MERCED — The University of California at Merced is trying to set the standard when it comes to environmentally friendly buildings.
UC Merced's central plant earned a gold certification under the category of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a prestigious distinction sought by many universities and companies across the nation.
The central plant is composed of three buildings — a three-story facility that includes most of the campus's power operations, a telecommunications building and a 2-million gallon water-storage tank.
The LEED certification is handed out by the U.S. Green Building Council.
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In each of four categories, the 10-campus UC system strives for at least a silver on all new construction. UC Merced's gold is one tier above silver.
"We want to be a model. We're trying to figure out how to set the standard without having to drain natural re-sources," said Mark Maxwell, LEED coordinator at UC Merced.
The only other UC building to get a ranking above silver is at the University of California at Santa Barbara. Bren Hall earned the top ranking of platinum in 2002. The building is the lab for UCSanta Barbara's School of Environmental Science and Management.
The idea of making sustainable buildings a priority has garnered a lot of interest among UC Merced students, who have established a green club, Maxwell said.
"It's a big movement. It's a big concern for future generations. We want to keep the planet alive as long as possible," Maxwell said.
The central plant was recognized for its efficient energy management, water-use reduction, recycling, waste management, lighting and landscaping.
The complex earned marks for using recycled materials. For instance, the buildings's ceiling tiles are 77 percent recycled newspapers and phone books. A third of the carpet material comes from recycled soda bottles and 30percent of the insulation is made of recycled glass, Maxwell said.
UC Merced also uses its water tank to cut energy costs. The water in its tank gets chilled at night when electricity demand is lowest, and then is circulated through campus buildings during the day. The system helps UCMerced beat state energy-conservation guidelines by 12 percent to 14 percent, said Maxwell.
The campus's ongoing construction also is environmentally minded.
"We divert a lot of construction waste from landfills," Maxwell said. "Seventy-five percent of all construction debris gets diverted."
Metals and wallboard are recycled and wood is sent to a chipper.
Maxwell is submitting LEED applications for UC Merced's library, science hall, classroom building and dorms.
While building for environmental sustainability can increase upfront costs, long-term energy savings usually cover the extra startup expense.
"It can get costly, but it can save money in the long run," Maxwell said.
For more information on UC Merced's environmental sustainability efforts, visit www.ucmerced.edu/about_ucmerced.