Developing Large-Scale Sustainability

Multifamily developments, urban high-rise communities, and more are setting a new standard of sustainability


Last year introduced green mission firsts with the debut of large-scale and even urban high-rise communities that prioritize green, modern, sustainable features at the forefront of innovative design. From Southern California to Boston, the U.S. Green Building Council’s LEED for Home Design & Construction Rating System has challenged developers to create environmentally-responsible initiatives within the student housing industry.

A prime example is a student housing community seeking LEED Platinum Certification as well as a major milestone in targeting Zero Net Energy (ZNE) operations: Plaza Verde at the University of California, Irvine (UCI). The 1,441-bed, five-story residential tower is UCI’s very first large-scale affordable green living, all-electric community following the University of California’s Carbon Neutrality policy to meet the highest sustainability standards.

Consuming 72 percent less energy than a standard building, Plaza Verde lives up to its name. The property saves 306,009 kWh annually, equivalent to the greenhouse gas emissions from 24,350 gallons of gasoline. Its on-site 1.4-megawatt photovoltaic array will generate enough renewable energy to equal the building’s total energy consumption and then some. The community lowered electrical consumption with features such as:

  • Energy-efficient appliances, heating, and cooling
  • White, reflective roof to limit sun absorption
  • LED lighting with vacancy sensors

In addition to renewable energy, Plaza Verde is one-of-a kind when it comes to incorporating eco-friendly building materials and methods that limit the negative impact associated with raw material extraction and transportation. For instance, all of the tropical wood is either certified with the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), re-used, or reclaimed. Out of the construction materials that were wasted wasted, 75 percent of the material was recycled, committing further to sustainability efforts in every way.

Americans spend 90 percent of their time indoors, where concentrations of pollutants are as much as five times greater than outdoor pollutants (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency). In an effort to follow a strict green cleaning policy, low-emitting interior paints, coatings, adhesives, sealants, flooring, and finishes were chosen for the development. The following design strategies were implemented to optimize human health:

  • Doormats and shoe storage to control the spread of dust, debris, and pollutants
  • Optimized ventilation and filtration exceeding code requirements
  • Carbon monoxide monitoring
  • Elimination of carpeting and water-resistant flooring in apartments
  • Applying the policy of smoke-free building and grounds

The selection of low-flow plumbing fixtures, native and drought-tolerant plants, and an irrigation system that uses reclaimed water helps the property use 50 percent less water than a standard building. Annually, Plaza Verde conserves 18.65 million gallons, enough water to fill more than 28 Olympic-sized swimming pools.

Plaza Verde exemplifies the level at which residential building energy usage should be. Not only does it minimize the ecological footprint but it is also a key component to conserving finite resources for generations to come.

While Plaza Verde may very well be the greenest student housing community in the nation, Northeastern University’s LightView is also making a sustainable impact as the urban high-rise is the first student housing development in Boston seeking LEED Platinum Certification.

Designed by CUBE 3 and Elkus Manfredi Architects, the energy- and resource-efficient project features high-efficacy LED lighting throughout, low-water laundry; low-flow showerheads, lavatory faucets and toilets as well as high-performance landscape irrigation When it comes to the interior details of the design for the 825-bed facility, low-emitting interior paints, coatings, adhesives, sealants, flooring, and finishes were chosen to meet air quality standards. A conscious effort was made in selecting materials high in recycled content or that were locally sourced for LightView.

The 20-story residential tower makes an impact, not only in sustainable design, but also in moving the “Housing A Changing City: Boston 2030” initiative forward. The city’s initiative aims to improve the quality and quantity of students attending Boston institutions of higher education. LightView is helping free up the housing needed for the local community workforce.

Designing healthy living environments can be made possible through the construction of energy- and resource-efficient buildings. Plaza Verde and LightView have both paved the way for what sustainable, creative, and high-quality developments should look like at an affordable cost for this new decade.

Jason Wills is the chief marketing officer for American Campus Communities.