"Um Ya Ya!" Like any proud St. Olaf College alum, I couldn't help but call out our spirited cheer when I heard the news: The school's new Regents Hall of Natural and Mathematical Sciences has been awarded platinum certification from the U.S. Green Building Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system. The science center joins a growing list of buildings—including Audubon's headquarters in New York City—stamped with the highest attainable LEED rating, which is based on "metrics that matter most: energy savings, water efficiency, carbon dioxide emissions, improved indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources and sensitivity to their impacts," according to the council's website.
I'll admit my enthusiasm is mixed with jealousy. Why didn't I get to take Environmental Policy and Regulation or Saving Wild Places in a building topped with a green roof and mostly enclosed by floor-to-ceiling windows? Why couldn't I have sat on furniture handcrafted from lumber harvested on the construction site while I studied Environmental Ethics? At least I can still take pride in the facts that the 200,000 square-foot building saves enough energy annually to power 250 homes, and is the first science facility in the world designed to incorporate green chemistry into the classroom—minimizing lab waste with water-based reactions. Plus, it's nice to know a good chunk of the old building is still around—its limestone recycled into the new walls of the largest academic building to get the platinum award.
"Actions speak louder than words," St. Olaf President David R. Anderson said in a statement from the college. "The LEED Platinum designation for Regents Hall demonstrates, once again, St. Olaf's leadership among American colleges and universities in sustainability practices."
That list of practices is growing long. Over the last two decades, 150 acres of native prairie and 17 wetlands have been restored on the college's natural lands. St. Olaf's 1.65-megawatt wind turbine has been spinning since 2005, supplying up to one-third of the college's electricity needs. And 100 percent of the food waste from the Buntrock Commons' cafeteria is collected and composted.
Of course, my favorite recycling to come out of that cafeteria remains the reuse of the plastic dining trays for sledding (better known on campus as "traying") down a snow-packed Old Main Hill.