Green building efforts pay off for New York’s Colgate University

SOURCE: Colgate University
Colgate University's Benton Hall is the US Green Building Council (USGBC) New York Upstate chapter's Green Building of the Year.

By U2B Staff 

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With so many young people around the world driving the climate action movement, it’s no surprise that many schools and universities have stepped up to the plate to lead by example.

Whether it’s by scrapping beef from campus food outlets or setting lofty carbon neutral targets and breaking new ground on ‘green’ buildings to meet these goals, there are many ways learning institutions answer the climate call to action.

For many among the sector’s early movers, these efforts are paying off, and in more ways than one. On top of delivering positive impact to the environment, becoming a climate action superstar gives institutions a reputational boost in a highly competitive higher education market.

One example is Colgate University, a private liberal arts college in Hamilton, New York.

What began a decade ago as a pledge to go green has culminated in a serious sustainability movement that is now earning the university recognition at both the state and federal levels. 


New York’s greenest

In April 2019, its bicentennial year, Colgate University became the first carbon-neutral campus in New York state, the result of multiple efforts since 2009 to reduce its campus carbon footprint by 40 percent.

More recently, the university added another feather to its sustainability cap: the US Green Building Council (USGBC) reportedly crowned its career services center, Benton Hall, the “New York Green Building of the Year”. 

Designed by world-leading academic architectural design company Robert A.M. Stern Architects, the 18,500 square foot Romanesque-style Benton Hall is part of Colgate’s larger US$60 million building campaign to enhance student experience at the university. 

Its objectives are twofold: to be the physical embodiment of Colgate’s commitment to student success beyond graduation; and to help the university advance its carbon-neutral goals.

With this in mind, the US$16.2 million donor-funded Benton Hall opened its doors in September 2018.

It was a near-immediate success, delivering on the first of its promises with 90 percent of students from the university using the facility to explore their post-study options.

To earn its sustainability stripes, the university ensured the construction of Benton Hall adhered to its sustainability standards and goals. Approved and adopted in 2015, these standards specify that all new construction and major renovations at Colgate must achieve a minimum rating of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) Silver. 

As such, about 75 percent of Benton Hall’s construction used either waste recycled or salvaged materials.

Stone was sourced within a 500-mile radius of the facility, while a passive house design was used to reduce energy use by nearly half when compared with traditional designs. These include windows and lighting that reduce energy needs, in addition to vacancy occupancy sensors and daylight responsive light dimming.

The investment, according to Colgate Director of Sustainability John Pumilio, is paying off.

“It’s exceeding our energy models,” he said. “We expected it to perform well, but it’s even better than we imagined.”

Colgate Project Manager Joe Inman said the university worked with Robert A.M. Stern Architects to fit the building with features that would significantly cut down heating, cooling and energy while still maintaining the classic look and feel of Colgate.

“A lot of times, owners don’t want to put in the money and time that it takes to go the extra distance. At Colgate, we see the value of having a 50 or 100-year building that’s going to perform efficiently throughout its lifetime,” Inman said. 

“President Casey was involved with the project from conception to completion, and that support from the administration makes all the difference.”


Last year, Benton became Colgate’s first LEED Platinum-certified building on campus.

LEED is the foremost programme for buildings, homes, and communities that are designed, constructed, maintained and operated for improved environmental and human health performance. LEED Platinum certification is the highest rating awarded by the USGBC, and is known to be the global gold standard for green building credentials. The rating considers construction materials, processes, water management, lighting, ventilation, energy, and a long list of attributes for sustainability and quality of life.

Benton has also earned other accolades, including an excellence in masonry gold award from the American Concrete Institute, and the Associated General Contractors (AGC) Jeffrey J. Zogg Award in recognition of excellence in construction management and teamwork.

“It’s irrational to take shortcuts during construction and then operate for the next 50 years with increased energy and maintenance costs,” Pumilio said.

“That was a shift in our philosophy. We’ve been making the case over the past 10 years that investing upfront is worth it for the university.”

Apart from Benton Hall, Colgate University has received other awards for its green building efforts. For example, both the Jane Pinchin and Burke residential halls achieved LEED Gold status this year.