Sustainable Construction Builds a Better Future

Deep Green Residence Hall

Deep Green Residence Hall

As Earth Day approaches, it’s a good time to remember that the fight against climate change belongs to all of us. That means we must take actions that reduce greenhouse gases, as individuals and as institutions. One of the ways we can reduce the amount of carbon dioxide released into the atmosphere while using less energy is by changing the way we do construction. Berea College is leading by example through green building practices when we renovate or construct new buildings.


We are already seeing the effects of global climate change. Increases in the earth’s average temperature have led to more wildfires in California, more hurricanes in the Caribbean, and more intense storms in many parts of the country. If the earth’s temperature rises too much, people, especially people with lower incomes, face devastating consequences like food insecurity, water scarcity, flooding, infectious diseases, and extreme heat.

There are many ways to reduce the greenhouse gases that cause climate change, and Berea College already puts them into practice through initiatives like sustainable farming and carbon capture through the Berea College Forest. Another way we reduce our “carbon footprint” is by being very careful about how we build, including the materials and methods of building and also the systems we use in completed buildings.

Demonstrating better ways to build is a proud part of Berea College history. In the first half of the 20th century, the College provided instructions for building better yet affordable housing throughout Appalachia. In the 21st century, we are leading the way in green construction, hoping other institutions—as they update their campuses—will follow suit.

Our most well-known effort is our “Deep Green” residence hall, which was completed in 2013. At the time of its construction, Deep Green achieved the highest Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating in the world for a residence hall. The brick was 100 percent recycled (made from ground up reject Lenox china, actually); the wood used was procured through mule logging in the Berea College Forest; solar panels provide much of the building’s electricity; low-flow plumbing systems reduce water usage; and special techniques were used to naturally reduce the temperature of the building in summer and increase the temperature in the winter, resulting in less energy used for heating and cooling.

Now approaching a decade in use, Deep Green has averaged 57 percent less energy use intensity (EUI) than typical residence halls in the region. And thanks to systems that increase efficient water usage, residents of Deep Green use 36 percent less water than in a standard dormitory of the same capacity. This means savings in utilities costs, of course, which in the long run, can offset the increased costs of construction and maintenance of enhanced systems.  Over 25 years, we will save nearly $2 million in energy and maintenance system costs..

Using Deep Green as our example to follow, all new buildings and renovations since have strived to achieve high LEED ratings. Anna Smith, Knapp Hall, Dana, and Bingham residence halls all achieved a LEED Gold rating, as did the new Margaret A. Cargill Natural Sciences and Health Building and the Boone Tavern.

Danforth Residence Hall is 32 percent more efficient than the average, and its use results in about 123 metric tons less carbon dioxide

Kettering Hall

Kettering Hall

emission per year than a typical dormitory. Kettering Hall will be even more efficient because it was rotated about 45 degrees to the east, meaning that it gets more warming sunlight in the winter, resulting in lower heating costs. Both used more energy-efficient construction methods and materials than standard construction, with exterior walls that boast better thermal efficiency and windows that reflect more solar heat. Using light-density strategies to reduce the number of fixtures needed to meet the required illumination, both first-time building costs and long-term maintenance costs were reduced.

With global climate change upon us, it is urgent that green building practices be implemented worldwide.  The example of Berea College shows that this can be done in a way that also achieves lower costs in the long run, the sort of win-win that makes every kind of sense.