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Sustainable design and construction initiatives to help Ohio State reduce carbon


Upon completion, construction projects like the Wexner Medical Center Inpatient Hospital will follow strict standards to increase energy efficiency and reduce Ohio State’s carbon footprint. Credit: The Ohio State University

Throughout the orange traffic cones, gray cement and yellow bulldozers, construction projects at Ohio State are going green to keep up with the university’s sustainability goals. 

According to a Nov. 14 news release, the university’s carbon emissions fell 30 percent since adopting sustainability goals in 2015 that aimed to achieve carbon neutrality by 2050. 

Aparna Dial, senior director for sustainability and facilities management, said Ohio State’s construction projects play a large part in this reduction by using new processes to increase energy efficiency and reduce carbon emissions. 

University spokesperson Dan Hedman said Ohio State’s construction standards will help the university meet its sustainability goals. 

“I know there’s a lot of different standards across the country that people use for construction and sustainability, right?” Hedman said. “But, essentially, Ohio State was like, ‘We have these specific sustainability goals. Why don’t we have specific construction standards that drive us toward meeting these goals that we have set?’”

Kristin Poldemann, associate vice president for facilities design and construction, said currently, one of the largest projects to embrace the university’s construction standards is the Energy Advancement and Innovation Center, which has a total project budget of $48.4 million and will open in fall 2023.

Poldemann said the design of the EAIC will prioritize multiple passive and active strategies to reduce energy consumption, such as building solar panels on the roof to supply over half of the building’s electricity and using translucent wall panels to allow for high amounts of natural light. 

“It’s not just one thing in a building. It’s a living, breathing structure,” Poldemann said. “It all works together.”

Poldemann also said the EAIC is important for collaboration between multiple groups to research new ways to further reduce the carbon footprint. 

“There’s space for Ohio State faculty members, students, alumni, ENGIE Buckeye Operations researchers, local entrepreneurs, industry experts,” Poldemann said. “The idea is they’ll all come together and work together on next generations of smart energy systems and renewable energy and green mobility solutions.”

Another critical construction project for Ohio State’s sustainability goals is the Combined Heating and Power Plant, which Dial said will serve as an updated energy system to academic, research and medical spaces upon completion in late 2023.

“The CHP will allow for new building expansion including the new inpatient hospital, near Cannon Drive, and the planned Innovation District,” Dial said in an email. “The university’s existing natural gas-fueled heating facility, the century-old McCracken Power Plant, cannot efficiently meet the university’s increasing heating demand.”

Dial said the CHP requires less carbon-intensive fuel use than traditional systems that separate power and heat, and it will be designed with the ability to burn alternative fuels in the future when it becomes economically feasible.

Jordan Clark, assistant professor in sustainable buildings and core faculty member of the Sustainability Institute, said a goal of having the CHP reduce the university’s carbon emissions by 30-35 percent is achievable by removing big sources for energy losses. 

“One is the heat. It’s usually just sent into the atmosphere from power plants. It’s being used to heat the building, so we don’t have to pay for that energy,” Clark said. “And then the other thing is they’re cutting down the transmission and distribution losses by locating this close to the load.”

Poldemann said one way to measure energy efficiency in buildings is with energy use intensity, a measure of energy used per square foot of a building. She said many construction projects like the EAIC, the Wexner Medical Center Inpatient Hospital and the Interdisciplinary Research Facility all require less energy per square foot than similar types of buildings elsewhere. 

“There’s industry standard targets, and you obviously want to try to hit those targets, but what you’ll see is we pushed ourselves and challenged ourselves to even go lower, and so that’s what’s exciting,” Poldemann said.

Construction projects such as the EAIC, CHP and others take advantage of multiple policies to reduce carbon emissions. One such example is Division 18 of the Building Design Standard, which Dial said sets specific university-wide goals for construction projects based on factors including energy and water efficiency, materials used and cost efficiency.

“Our old policy only applied to projects, new construction and major renovation projects over $4 million,” Dial said. “What we wanted to do was to make sure that, you know, these standards are used across the university for all projects regardless of the dollar amount — whether it’s a small room renovation or a road repair.”

Dial also said Division 18 is included in the broader Sustainable Design and Construction Policy, which was revised and implemented in 2021 to support sustainable construction in designing, building, demolishing, renovating and repairing of all university-owned buildings and landscapes. 

“University buildings and their functions account for the vast majority of the university’s greenhouse gas emissions, energy use, water consumption, waste creation, and impact on campus ecosystem services,” the policy states. “Incorporating sustainability requirements into the university’s building construction projects is critical to achieving the university’s sustainability goals as well as enhancing the user experience for those on campus.” 

Dial said these policies have been impactful as there has been a substantial investment in energy conservation measures for current and even future projects. 

“Approximately 160 buildings are scheduled to receive energy efficiency upgrades with millions of dollars committed to these efforts,” Dial said. “Additional benefits have also been realized through our updated building design standards which set aggressive energy use intensity targets for new buildings, renovations, and any projects touching energy systems.”



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