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Higher Education

Higher Education

The higher education sector in the U.S. accounts for over 20 million post-secondary students and about 5 billion square feet of floorspace. Colleges, universities, and other post-secondary institutions across the U.S. hold unique places in their communities—as civic, academic, and cultural stewards, and opinion shapers. Through the higher education sector of the Better Buildings program, 53 colleges and universities are sharing best practices and engaging with technical experts to advance their energy savings goals.

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2023 Better Buildings Progress Report

To date, 900+ Better Buildings, Better Plants partners have saved more than 3.1 quadrillion Btu, saving more than $18.5 billion and 189 million metric tons of CO2.

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Watch all previously recorded webinars in the On-Demand Webinars library sorted by popular topics such as resilience, zero energy buildings, and more.

Other Resources

Case Study

Fume Hood Sash Stickers Increase Laboratory Safety and Efficiency at Minimal Cost Case Study

Providing supply and exhaust air to laboratory fume hoods is highly energy intensive, yet many researchers forget to shut the sash after use. To address the confusion, a lab manager at the University of California designed a bold vinyl sticker to attach on the exterior sidewall of a fume hood that uses the ubiquitous traffic light color scheme. The low-cost project led to energy savings and safety benefits.

Fact Sheet

Internal Financing for Carbon Reduction Projects Fact Sheet

This fact sheet summarizes 6 common internal financing modes: Capital Expenditure/Operating Outlay, Self-Funded Energy Performance Contracts (ESPC), Carbon Fee Funds, Green Bonds, Green Revolving Funds, and Capital Investment Funds.

External Financing for Carbon Reduction Projects Fact Sheet

This fact sheet summarizes 7 common external financing modes: Energy-as-a-Service, Energy Savings Performance Contracts, Power Purchase Agreements, Sustainability Linked-Loans, Green Loans, Property Assessed Clean Energy, and On-Bill Financing/Repayment.


Fume Hood Sash Management Campaign Implementation Guide Guidance

This document describes how to implement a fume hood sash management campaign.

Laboratory Ventilation Flow Rates at Cornell Guidance

This presentation addresses laboratory ventilation flow rates. 

Ultra-low Temperature Freezer User Guide Guidance

This guide describes procedures to operate ULT freezers efficiently and to improve sample access.

Implementation Model

UC Irvine: Developing an Integrated Smart Lab Program Implementation Model

UC Irvine's integrated “Smart Lab” program improves lab energy efficiency through an array of control and sensor technologies; labs using this program can achieve energy savings of up to 60%.

Delaware State University's On-Balance, Off-Debt Capacity Performance Contracting Implementation Model

Delaware State utilized previously restricted state appropriations to create a revenue-neutral debt structure, allowing for large-scale bond financing of efficiency projects and with current investments expected to yield $24.6 million in savings over 20 years.

Michigan State University's Integrated Model for Long Term Campus Energy Planning Implementation Model

Michigan State created an Integrated Energy Planning Model to demystify energy use and associated impacts on utility costs, tuition, and other key metrics to inform campus sustainability decisions.

UVA's Building Efficiency Program Implementation Model

UVA implemented an internal, cross-functional retro-commissioning (RCx) team with a cost-recovery element like a revolving loan fund; metered savings from one project are used to pay for other projects.

UC Irvine: Empowering Managers to Help Teams Find Deep Energy Savings Implementation Model

UC Irvine's empirically derived technical and behavioral performance improvement program supports risk-taking and questions status-quo practices to produce exceptional results across the board.

UC Berkeley: Energy Savings Through Campus and Occupant Engagement Implementation Model

UC Berkeley's Energy Management Initiative (EMI) targets building occupants through building surveys and energy dashboards, and allocates energy cost responsibility to individual campus operating units to achieve savings of $6.5 million in just three years.

Reusing On-Site Water at Emory University Implementation Model

Atlanta's Emory University created WaterHub, an innovative on-campus solution designed to treat and reuse up to 400,000 gallons of water per day, decreasing potable water demand by over one-third. In addition to saving money, the WaterHub is creating scientific and educational opportunities on campus.

Northwestern University’s Comprehensive Occupant Engagement Program Implementation Model

sustainNU is Northwestern University's comprehensive occupant engagement program that encourages sustainable behavior, builds leadership capacity, and removes barriers to sustainable practices by leveraging certification programs, social media, outreach events, and friendly competition.

Solar Power Purchase Agreement Advances RE at Colorado State University Implementation Model

CSU used a PPA to install 4.25 MW of solar systems on campus in a cost-effective and low-risk manner.

UC Irvine Water Reclamation Partnership Implementation Model

Located in a water stressed region, University of California, Irvine saves 61 million gallons of potable water by switching to reclaimed water in their central plant cooling tower. 

Allegheny College: Leveraging Student-Faculty Research to Demonstrate Value of Sustainability Investments Implementation Model

Allegheny College's leveraged student-faculty research on the financial benefits of energy-saving options for campus construction and renovations to drive organizational buy-in for energy efficiency projects.

