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Buildings & Grounds

American University is committed to building and operating spaces that are environmentally friendly and healthy spaces.

Green Buildings

American University is committed to building and operating spaces that are conducive to living, working, and learning and are environmentally friendly and healthy spaces. Green buildings reduce their environmental impact through energy and water efficiency, low-impact and healthy building materials, and sustainable operations and maintenance procedures.

Explore AU's sustainable buildings

American University uses the U.S. Green Building Council's (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system for all new construction projects to reduce the environmental impact of campus buildings. The LEED rating system is an internationally recognized standard for green building design and operations. LEED buildings are evaluated using a scorecard to measure energy efficiency, water efficiency, site selection, and indoor environmental quality.

AU adopted a Green Building Policy which outlines the university's commitment to a minimum of LEED Gold certification for all new construction projects and to manage all campus building to LEED Existing Buildings: Operations and Maintenance standards.

View AU's project scorecards for an overview of the LEED building's on campus. 

LEED-Certified Buildings: 

Building energy consumption accounts for nearly 30% of AU's annual greenhouse gas emissions. Energy efficiency initiatives and strategies are an important part of AU's sustainability initiatives.

The energy used to heat, cool, and ventilate buildings is the single largest contributor of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions in the atmosphere. AU recognizes the importance of energy efficiency and conservation in reducing the university's contribution to climate change and is committed to reducing GHG emissions. The AU Facilities Management team utilizes tools such as Portfolio Manager and Lucid to track and adjust campus energy usage around the clock. In addition, the university files an annual report with Washington DC's Department of Energy & Environment (DOEE) with all energy and water consumption information for campus buildings. The District of Columbia has a citywide goal to cut energy use in half by 2032. Facilities Management uses this data to identify opportunities for energy conservation across campus. Students, faculty, and staff can do their part to reduce energy consumption by making some simple changes.

What the AU Community Can Do

Campus community members can participate in energy conservation by:

  • Opting to use natural daylight whenever possible and turning off lights when not in use.
  • Enabling power saving features on laptops and desktops to save energy. 
  • Purchasing electronics that feature the Energy Star label.
  • Unplugging electronics or turning off surge protectors to stop items from drawing phantom loads.

Behind the Scenes

AU's energy efficiency and conservation projects include:

  • Replacing older T-12 fluorescent tubes with newer, more efficient T-8 tubes. 
  • Using computer software to automate and control building heating, cooling, lighting, and ventilation. 
  • Installing meters to monitor all energy consumption in campus buildings in real-time, allowing Facilities Maintenance to quickly identify and correct inefficient buildings. 
  • Utilizing pre-programmed temperature schedules for classrooms, allowing for increased energy savings when the classrooms are not in use.
  • Scheduling regular preventative maintenance to ensure that all building equipment is operating efficiently and as designed. 
  • The Facilities Maintenance Energy and Engineering group has pilot programs in place in MGC, Kerwin, and McKinley to monitor and evaluate new energy conservation strategies.  

American University uses 100 percent renewable energy for electricity. AU mitigates all carbon emissions attributed to campus electricity consumption through a combination of on-site solar, off-site solar, and renewable energy credits. 

On-Site Renewables

AU uses both solar power purchase agreements (PPA) and directly owned solar photovoltaics (PV) and solar thermal for on campus renewable energy. Solar PV converts the sun's energy directly into electricity, while solar thermal uses heat from the sun to heat domestic hot water in buildings. Ten campus buildings feature roof top solar panels.

More than 2,150 solar photovoltaic panels were installed in 2011 on six American University buildings resulting in the largest solar power system in the District of Columbia. In addition, 174 solar thermal energy panels were installed on four campus buildings, providing hot showers to more than 2,000 students living on campus and hot water to the university's largest dining hall. Combined these 2,300 solar panels create the largest use of solar technology in the Washington Metro area and showcase how AU is finding innovative ways to fight climate change.

The solar thermal system converts sunlight into thermal energy, which is sent to a tank to provide solar heated water for showers and use by the AU community. The system pumps out 5,700,000 BTUs a day—609 megawatt hours of energy annually—equivalent to the amount of energy required to produce 20,795 cheeseburgers every year. According to the EPA, this solar hot water project is the largest in any city on the east coast. Skyline Innovations, a Washington, D.C.-based solar energy company, provides the system.

As a result of a combination of federal and local incentives, these solar installations actually reduce American University's energy bills. The projects are financed through power purchase agreements with Washington Gas Energy Services and Skyline Innovations, each of which owns and installs its respective system, and sells the resulting energy to American University through long term contracts for twenty and ten years respectively.

See how much electricity the solar panels on SIS produce in real time by visiting the dashboard for the array.

Buildings with rooftop solar:

  • Mary Graydon Center (solar PV and thermal)
  • Bender Library (solar PV)
  • Katzen (solar PV)
  • Spring Valley Building (solar PV)
  • 4200 Wisconsin (solar PV)
  • 3201 New Mexico (solar PV)
  • School of International Service (solar PV and thermal)
  • Letts Hall (solar thermal)
  • Anderson/Centennial (solar thermal)

Off-Site Renewables

As of 2016, AU sourced 50 percent of its campus electricity consumption from the Capital Partners Solar Project in North Carolina. The project, a collaboration between American University, George Washington University, and George Washington University Hospital, is the largest PV development east of the Mississippi. The 123 million kilowatt hours (kWh) generated by the solar panels is enough to power 8,200 homes annually and will eliminate 60,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year. 

