Written By Michelle Nguyen

My name is Michelle Nguyen, I am a fourth-year Environmental Studies major with a concentration in Climate Change. I enrolled in ENV S 194GB: Green Building LEED Living Lab to learn more about green building. Throughout my four years of taking environmental classes, I’ve been focused on how climate change affects the physical and social aspects of the world, but never knew how much buildings contribute to fossil fuel emissions. Since we spend most of our lives living or working in buildings, I thought it would be interesting to learn how to make them more environmentally friendly and sustainable.

LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and it is the most widely used green building rating in the world. Created by the US Green Building Council (USGBC), LEED provides guidelines for project teams to create an efficient, sustainable, and cost-saving green building. ES 194GB: LEED Living Lab is  a yearlong student-managed LEED certification and Green Building Operations course taught by a Brandon Kaysen, a LEED AP O+M professional (an accreditation that signifies advanced depth of knowledge in green building practices and specifically in the LEED Operations + Maintenance rating system).

The LEED Labs class has a mixture of both undergraduate and graduate students,  with majors ranging from Economics to Environmental Studies, who work together to enhance sustainable building operations and maintenance. This year, we focused on recertifying the Student Resource Building to LEED O+M Platinum (compared to when it was certified LEED Gold back in 2016), which is the highest certification awarded by the Green Business Certification Inc. (GBCI). At first, students participating in the LEED Living Lab were assigned into different categories groups: Location and Transportation, Sustainable Sites, Water Efficiency, Energy and the Atmosphere, Materials and Resources, and Indoor Environmental Quality. From that, we individually choose to focus on a credit under the assigned categories with a goal of achieving the maximum points awarded for the credit by the time the project was submitted for review.

I was a critical team member working on the Indoor Environmental Quality credits. More specifically, I worked on the Indoor Air Quality credits (IAQ Management Program and Enhanced IAQ Strategies). The IAQ credits focuses on maintaining the well-being of building occupants by insuring clean indoor air quality.  Improving air quality enhances occupants’ comfort, well-being, and productivity. In order to achieve the full points in the two credits, my partner Brian Wallin and I performed an I-BEAM (an Indoor Air Quality Building Education and Assessment Model) audit with the building engineer on the building’s indoor, outdoor, and HVAC (Heating, Ventilation, and Air Conditioning) systems. We were able to learn how to read blueprints, gain first hand knowledge about the inner workings of the building’s HVAC systems, and inspect the air handler systems.

One great aspect of LEED Lab is not only that students are able to specialize on specific credits, but it is also a very interactive lab where students often help one another from different groups, which allows students to gain extensive knowledge of all the individual credits and categories. By becoming familiar with all the credit categories and the LEED reference guide, it helped us prepare for and pass the LEED Green Associate exam, which demonstrates our general knowledge of green design, building practices, construction and operations  as well as helps further our careers in sustainability.

Deciding to join LEED Living Lab at the beginning of this school year was the best thing I’ve ever done at UCSB.  Not only did I get to learn more about green building sustainability and get hands-on project management skills with a “real world” project, it also got me interested in pursuing a career in building sustainability. I was able to gain insight into what a career as an environmental professional would look like by working on a project outside of a classroom setting, writing feasibility reports, and holding stakeholder meetings.

I highly recommend LEED Living Lab for students who are even remotely interested in sustainability or green building. I came into the LEED orientation at the beginning of the year not knowing what LEED even stood for; now whenever I walk around campus and see the LEED plaque in our buildings, I feel a sense of pride knowing that our school is so committed to being sustainable, and that I now have the personal knowledge and skills to help improve and promote the buildings environmental sustainability as well.