Penn State establishes international ties for sustainable building education

Samantha Chavanic
August 02, 2017

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. — Representatives from Penn State at the Navy Yard recently traveled to Europe to meet with United Nations ambassadors, Irish government officials, and representatives from École Polytechnique Fédéraler De Lausanne (EPFL) to discuss sustainable building principles and related research and educational opportunities.  

The United Nations Economic Commission for Europe (UNECE) Committee on Sustainable Energy has been tasked with drafting a set of sustainable building principles that can be applied globally. The principles are clustered under three headings — strategic, design and construction and management — and focus on “framing the design, delivery and operation of buildings as integrated, thermodynamic and environmental systems.” Because these principles are intended to guide both new construction as well as building retrofits, the commission has placed a large emphasis on education and outreach activities related to the principles of sustainable buildings design and operation.

Penn State at the Navy Yard plans to play a significant role in this education and outreach component, as it is offering a six-week global sustainability internship program, partially supported by Danfoss North America, to test run the principles. A cohort of students, representing multiple cultures and countries, are spending the summer dissecting the principles and working to implement them into a project, investigating whether or not the principles work in their home countries, climates, cultures and political environments. The immersive experience is providing students with opportunities to research unique challenges facing the global community; identify implementation paths for high-potential technologies and practices relating to sustainable buildings, campuses and communities; critically review existing policies, standards and practices in their respective economies; and use cutting-edge methods to renew campuses and communities.  

“We have some unique capabilities and theories at the Navy Yard in terms of sustainable buildings and energy-efficient buildings. We use our facilities as living labs,” Lisa Shulock, sustainable energy program manager at Penn State at the Navy Yard, said.

Shulock; David Riley, professor of architectural engineering; and Somayeh Asadi, assistant professor of architectural engineering; traveled to Geneva, Switzerland, to brief United Nations delegates on “Global Sustainability Practice: Buildings, Campuses, and Communities,” the pilot internship program.

After presenting to the United Nations, Shulock, Riley and Asadi traveled to Ireland to meet with Irish government officials. Because of Ireland’s aggressive building energy code requirements and programs centered around making public housing “near zero fossil fuel energy buildings,” Shulock said Ireland could be a strong partner for Penn State at the Navy Yard in its mission to increase education and outreach relating to sustainable building practices. Ireland is also working to build an international training center a few hours from Dublin, where a significant amount of the public housing program piloting is taking place.

“The UN and Ireland connections give us reach and credibility that Penn State might not have on its own. This is a serious initiative that can transform how buildings are built and retrofitted in the coming decade,” she said.

While Asadi, Riley and Shulock spent time discussing the sustainable building principles and the Navy Yard program with the United Nations and Irish government officials, James Freihaut, technical director of Penn State at the Navy Yard and professor of architectural engineering, and Tom Richard, director of the Penn State Institutes of Energy and Environment, met with representatives from EPFL, a research university in Lausanne, Switzerland, that specializes in natural sciences and engineering. The University is partnering with the United Nations to focus on research related to the sustainable building principles.

Freihaut said the meetings with EPFL researchers included a review of the major research projects the University has undertaken related to highly energy-efficient buildings.

“The research coupled with the development of cost-effective, advanced materials for building facades with design principles that greatly reduce the environmental thermal load on a building allows for the design of communities of interconnected, smart buildings that, ultimately, can use 100-percent-renewable generation of energy for operation,” he said. “The indoor environments of such designs have documented occupant comfort and air-quality characteristics superior to conventional buildings.”

According to Freihaut, EPFL is well positioned in Europe to promote the UNECE campaign and the implementation of sustainable building practices.

“Penn State’s Department of Architectural Engineering and EPFL are establishing paths for collaboration in both research and education to support the UNECE initiative,” he said.  

Freihaut’s time in Europe also included attending a passive house conference in Vienna, Austria. Passive house is a rigorous, yet voluntary, standard for building energy efficiency, resulting in buildings that need little energy for heating and cooling and yet, by the use of active energy-recovery ventilation systems, produce high-quality indoor air for occupants.

By expanding horizons outside of Pennsylvania and the United States and creating connections with international countries, organizations and universities, Shulock feels Penn State at the Navy Yard will create a stronger, more robust, more diverse program that will impact the world on a much greater scale.

“I view our mission at the Navy Yard as educating a new generation of building practitioners who are going to go out in the world to provide engineering and leadership skills that will make our global communities more sustainable,” she said.

Author’s Note: Funding for travel was supported by the Global Engineering Leadership Program, an initiative that supports international outreach for engineering students and faculty to enhance the development of their global engineering leadership attributes. 

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Last Updated July 23, 2018