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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There are many different ways to work with DOE through the Better Buildings Initiative. Explore our partnerships to find the best fit for your organization, whether your focus is energy, water, waste, or carbon.

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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.

2022 Better Buildings Progress Report

To date, the 900+ Better Buildings partners have saved more than 2.5 quadrillion Btus, saving more than $15 billion and 155 million tons of CO2.

Featured Solutions

Better Buildings conducted a review of 45 Campus Energy Master Plans, Sustainability Master Plans, and Climate Action Plans developed between 2008-2018 to identify common features and best practices in the higher education sector.
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.
Towson University completely renovated its Residence Tower to take it from the most energy-intensive residence hall on campus to a welcoming LEED Gold space outfitted with variable refrigerant flow HVAC, LED lighting and controls, and a high-performance building envelope.
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%.
The Better Buildings Smart Labs Accelerator's goal was to help organizations optimize the performance of their laboratories by mitigating safety and health risks, reducing energy, and improving ventilation. This toolkit is an easy-to-use step-by-step guide to lead your organization through a systems-based management approach.
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.
This 2021 Summit session provided updates and success stories from DOE's Building Envelope Campaign and Integrated Lighting Campaign.
In this 2021 Summit session, partners shared strategies to get even more energy savings from their buildings through the utilization of integrated technology packages, smart energy analytics, and more.

Other Resources

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 Sheets

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.
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.


This document describes how to implement a fume hood sash management campaign.
This presentation addresses laboratory ventilation flow rates. 
This presentation illustrates how the University of Colorado optimized laboratory ventilation rates.
This guide describes procedures to operate ULT freezers efficiently and to improve sample access.

Implementation Models

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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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%.
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.
The University of Utah implemented an internal Green Revolving Fund to allocate savings from current energy efficiency projects to invest in future projects, saving the university $1.6 million on energy costs since its inception.
UVA's Delta Force RCx Team 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 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.
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.


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

Showcase Projects

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.
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.
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'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.
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'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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.

Solutions at a Glance

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.
The Community College of Allegheny County issued a request for qualifications (RFQ) for their new 90,000-square-foot Workforce Development and Training Center, which will feature smart classrooms, laboratories, and multi-use spaces. The RFQ includes specifications for constructing the center as a Net Zero Energy (NZE) facility.
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.
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 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 issued a green bond to help fund the development of LEED Silver-certified on-campus housing and a multi-purpose center.


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


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.

Additional Information

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:

  • Decarbonizing through Technology and Operations 
  • Creatively Financing Energy and Carbon Reduction Projects
  • Catalyzing Engagement in DOE's Workforce Accelerator 

Steering Committee Members

  • Greg Farley, George Mason University (Chair)
  • Justin Thomas, Emory University
  • Andrea Trimble, University of Virginia
  • Elaine Sadowski, Community College of Allegheny County
  • Phil Valko, Washington University in St. Louis
  • Stephen Kolb, Towson University
  • Steve Glazner, APPA - Leadership in Educational Facilities

Meet the Sector Committee Chair