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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Dealing with COVID-19 presents an unprecedented scenario for building owners, plant managers, and employees. Better Buildings has collected resources from partners, affiliates, and other organizations that may prove useful.

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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.

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.
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.
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.
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%.
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.
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.
A key goal of the Better Buildings Smart Labs Accelerator 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 containing additional tasks, resources, and deliverables to guide your organization through a systems-based management approach.

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 $24.6M 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.


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.


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.

Greening the Bottom Line
A report summarizing and analyzing trends in green revolving fund adoption and performance among colleges and universities.

Internal Financing for Carbon Reduction Projects 
Internal financing refers to an organization’s use of its existing financial resources to pay for carbon reduction projects. This fact sheet summarizes 6 common internal financing modes.

External Financing for Carbon Reduction Projects
External financing refers to funding acquired from sources outside the organization.

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)
  • Amy Butler, Michigan State University
  • 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