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Institute puts university on 'green' path

May 13, 2008

The new home of the Global Institute of Sustainability is one of the most eco-friendly buildings on ASU’s Tempe campus. Equally important, it is also a pleasant environment.

“Our associated faculty members, staff and students are delighted with their new work spaces and the opportunities for collaboration around the building,” says Jonathan Fink, director of GIOS and ASU’s sustainability officer.

One of the first things visitors notice when they enter the GIOS building is the abundant use of sunlight. Natural light is everywhere, suffusing through skylights, beaming in through exterior windows and spreading into interior windows. Low-wattage lamps, monitored by motion and light sensors, supplement natural light where needed, helping to ensure that as little energy as possible is wasted. Window shades are manually controlled for the same reason.

Light reflects off Formica-like countertops made from recycled milk jugs or inlaid with shavings from recycled aluminum cans. It falls on puzzle-pieced carpeting, composed of 40 percent recycled material that can be replaced, square by square, as it wears out. The paint – low in volatile organic compounds, just like the carpet – even lacks that headache-inducing “new paint smell.”

Gone are the cavernous hallways of the structure’s earlier incarnation as the home to the College of Nursing and Healthcare Innovation, replaced by windowed facades, metal-trellised breezeways and brightly painted halls. The trellises, designed by graduate students at the College of Design, eventually will be covered with vines, providing natural shade and cooling.

Offices and conference rooms are appointed with the most eco-friendly furniture available though ASU’s supplier. Chairs are modular and are made of 95 percent recyclable materials. Even the nameplate holders that line office hallways are made of reusable steel and recyclable aluminum, decorated with sustainability slogans.

Filtered water fountains and water coolers are provided where possible to conserve water and to discourage use of plastic water bottles. Bathrooms are outfitted with timer-based faucets, which waste less water than those with motion detectors. Waterless urinals save 40,000 gallons of water per year, and the toilets feature a bi-valve system, providing two different flush water amounts depending on need.

Outside, water efficiency also is being supported by the use of native, drought-tolerant plants and an automated watering system.

On the roof sit six wind turbines, each capable of running 24 hours a day and providing up to 1,000 watts of electricity that will flow into the APS grid. They are angled slightly downward to take advantage of updrafts along the face of the building and can turn at speeds of as little as 5 mph. The turbines, which operate most efficiently from 27 mph to 32 mph, are designed to withstand winds in excess of 120 mph.

“One of the primary purposes of the turbines is to educate,” says Richard Lemon, project manager in charge of the GIOS building. “They provide an opportunity for us to think beyond traditional energy generation, and to look to alternative and sustainable forms that will steer us away from a petroleum-based economy.”

The turbines currently are disconnected because of roof construction. When completed in June, the roof will have been raised 3 inches and filled with R30 fiberglass insulation. It also will feature solar panels, part of ASU’s plan to install solar cells on many campus rooftops to provide between 4-7 megawatts of power on the Tempe campus.