« PDF for March 20, 2007 Issue | Main | Michigan Law Review, How Do I Love Thee? »

March 20, 2007

Build Green for a Better Law School

An Open Letter

Dear Members of the Law School Building Committee;

We write on behalf of the Pro Bono Committee of the Environmental Law Society, a group of Michigan law students interested in issues of environmental law and sustainability, and eager to apply our time and skills to contributing to such efforts wherever we can. We were excited to learn that the Law School’s plans for new construction have taken a new direction, and would like, in the early stages of the concept and design process, to raise the issue of green building and sustainable design.

Sustainable building is rapidly gaining momentum in the architectural and construction communities. And for good reason; building green is cost effective, attractive, and speaks volumes about an institution’s commitment to the world outside its walls, from our immediate surrounds in Ann Arbor, already considered one of the most progressive cities in America, to the State of Michigan, whose current economic woes fostered a new energy plan this year, which calls for utilities to provide 10 percent of the state’s energy needs to be supplied from renewable energy resources by 2015, to the corners of the nation this law school seeks to serve.

As you take your seats on one of the most important committees in the Law School, you face a great challenge: How to effectively use a limited amount of space to create an environment that is both respectful and complimentary to the inspiring architecture that has won this Law School such renown, while at the same time ushering in something new and vibrant that is also, ultimately, an enjoyable place to live, work, and study. Green building is both progressive, in that it incorporates new technologies like low-energy LED lighting, and solar power generation, and traditional, utilizing natural materials, recycling of construction waste, and daylighting and ventilation schemes that utilize ambient heat, light, and air, to create a comfortable interior environment that is at harmony with the natural one. The effect, in essence, has the potential to successfully create indoor work/study space that feels like being in the Quad on a warm autumn day – and nobody who’s been there could argue that an indoor environment like that would increase productivity down the line, from devoted dean to overworked 1L.

In short, green building
• Saves money. 98% of a building’s costs are in its operation – good upfront design can dramatically reduce these costs.
• Is a great way to set the Law School apart. The School of Natural Resources and Environment recently “greened” the Dana Building, a 1903 academic building that now serves as SNRE’s central laboratory and educational center, winning “gold” Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certification from the United States Green Building Council in the process, and making headlines throughout the building and academic worlds.
• Offers innumerable public relations benefits. A green building will showcase what the Law School stands for and serve as an important recruiting tool for faculty, students, and potential donors.

Notably, several of our peer institutions have already caught on to what will likely be the future of new construction in America.

• Boalt Hall, in its Request For Proposals (RFP) for new building plans, detailed that plans must meet the UC requirements for green building, which include LEED certification of all new buildings.
• The Ross School of Business, after significant student and faculty input, has made significant design changes for its new buildings so that it can meet the requirements for LEED certification.
• Duke University has made sustainability one of the key ways it differentiates itself from its competitors; every new campus building must meet sustainable design guidelines, with the stated goal of achieving LEED certification for all new structures.

And, of course, green building is great for the environment. Buildings are the number-one consumer of energy in the United States – and that energy is the number-one source of greenhouse gas emissions. With climate change looming, and given the social and political climate of Ann Arbor, it would seem almost regressive to build a brand new structure using conventional technologies and materials – like littering, or smoking indoors, it was only understandable before we knew better. Consequently, we believe strongly that as plans for “completing the Quad” move forward, the building committee, and indeed the Law School, should focus on sustainability as a key design benchmark, perhaps using LEED standards as a starting point, as Dana, Boalt, and Duke have done.

At the 1925 dedication of the Law Quad, then-Dean of the Law School Henry M. Bates opined that law is “a plan of life, reaching down into every phase of human existence.” The new addition to the Law School’s landscape should similarly integrate the modern and traditional humanistic foundations of Michigan Law School, making them part of the built environment as well as the academic and professional one.

Sincerely,

Lara Dumond
Stephen Oertle
Liz Polizzi
Mark Shahinian