The Capital Partners Solar Project was major solar power deal to bring green energy to the campuses of the George Washington University, American University (AU) and the George Washington University Hospital (GWUH). The 20-year agreement with Duke Energy Renewables taps into solar power from North Carolina to meet half of each university's and about one-third of the hospital's electricity needs and reduce their carbon footprints. The completed three solar farms in North Carolina generate 123 million kilowatt-hours of emissions-free electricity. 

When GW, AU and GW Hospital announced the agreement in June 2014, it was the largest non-utility solar power purchase agreement in the country.

Renewable Energy Credits

AU began purchasing renewable energy credits (RECs) to compliment 100 percent of campus electricity usage in 2011. By purchasing RECs, AU provides demand for renewable energy and ensures that clean, zero-emissions electricity is generated to offset university electricity consumption. AU ensures that its RECs have real environmental benefits by purchasing only Green-e-certified RECs. Green-e is a stringent, independent standard and process for verifying the credibility of renewable energy certificates. 

AU is committed to reducing water use on campus through conservation and efficiency measures. Water efficient plumbing fixtures, ENERGY STAR appliances, and water conserving landscaping practices all help reduce water consumption. Reduced water consumption lowers strain on DC's water delivery infrastructure and provides significant energy savings.

Water used in daily activities such as cooking, hand washing, showering, and laundry all must be treated before being released back into the water system. This water treatment process is highly energy intensive. In fact, DC's wastewater treatment center, Blue Plains, is the city's single largest electricity consumer. Reducing the need for water treatment centers will reduce energy usage and thereby lower emissions in the District of Columbia.

Water conservation also helps AU reduce campus energy consumption. Students, faculty, and staff also can do their part to help conserve water and save energy. Enacting simple behavior changes such as turning off faucets between brushing teeth and rinsing, taking shorter showers, and reporting plumbing leaks immediately all can help save water and reduce energy use.

AU's Water Conservation Features Include:

  • Low-flow faucets and showerheads, dual flush toilets, and waterless urinals across campus.
  • Individual building level water meters in Clark, Roper, Gray, McCabe, Katzen, Nebraska Hall, and SIS which allow us to catch water leaks early.
  • Replacement of older washing machines with newer, ENERGY STAR models, which use 43% less water than a standard washing machine. 
  • Planting of native and adaptive plant species used across campus to minimize irrigation water usage.
  • A computerized irrigation system capable of adjusting water usage based on weather and rainfall patterns.

Additional Water Resources:

Green buildings are not just designed to be environmentally friendly, but also healthy for the people who spend time in the spaces. We are committed to providing indoor spaces that contribute positively to the health of our students, faculty, and staff.

Sustainable Grounds Maintenance

American University receives frequent recognition for the beauty of its campus grounds. All 84 acres of the campus grounds is recognized as an accredited arboretum. But the landscaping is not only beautiful - it's also managed with environmentally responsible practices. Many of American University's grounds management practices help to decrease stormwater runoff from campus. The Washington, DC region is focused on managing stormwater to better protect the Chesapeake Bay from the harmful effects of pollution. On campus we are using many techniques to promote native and adaptive species, reduce the use of harmful chemicals, and reduce runoff.

  • Integrated Pest Management (IPM) is practiced throughout campus. Natural pest prevention strategies are prioritized and chemical pesticides are used only as a last resort after other options have been exhausted.
  • Native and adaptive plants are prioritized in all new plantings, which decreases irrigation and fertilizer use.
  • Green roofs reduce runoff and improve energy efficiency in buildings. Kogod, MGC, the Media Production Center, SIS, McKinley, Asbury, East Campus, and WCL all host green roofs. 
  • Rain gardens and other stormwater management features are located across campus. Examples of these features can be found near SIS, on the beach by McKinley, and across from the President's Office Building. These gardens serve to slow down, clean, and absorb stormwater, ultimately reducing the amount of runoff generated on campus that enters the city's combined stormwater and sewage system.
  • Permeable pavers located next to Kerwin Hall help decrease runoff by allowing water to soak down into the ground below the pavers.
  • AU is recognized as a Tree Campus USA for sustainable urban forest management and environmental stewardship annually since 2009.
  • AU hosted DC's first-ever Tree Summit in 2015 and is a partner organization of Canopy 3,000, an initiative to plant 3,000 trees in the city in 2016.
Various types of colorful flowers surround the bridge

All 84 acres of the campus is recognized as an accredited arboretum.

AU Arboretum

Au's Outdoor Trails

AU's Outdoor Trail

The Outdoor Trail is a 1.25 mile loop around the heart of campus and can be enjoyed as a Fitness Circuit, Walking Tour, or Wellness Path. The mobile-friendly trail map can be used anytime you're on campus. Created by the Office of Sustainability, RecFit, AhealthyU, and Facilities Management.

Explore the trail