Welcome Center not to receive eco-friendly certification

Climate change has come to the forefront of the minds of many colleges and universities throughout the United States due to President Donald Trump’s decision to remove the U.S. from the Paris Climate Agreement – Seton Hall has not joined the hundreds of schools that have vowed to meet the goals of the agreement.

This has led some concerned Seton Hall environmentalists to wonder what the University is doing to combat climate change.

Greg Medina/Photography

While Seton Hall has its eye on reducing its carbon footprint in the developing Welcome Center building, it will not be taking steps to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) – a status that would cost the school approximately $885,000 in developments to obtain.

According to the USGBC website, “LEED-certified buildings are resource efficient. They use less water and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

The question of whether or not the building would be LEED-certified was first posed in The Setonian by Dr. Judith Stark, director of the Environmental Studies program in a letter to the editor on April 27, 2017.

“I’m no engineer in this, but I know that there are many both small things and large things that can be done to reduce the amount
of energy that a building uses in all sorts of ways,” Stark said later in an interview.

Dennis Garbini, SHU’s Vice President for Administration, said that the University design team, made up of architects, engineers, pre-construction managers, and a LEED-accredited professional, conducted a “green” evaluation of the Welcome Center accord
ing to LEED standards. The study helped the team find what eco-friendly goals were already being met by nature of the project, and which Seton Hall could realistically achieve after analyzing what the costs and returns on investment for extra initiatives.

While this evaluation was conducted in the transition period between two versions of LEED standards – LEED v3 and LEED v4 – the university could have chosen to perform their evaluation by either standard.he school chose to base the Welcome Center’s score on the new LEED v4 for Building Design and Construction. LEED v4 was created in late 2013 and outdated LEED v3 on Oct. 31, 2016.

“With each new version, points are harder and more costly to obtain in order to increase the prestige of the award as state and federal codes continue to make efficiency and environmental suggestions requirements,” Garbini said in an email.

According to the USGBC website, there are four levels of certification; the minimum score for the lowest “Certified” level is 40 out of 100.

The Welcome Center scored a 31 on the evaluation conducted by the design team based on LEED v4, nine points below the mark. Based on LEED v3, the slightly less stringent yet now outdated version, the building would have received a 43, three points above the mark to qualify for the Certified level.

Garbini attributed the low score to Seton Hall’s campus location in a tightly packed urban setting, which already inhibits
the school for reaching some of LEED’s “green” goals. Other reasons included cost, issues with maintenance, aesthetic and the user friendliness of the developments it would take to increase SHU’s score.

Garbini explained that there is no partial credit or credit for aspects that “meet the spirit of LEED and the environmental conservation movement” but are not listed as requirements. For example, while Seton Hall earned points for collecting recyclables in the new building, they did not earn points for recycling the Chapel cross that now crowns the Welcome Center.

“The project team took every opportunity to instill ‘green’ principles and concepts within the project that both suited the project type, the needs of the University and the budget of the project,” Garbini said. “It would take more than a year or two to recoup the additional costs for additional points.”

However, Stark said that typically, eco-friendly updates such as solar panels, windows that are more effective or capturing rainwater, reduce cost in the long run “even if they might be costly to put in in the first place.”

Dr. Mary Meehan, interim president, said that while Seton Hall is not planning new environmental initiatives now, she plans
to review the University’s policies on environmental design standards soon.

“It is clear to me that Seton Hall students and faculty care about climate issues and impact at Seton Hall,” Meehan said in an email. “While curriculum may vary from college to college, I am edified by the commitment I see on every campus I have visited. There is always room for improvement, and I am certain we all share a desire to live in the spirit of Pope Francis’s encyclical, Laudato Si.”

Laudato Si, written in 2015, was Pope Francis’s call to the world to take action to combat climate change.

Stark said that as a Catholic university, Seton Hall University should be living more by Laudato Si, and keeping sustainability at the center of Welcome Center construction would be an effective way to do that.

Wanda Knapik, an environmental studies professor and the director of the campus garden, said that there have been “several significant positive changes on campus regarding sustainability initiatives in recent years,” and that Seton Hall is making “good progress,” but that everyone could be doing more.

“Everyone on this planet can be doing more,” Knapik said in an email. “Every student, everyone on campus can be doing more… Every human has to take responsibility for doing more to reduce their footprint and ecological impact.”

Brianna Bernath can be reached at brianna.bernath@student.shu.edu.

Author: Brianna Bernath

Brianna Bernath is a journalism major at Seton Hall University, where she is the News Editor of The Setonian. She is currently a TODAY.com intern at NBC News. She has previously interned with "TODAY" at NBC News and "Mad Money with Jim Cramer" at CNBC. You can follow Brianna on Twitter @briannabernath, where you can find her most recent work.

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