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A Green Example – What We Can Learn From Hampshire College

By Sharon Chen
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Hampshire College, in Amherst, Massachusetts, is the first institution of higher ed to generate one hundred percent of its energy from solar panels. The college’s R.W. Kern Center, a 17,000-square- foot campus center, is being constructed so that it is net-zero energy, waste, and water; and is built entirely from sustainable, local construction materials. Jonathan Lash, the college’s president, notes that “a building of this size would typically use 7,000 gallons of water a day; we estimate the Kern Center will use 150” – this also translates into a savings of half a million dollars annually. Hampshire College is leading on sustainability in many other ways as well.  In addition to the Kern Center, the campus also hosts a meadow restoration project and a campus farm that provides produce for the dining facilities.

These sustainability initiatives are impressive and inspirational – especially because students are the ones who are pushing for green changes; as Lash puts it, “if anything is to change, it would happen with kids like these.” Today’s young people are tomorrow’s leaders, and with our future resting on such passionate and determined college students, we are in good hands. From solving billion dollar problems to successfully lobbying corporations for green changes to reducing on-campus waste, students are demonstrating that they not only care about solving our climate challenge, but that they fully intend to do so.

A small New England college goes 100 percent solar

Annika Fredrikson | Christian Science Monitor | December 21, 2015

In western Massachusetts sits a small liberal arts college doing big things in the way of sustainability.

Hampshire College in Amherst, Mass., will soon be home to a "living building" and the only college generating 100 percent of its electricity from solar panels.

The Living Building Challenge is a rigorous set of standards that requires net-zero energy, waste, and water systems, as well as sustainable, local construction materials. Only eight self-sustaining buildings in the world have achieved this certification. Hampshire’s R.W. Kern Center, a 17,000-square-foot campus center that will host high-tech classrooms, admissions and financial aid offices, and social space will be the ninth. 

“This building wears our culture on its sleeve,” says Jonathan Lash, president of Hampshire since July 2011. “The Living Building Initiative challenges people to build buildings that leave no footprint, that push the boundaries of what is possible, and that promote positive social and ethical standards.

“What if, in 10 years, 20 percent of the nation’s buildings met something like this standard?" Mr. Lash asks. "Think of the impact and the quality of people’s interactions with each other [because] physical spaces define how we interact.”

Designed and built by two local firms, the center will cost $9 million to construct but will end up essentially paying for itself with the money saved in its operation.

“A building of this size would typically use 7,000 gallons of water a day; we estimate the Kern Center will use 150,” Lash says. “And honestly, if we’re saving $500,000 dollars, why not?”

But the project is much more than a way to save money.

“For us it’s both the result and the process,” Lash says. Students have been involved from the start, from attending the design firms' pitch meetings to creating mathematical models of the biological treatment systems.

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