the ground, then passes through an electric heat exchanger, and the now-cooled water continues its cycle back to the ground, after it has generated heat as a byproduct. The same process in reverse can be used to circulate cooled water through the building for cooling purposes.

According to Kauffman, geothermal systems are more commonly used for residential purposes. There is an upfront cost that may deter some homeowners, but like many green building processes, the long-term benefits provide a welcome balance.

One of those attending was Melissa A. Maruszak, a junior majoring in residential construction technology and management: architectural technology emphasis.

“Even knowing (that) sustainable practices have been around for decades, I feel that it is still a new thing, and it was shocking to see how many people were there to learn about it,” said the Vernon, N.J., native.

Resources for green building and green living are abundant. Educational institutions and training facilities across the country are implementing programs that cover emphases from sustainable engineering and construction to social and economic challenges of sustainability, as well as urban design and sustainable landscaping. Responsible practitioners of sustainable building are concerned with energy and material conservation at each stage of a structure’s design and construction, as well as throughout its entire life span, according to Campbell.

Most green building principles, techniques and materials are, in most cases, not new. Designing habitats with solar orientation in mind was done long ago out of necessity, for both heating and cooling purposes. Buildings, and even communities, can no longer be simply functional, aesthetically impressive or grandiose because they can be. It is no longer just fashionable for our homes, offices and lifestyles to be energy-efficient, resource-sustainable and healthful. It is fundamental to our survival.

Summarizing the fundamental green ideology, Gerring observed: “It takes the same resources to build a beautiful high-performance building as it does a low-performance one. The high-performance building will continue to pay back the owner and the planet for all of its useful life span.” ■