Approach to Energy Conservation and Sustainability for Design and Construction

Updated July 10, 2019

For decades, the University of Michigan has taken an environmental stewardship approach to facility design and construction.

Examples of unique sustainability projects on campus, include:

  • Solar panels on the roof of the Samuel Trask Dana Building generate renewable energy for use by the School for Environment and Sustainability.
  • U-M’s Golf Practice Facility is a geothermal facility that uses the earth’s natural energy to heat and cool the space.
  • George Granger Brown Memorial Laboratories Mechanical Engineering Addition has solar panels on the roof that generate electricity and a solar collector for hot water heating.
  • The Munger Graduate Residences is one of nearly a dozen campus buildings with a green (grass) roof.
  • West Quad includes outdoor benches made out of recycled milk jugs and carpet tiles made from recycled fishing nets.
  • The Michigan Union is refitting historic light fixtures to be LED compatible.

It’s important to note that not all U-M sustainability measures are easily noticed. For example, the expansion at Institute for Social Research, along with an update to the HVAC system, resulted in a larger space using the same amount of energy as was previously used in the smaller space prior to the expansion. Incorporating energy reduction in building design is one of the most effective ways for U-M to reduce its carbon footprint, supporting the university’s 2025 goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 25% below 2006 levels.

Sustainabilty is rooted in the design of U-M buildings

Sustainability is considered in the design of all U-M projects. A sustainability summary is completed at each design phase to demonstrate a project’s sustainability goals and accomplishments. Several sections of U-M’s Design Guidelines for Design and Construction outline U-M’s detailed requirements related to energy efficiency, sustainable design and environmental stewardship.
For example, all major U-M projects require:

  • Incorporation of numerous mandatory energy conservation measures.
  • Mandatory evaluation of additional energy conservation measures beyond code, such as increased insulation and lighting controls.
  • Comprehensive modeling to demonstrate energy cost reduction of a proposed project in comparison to a project built only to energy code minimum requirements.

U-M incorporates the globally-recognized sustainable building and design strategies of Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and follows standards of the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE). 

In October 2017, U-M chose to go beyond what is required and adopted the Chapter 13 Energy Efficiency – Michigan Energy Code Part 10a rules incorporating the ASHRAE 90.1-2013 energy code, which regulates building lighting/electrical, heating and cooling, and building insulation from an energy efficiency perspective. As a public university, U-M is exempted and not required to follow local building and zoning ordinances. U-M is exploring through pilot projects how it can voluntarily meet or exceed this new code.


All new buildings and additions with an estimated construction budget greater than $10 million are required to achieve LEED Silver certification. LEED is a green building certification program that recognizes credits earned for sustainability efforts across several categories – from materials and resources to  energy and atmosphere – on one of four levels: Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum.

U-M has 15 LEED certified buildings on campus (full list available here).

U-M’s Design Guidelines for Design and Construction:

Additional information can be found on Architecture, Engineering & Construction’s website here: