Sustainability at Duke


Designing buildings that are surrounded by green space is a guiding principle of campus planning at Duke.  The University has demonstrated a strong commitment to infill building while preserving and creating green space.  With regard to building planning, Duke has made significant commitments to green design and construction, including a commitment that all new construction and major renovations will achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED™) Certification standards, with a goal of LEED™ Silver.  Duke currently has 41 LEED™ certified buildings and 4 buildings registered with LEED™ for future certification.  Twenty-eight percent of Duke University’s total square footage is registered or certified LEED™.

History of Green Building at Duke

In 1993, the University adopted a set of Design Guidelines to direct all future building on campus.  The original design guidelines contained many sustainable development principles, including a commitment to planning for 50 years rather than the industry standard of 20 years.  The guidelines are periodically revised and language promoting Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED™) and Life Cycle Cost Analysis (LCCA) has been added over the years.  This has emphasized longevity in the design process and encourages space to be designed with flexibility for future uses. 

Duke's earliest LEED™ certifications include the Smith Warehouse, completed in 2001, which received LEED™ Existing Building (EB) certification, and the Fitzpatrick Center for Interdisciplinary Engineering, Medicine and Applied Sciences (CIEMAS), completed in 2002, which received a LEED™ Silver rating. 

In 2003, at the request of students in the Duke University Greening Initiative, the University solidified its commitment to green building and the LEED™ rating system in particular.  Duke has committed that all new construction and major renovations will achieve LEED™ certification.  Every reasonable effort is made to achieve silver or higher ratings.

Green Building Opportunities and Challenges

Duke has embraced green building because it is in the best interest of the University. Members of Duke’s administration and the Facilities Management Department have seen that the adopted standards provide added value to the Duke community. As the owner and occupant of these projects, Duke benefits from improved building standards.

Steam PlantThe LEED™ process does present some unique challenges. The capital costs of building to LEED™ standards are typically higher due to requirements such as contracting LEED™ consultants and a commissioning agent. However, since Duke is already well above the industry standard in terms of building environmentally responsible buildings, the capital costs of following LEED™ guidelines have been only 1-3% higher. This percent increase in capital costs also does not reflect the savings a LEED™ project produces throughout the entire life of the building. Expected results such as better energy efficiency and higher productivity of the building’s occupants are long term benefits that will yield rewards – financial and otherwise – for a long time to come.

Additionally, under the current rating system, Duke does not receive points for some of its most effective sustainability measures, such as its energy-efficient steam and chilled water plants, which provide heating and cooling to Duke’s buildings more efficiently than locating heating and cooling units in each building.

Despite these challenges, Duke's LEED™ building commitment has helped Duke formalize its standards for environmentally responsible and sustainable buildings.  These standards facilitate a spectrum of positive outcomes, from saving money through energy efficiency to improving the inside environment for the buildings' occupants with natural light and carbon dioxide monitoring. Overall, Duke has embraced the goal of creating a campus of high performance buildings.

Next Steps in Green Building at Duke

Duke's Climate Action Plan (CAP), approved by the Board of Trustees in October 2009, set a path for improving energy consumption standards for buildings beyond the requirements of LEED™.  The CAP states:

“Duke should push beyond the current LEED™ building policy to establish green building energy consumption standards and an approval protocol for building energy consumption review. Duke should implement, measure and report on energy use targets by Building Tech Rating.” 

The CAP estimated that a LEED™ plus policy for all new construction could reduce greenhouse gas emissions for the University and School of Medicine by approximately 2% through 2050.  The intent of the LEED™ Plus policy is to augment the University’s current goal of LEED™ certification for all new construction projects and major renovations, while bringing additional focus to energy savings with paybacks calculated from life cycle cost analysis.

In 2011, Duke's Campus Sustainability Committee (CSC) drafted a LEED™ Plus policy that includes:

  • A documented process for LEED™ scorecard development with energy efficiency approvals;
  • Energy targets by building tech rating;
  • Measurement, verification and reporting of energy consumption versus energy modeling; and
  • A requirement that all value engineering efforts focus on areas outside of energy savings and that any proposed value engineering items within this category shall be accompanied with a full life cycle cost analysis.

Contact Information

For more information, contact the Facilities Management Department or the Office of the University Architect. Sustainability inquiries can be directed to the Environmental Sustainability Director.