David Orr: Buildings Can Foster Sustainability

"Building green" can offer a means to sustainability, said David Orr. An environmentally-friendly facility he was instrumental in planning at Oberlin College in Ohio bears testimony to that assertion.

Dr. Orr, professor of environmental studies at Oberlin and chair of its environmental studies program, spoke at EMU Friday, Nov. 10, as part of a year-long chapel theme of sustainability and "caring for creation." He is the author of Ecological Literacy, published in 1992 and The Nature of Design (2004).

Dr. Orr, professor of environmental studies at Oberlin
Dr. David Orr gives an illustrated talk on "building green" at EMU as part of a year-long emphasis on "caring for creation." Photo by Jim Bishop

"Architecture is a kind of crystallized pedagogy, or instruction, he said. "Higher education can be a laboratory for studying sustainable solutions."

To illustrate, Orr showed photographs of and described the $7.2 million Adam Joseph Lewis Center for Environmental Studies at Oberlin that he spearheaded and raised funds for at the school over a five-year period.

Completed in 2000, the Center was constructed of non-toxic recycled materials, fully energy-efficient and completely powered by sunlight. Even waste water is recycled through a treatment center and reused.

The building, surrounded by native wetlands landscaping, a pond and an orchard, was described as "the most remarkable" of a new generation of college buildings by the New York Times, and one of 30 "milestone buildings" of the 20th century by the U.S. Department of Energy.

‘a Scientific Fact’

"Global warming is a scientific fact – it is happening," Orr declared.

Greenhouse gas emissions from vehicles and buildings continue to rise, and we have about eight years to reach the point of no return if changes aren’t made," Orr said. "People can still deny it. Even the federal government has been slow to even admit that global warming is a serious issue," he added.

"A ‘green’ structure may seem more expensive up front," Orr noted, "but the costs of operating and maintaining the building go down over time.

"We must honor the natural world if we’re to have a sustainable future," Orr declared.

"Dr. Orr has been a visionary in green design, particularly on university campuses," said James M. (Jim) Yoder, associate professor of biology. "His visit raises awareness and excitement regarding both the importance and benefits of building sustainably on EMU’s own campus."

EMU representatives, including Dr. Yoder, visited the Lewis Center Sept. 14, 2007 to get ideas and insights. The EMU group sought ideas and insights as they plan for EMU’s anticipated renovation of – and addition to – the 40-year-old Suter Science Center on campus.