A brick building amongst trees Amherst College has a long-standing commitment to energy conservation and has enthusiastically incorporated energy conservation strategies in the operation, renovation and construction of its facilities. Up until recent years, advancing the concept of energy conservation has largely been the domain of the Facilities Department and has been driven by the fact that sound business practices demanded efficient use of the College’s financial resources. More recently, the College has become increasingly aware that it has a moral obligation to embrace the concept of sustainability and environmental stewardship. As such, the College now actively and aggressively pursues energy conservation and sustainability in all of its projects. We have learned that it is far more effective to incorporate these features into our facilities right from the start than to retrofit these features.

The Amherst College High-Performance Design Guidelines strive to codify the approach and practices used by the Facilities Department relative to energy conservation and sustainability. It is intended as a framework for the College to use with its design professionals and contractors to establish guidelines by which projects will be designed and constructed. These guidelines serve to prompt the triumvirate of client, architect and contractor to take a collaborative, thoughtful and deliberate approach towards high-performance building design and construction. The guidelines ensure that the integrative nature of building systems is considered for all aspects of building design.

A fossil of a wholly mammoth These guidelines are not absolute. There are projects for which aesthetics or contextualism dictates that not all elements of the project are designed consistently with these guidelines. For example, Amherst College’s facilities are arranged on a rigid orthogonal grid that may not allow for new facilities to be oriented to take full advantage of light and heat from the sun (as was the case with the new James and Stearns dormitories). However, despite the sub-optimal orientation of these new facilities for passive solar gain, many other sustainable initiatives outlined in these guidelines were seamlessly incorporated into the design of the dormitories.

The LEED certification process has been a powerful force in prompting institutions to incorporate sustainable features in newly constructed buildings. LEED certification has gained popularity with institutions wishing to be environmental stewards and to gain the benefit of positive public relations for doing so. The LEED process, however, can force institutions to make decisions that are potentially unfavorable to the institution, simply to achieve the point rankings necessary for certification. Amherst's guidelines, which borrow standards from LEED, strive to steer the College in the direction of making fundamentally sound business and environmental stewardship decisions for our projects. While Amherst projects may not be LEED-certified, we can be assured that our projects are being implemented in an environmentally and fiscally responsible manner.

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