The Oberlin Review
<< Front page News September 8, 2006

Oberlin Commits to “Silver” Standards

After a long stretch of student and professor advocacy last year, Oberlin’s Board of Trustees recently voted to adopt a resolution requiring all new construction and major renovations on the Oberlin campus to achieve a higher standard in environmental sustainability.

The United States Green Building Council, a national coalition of construction groups, has an established rating system for evaluating buildings for their level of environmental responsibility and sustainability. ‘Certified’ is the lowest rating and ‘platinum’ the highest.  Oberlin will be working toward a ‘silver’ standard.

Many feel that this resolution has been a long time in coming. John Petersen, a professor in the environmental studies program and a member of the Environmental Policy Advisory Committee, first proposed that the school follow USGBC’s standards in 2004.

The proposal was tied up in faculty meeting red tape for several months before finally being voted on last June.

The Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design standard is the specific rating system employed by USGBC and the one that will be used to evaluate Oberlin construction. According to Petersen, part of the impetus for adopting the LEED silver standard was the missed opportunity of the Union Street housing.

“It wouldn’t have been difficult to do a little more and get LEED silver standard,” he said. As the school embarks on Phase II of its long-term construction plans — which includes new housing near the Allen Memorial Art Museum — the resolution to build to LEED standards will take effect.

Some are concerned about the wording of the resolution, however. Its full text reads “Oberlin will achieve a LEED rating of at least silver for new construction and major renovation projects, unless with regard to a particular project it is determined either that doing so would be financially imprudent or that alternate steps would allow Oberlin to achieve superior environmental performance at a cost similar to that involved in meeting the LEED standard.”

The language related to financial imprudence worries student senator and College senior Peter Collopy:

“One can certainly make a case [to not build to LEED standards] whenever our budgets are tight, which they perpetually are.”

Collopy pointed out that while adhering to the LEED standard may be initially more expensive, the USGBC’s statistics show an average of only a 2.11 percent capital cost increase through adhering to the silver standard—and this does not take into account the long-term savings on energy costs.

Another concern is that the resolution simply does not aim high enough. A student referendum question last year proposed adopting the gold standard — one step up from silver—and received an overwhelmingly positive response.

Environmental Protection Interest Group member and College senior Morgan Pitts, although enthused that the administration and trustees support improving environmental policy, concluded, “While we adopted silver as a baseline, we ought to shoot for platinum in every building.”


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