Allegheny College: Inspiring Efficiency Through Annual Energy Challenge Implementation Model

At Allegheny College, yearly student turnover and lack of campus awareness about efficiency prevented sustained energy savings. Through an Annual Energy Challenge, the college reduced campus-wide electricity usage by 10% and raised funds for solar panels.


Getting Below Six Air Changes Report

This document provides highlights from Better Buildings Alliance members that have optimized minimum ACR to reduce energy use while maintaining or improving safety – especially cases where the ACR has been reduced below 6 ACH1.

Field Demonstration of High-Efficiency Ultra-Low-Temperature Laboratory Freezers Report

This report summarizes the results of a DOE Better Buildings Alliance field demonstration to show the energy savings possible with high-efficiency equipment.

Showcase Project

Allegheny College: Richard J. Cook Center for Environmental Science Showcase Project

Alleghany College renovated its Richard J. Cook Center for Environmental Science as part of the College's greater efforts to pursue building efficiency and institutional sustainability across campus. Building upgrades including LED lighting, CO2 monitoring and other improvements are expected to deliver 16% in annual energy savings.

Delaware State University: Luna I Mishoe Science Center – South Showcase Project

As part of a comprehensive energy reduction initiative, the Luna I Mishoe Science Center – South was selected for a spectrum of upgrades expected to reduce energy use in the building by 35% annually, with annual cost savings estimated at $68,000.

Kentucky Community and Technical College System: Bluegrass Community and Technical College Showcase Project

Kentucky Community and Technical College System's energy efficiency upgrades to its Bluegrass Community and Technical College include the installation of high efficiency chillers, T-8 lights, and fans have helped them reach 49% annual energy savings.

Michigan State University: Anthony Hall Showcase Project

Through ongoing updates to the building's air-flow, heating and cooling, lighting, and other systems, Michigan State University's Anthony Hall is expected to achieve $536,000 in annual energy cost savings.

UC Irvine: Smart Labs Initiative/Natural Sciences II Showcase Project

UC Irvine's Smart Labs Initiative has worked to make already energy-efficient buildings even more efficient, and utilizes a process that works on existing labs and new construction. Participating laboratories have seen 51% annual energy savings.

University of Utah: Dumke Health Professions Education Building Showcase Project

The University of Utah's 52,000-square foot Dumke Health Professions Education Building underwent comprehensive improvements to its HVAC system, with new high efficiency boilers and a DDC system installed. The project realized 41% annual energy savings and $57,000 annual cost savings.

University of Virginia: Campbell Hall Showcase Project

The University of Virginia completed a significant initial chiller plant optimization process as well as a lighting retrofit at its Campbell Hall building. Efficiency upgrades made at Campbell Hall are projected to reduce energy consumption by 35% and save $82,000 in annual utility costs.

Michigan State University: Erickson Hall Showcase Project

Erickson Hall, a mixed use classroom and office facility at Michigan State University (MSU), was the pilot project for MSU's commissioning of most major buildings on campus. The facility achieved $307,000 in annual energy cost savings through updates to its heating, ventilation, and air conditioning systems.

Chesapeake College: Health Professions and Athletics Center (HPAC) Showcase Project

The HPAC is home to Chesapeake College’s flagship health programs in nursing, radiologic science, emergency medical services, physical therapy, and surgical technology. A solar installation and LED and HVAC upgrades saved this facility 51% in energy use.

Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC): South Campus Energy Project Showcase Project

The South Campus of the Community College of Allegheny County (CCAC) is one of four campuses located throughout Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Upgrades to this large energy user saw an energy savings of 37% and a cost savings of $184,000.

University of Utah: Eyring Chemistry and Biology Buildings Showcase Project

University of Utah performed HVAC and fume hood mechanical upgrades, combined with new sensor and control technologies to deliver an expected 44% energy savings and $456,000 in cost savings.

The University of the South: Jessie Ball duPont Library Showcase Project

Comprehensive HVAC equipment, sensors, and controls upgrades at the University of the South's library in Sewanee, Tennessee lead to 34% energy savings, $32,000 in cost savings, and better humidity control for books and sensitive materials.

Arizona State University: Student Pavilion Showcase Project

Due to the location and student-centric focus, the Student Pavilion was selected to become the first Net Zero Energy building at ASU. The pavilion is expected to achieve 52% energy savings and provides an opportunity to demonstrate and teach Net Zero Energy and Zero Waste practices.

Penn State: Computer Building Upgrades Showcase Project

Located on the main campus of Penn State University, the Computer Building is a 2-story computer facility and data center with a partial penthouse and basement. It was selected for energy upgrades due to the known potential savings within the facility, achieving 20% energy savings and over $200,000 in energy costs.

