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Student Union features Sustainability

The new Student Union has been nine years in the making, marking the largest project in UT’s history, and sustainability was on the mind of the designers throughout the entire process.

There are numerous aspects of the 395,088-square-foot building that not only save the university money on day to day operations, but help reduce UT’s environmental impact. Dan Smith, a Project Manager for Facilities Services, gave us rundown of how the Student Union will help us reach our carbon neutrality goal of 2061.

The building was designed to be LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver, but the cost to verify the LEED certification was not justified. “I have no doubt we would have achieved LEED Silver”, Smith told us. In fact, the Sustainable Building Policy states that all new construction and major renovations must meet the minimum LEED standards.

The pumps, heating and cooling systems are designed effectively and only run when needed. As Dan explained, “All of the mechanical systems use something called an ‘economizer’, meaning, if the temperature and humidity outside match the goal temperature of the building, it will pump outside air into the building rather than heating or cooling down new air”.

Lighting in the building is also designed with sustainability in mind. LED lights throughout the building will last significantly longer and have sensors to know when they need to be brighter or softer based off the outside daylight.

“All of the large windows on the exterior of the building, and glass panels within the building, allow daylight to easily penetrate the center of the building, lessening the amount of energy going towards lighting” Smith told us. The exterior windows also lock in the warmer air in during the cooler month, and the cooler air during the summer months.

A stormwater catchment system is in place under the building. A 200,000-gallon tank catches and filters stromwater to use for irrigation around the building. While potable water can be used for irrigation, the system is designed that is prefers and runs better with the caught stormwater.

Other sustainable highlights of the Student Union include a green roof, reclaimed wooden UT seals, native plants surrounding the building, composting at select dining locations, and the My Tiny Trash program throughout entire building.

For more information on buildings and sustainability, visit our Buildings page, or email us at sustainability@utk.edu with further inquiries.