A Learning/Living Laboratory

Learning by LIving LabWhat is a “Learning/Living Laboratory” for sustainability?

It means exploring ideas for creating and managing residential spaces that are healthy and productive while minimizing our impact on the earth. It means experimenting with both new and old concepts and technologies while studying our own behaviors to adopt simpler, more sustainable lifestyles. And it means evaluating our operations while enhancing the educational experiences of students and sharing lessons learned to further affect change.

Berea College’s three-pronged motto of “Learning, Labor, and Service” is the most succinct expression of its institutional mission as well as the campus community.

For students, this becomes an opportunity to test, study and apply real-world solutions for sustainability every day – and essentially operate this place as their classroom. For the college, the building serves as a model for energy efficiency and carbon reduction, using design principles, new tools and practices that will transform operations and residence hall renovations across campus.

Every choice and every measure made for the new residence hall factors into meeting the social, cultural, economic and environmental goals of the project to advance sustainability on campus and in our community. Just a few examples of how this learning/living laboratory works:

  • Residents control their energy use and environmental impacts by their actions: opening and closing windows (and using ceiling fans) for fresh air and comfortable temperatures instead of relying on air conditioning; conserving water with low-flow fixtures and saving energy with high-efficiency washers and dryers; taking advantage of daylight whenever possible; even adding clothes drying racks to their own rooms.
  • Nearly every building feature, inside and out, is designed to teach: from the recycled brick exterior and rooftop solar panels to the large, operable windows that encourage use of natural light and outside air. Interior finishes, especially the local oak, poplar, maple and other woods used for trim and furniture, tell an important story of resources, tradition and culture.
  • Collaborative, creative learning opportunities have been integral to making this project a reality: including a student-led archaeological dig of the building site, participation in logging and milling operations, furniture design and fabrication through Student Crafts, and Berea College fine arts on display.
  • The Building Dashboard (in the lobby and online) will provide real-time feedback on energy, water and overall performance: monitoring and measuring electricity and water consumption and other key metrics – by day, week or month; students and staff will be able to use this steady stream of data as part of a continuous learning process.

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