Higher-education institutions across the U.S. are some of the biggest drivers of sustainable building practices. Among the leaders forging ahead with plans and ideas aimed at reducing the built environment's carbon footprint is the Georgia Institute of Technology. Steven G. Swant, Georgia Tech executive vice president, preaches from atop his sustainability soapbox with a fervor that might win over even the worst skeptics.
"Sustainability isn't smoke and mirrors—it's real," he says. "It's real commitment and passion."
And while it takes many hands to push forward a sustainability program as comprehensive as Georgia Tech's—which was one of just 22 colleges recognized this year by the Princeton Review's Green Honor Roll for its overall sustainable program—Swant has been instrumental in leading the institution as it cultivates the next generation of scientists and engineers via its multidisciplinary research programs in sustainable design, construction and operations.
Since 2009, Georgia Tech has mandated LEED Gold as its minimum standard for all capital projects, with two of the most recent projects having targeted LEED Platinum. However, Swant says sustainability goes beyond the building program, arguing that the issue is being adopted increasingly as a best practice for overall business planning.
"The conversation [about sustainability] is moving into business and policy in a dramatic way," Swant says. "There's just tremendous momentum." By immersing all its students in a sustainability culture—over 260 courses include some type of focus on the subject—Georgia Tech expects to see a broad impact.
"We expect to train the leadership in this area—in the design, engineering and construction industry but also on the business and policy side of this issue," Swant says. "This is important to us, and I hope by partnering with industry we can to continue to see success."