State of North Carolina: Randolph Community College Showcase Project

Randolph Community College, located in North Carolina, purchased an abandoned furniture warehouse next to campus and transformed it into a state-of-the-art energy-efficient learning laboratory for continuing education programs, and a curriculum and corporate training facility for the community. The new energy-efficient laboratory amassed 36% annual energy savings and an annual cost savings of $35,000.

Solutions at a Glance

Chesapeake College: On-Campus Solar Energy and Storage Case Study

Chesapeake College has been able to reduce its annual energy consumption by 25% while increasing campus resilience through the college's partnership with its utility.

CCAC Computer Power Management Saves Significant Energy Use and Costs Energy Management Program

Community College of Allegheny County implemented a network-wide power management system across 4,000 personal computers and the campus data center, realizing annual savings of 74% on energy and $70,000 on costs.

Northwestern University: Using an Energy-as-a-Service Partnership to Reduce Emissions and Train Students Financing

Northwestern University entered an energy-as-a-service financing partnership to assist in reducing carbon emissions through energy efficiency and engineering projects, additionally providing support for learning opportunities for students in the field of sustainability. 

Stevens Institute of Technology Uses Green Bond for Campus Upgrades Financing

Stevens Institute of Technology issued a green bond to help fund the development of LEED Silver-certified on-campus housing and a multi-purpose center.

Carleton College: Steam to Hot Water District Energy Transition Case Study

Carleton College built three geothermal bore fields totaling 305 wells to replace an aging steam system and provide heat to campus. 

Stanford University's Energy and Climate Plan Energy Management Guides

Stanford University's Energy and Climate Plan immediately reduces campus GHG emissions by 68 percent and potable water use by 15 percent while opening a path to full energy sustainability over time through greening the campus electricity supply.


Ultra-Low Temperature Freezers (ULF) Specification Specification

This energy only specification provides a description of required performance characteristics resulting in increased energy savings for ULTs in laboratories.


Green Revolving Funds Toolkit

This toolkit provides cross-sector guidance on establishing a green revolving fund to overcome the common barrier of dedicated funding. A green revolving fund is an internal capital pool that is dedicated to funding energy efficiency, renewable energy, and/or sustainability projects that generate cost savings. A portion of those savings is then used to replenish the fund.

  • Energy & Sustainability Tools

    ENERGY STAR® Portfolio Manager®
    25% of U.S. commercial building space is actively benchmarking in Portfolio Manager — making it the industry-leading benchmarking tool. You’ll also be joining more than half of the Fortune 100®, half of the largest U.S. healthcare organizations, major league sports teams, colleges and universities, and entire cities. Provided at no cost by U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. 

    Sustainability Tracking, Assessment, and Rating System (STARS)
    A framework developed by AASHE for measuring and reporting an institution’s overall sustainability performance.

    Green Revolving Investment Tracking System (GRITS)
    Developed by the Sustainable Endowments Institute to help institutions track, manage, and share performance data for energy efficiency projects funded under a green revolving fund. 

    Sustainability Indicator Management and Analysis Platform is a carbon and nitrogen-accounting platform that can track, analyze, and improve campus-wide sustainability. Maintained by UNH Sustainability Institute, creators of the preceding Campus Carbon Calculator, CarbonMAP and Nitrogen Footprint Tool.

    Database of State Incentives for Renewable Energy (DSIRE)
    A comprehensive database of incentives, rebates and policies that support renewables and energy efficiency in the United States.

    Energy & Sustainability Financing

    Show Me the Money
    A report by the Environmental Defense Fund and their partners that examines barriers to energy efficiency financing and strategies to overcome them. Higher education is one of several sectors discussed in the report.

    Green Revolving Funds: A Guide to Implementation and Management
    A white paper that helps colleges and universities build the business case for energy efficiency by establishing a green revolving fund.

    Green Revolving Funds Case Studies
    Case Studies provide in-depth and high-quality examples of how GRFs have successfully been structured.

    Webinar: Implementation Strategies for Campus Green Revolving Funds
    This webinar provides a roadmap to implementing and managing a successful green revolving fund to finance energy efficiency and sustainability projects.

Sector Priorities

The Better Buildings Alliance Higher Education Steering Committee helps to set priorities for work in the sector each year.  This year, sector activities focus on the following priorities:

  • Alignment of Building Safety and Energy Efficiency to Ensure Student and Staff Safety
  • Resiliency Planning to Mitigate Risks during Extreme Climate-Related Events
  • Decarbonization Work and Technology Adoption in Laboratories, Central Plants, Commercial Kitchens, Medical Buildings, or Transportation Networks

Steering Committee Members

  • Stephen Kolb, Towson University (Chair) 
  • Andrea Trimble, University of Virginia
  • Alexandra Harry, Catholic University of America
  • Carol Dollard, Colorado State University
  • Elaine Sadowski, Community College of Allegheny County
  • Greg Farley, George Mason University 
  • Jose Varona, University of Miami
  • Steve Glazner, APPA - Leadership in Educational Facilities
  • Wade Berner Massachusetts Institute of Technology
  • Wendell Brase, University of California Irvine