Cutting-edge technology deeply rooted in GIS

Fuel cell, micro grid and ‘green’ wall among features that helped earn LEED Platinum

A. Sue Weisler

RIT’s Golisano Institute for Sustainability, certified LEED Platinum by the U.S. Green Building Council, features a massive “green” wall and cutting-edge technology that represents the university’s ongoing commitment to sustainability.

The newly certified LEED Platinum Golisano Institute for Sustainability (GIS) represents the ultimate manifestation of Rochester Institute of Technology’s commitment to sustainability.

In addition to specialized research labs, student work areas, classrooms and office suites, the building comprises a wide range of distinctive “green” features.

High-performance building envelope: The building exterior is made up of several varieties of glass that allow daylight to enter with minimal heat exchange. The opaque panels have an insulation value comparable to masonry walls. Windows feature a coating that conducts electricity so that the glass can be heated to room temperature when the room is occupied, eliminating the need for baseboard heating. Transparent, heat-mirror glass outperforms conventional triple-pane glass and is thinner, lighter and less expensive to install.

Sunshade system: Stationary louvers on the building’s south side allow light to enter, while deflecting direct sun exposure. This reduces heat gain inside the building and permits more passive cooling systems.

Solar panels: The roof features 144 mounted solar panels. Together they can generate about 45,000 kilowatt-hours annually under optimal conditions. That’s enough electricity to meet the average power needs for more than six New York homes.

Micro grid: This system takes power inputs from variable sources (including wind turbines and solar panels) and stores energy in a battery bank to provide 50 kilowatt-hours of energy, which will power some lights and electrical outlets.

Fuel cell: A ClearEdge Power Model 400 Purecell System serves as the building’s primary energy source. This unit produces 400 kilowatts of continuous electric power; heat generated as a by-product of electrical generation helps heat GIS and other buildings on campus.

Vertical axis wind turbines: Three vertical axis wind turbines can be found on the building’s north side. Each turbine can produce 1kW of electricity under optimal conditions.

Geothermal system: A network of pipes within the galleria floor is connected to eight 150-foot deep geothermal wells that are represented in the landscaping outside of the building by a ring of eight cylinders. During cold months, the fluid in the pipes brings heat from deep underground and releases it into the galleria floor. That heat then radiates from the slab to warm the air in the building. During the warmer months, heat from the slab is drawn into the ground by the circulating fluid.

Sensors: There are 1,200 sensors embedded throughout the GIS building that monitor temperature, light levels, room occupancy and renewable energy generation. These sensors help to increase the building’s energy efficiency by automatically shutting off lights, adjusting temperatures in rooms and optimizing renewable energy use.

Energy-regenerating elevator: The elevator works like any other while carrying passengers upward. When the elevator travels downward, however, it recaptures some of the energy from its motion and feeds it back to the building in the form of electricity to help offset the elevator’s energy use.

Exterior lighting: Light pollution can disrupt the local ecology by affecting everything from animal predation and migration to mating and communication. The energy-efficient exterior lighting provides safety and security at night around the building by concentrating the light downward and avoiding unnecessary light skyward.

Green wall: Eight-feet wide and almost four stories tall, the green wall contains 1,776 plants. This unique feature not only looks nice, it also improves indoor air quality for the building’s occupants.

Green roof: There is a combination of green-roof systems on the walk-out roof. The first is a lightweight extensive system containing sedums and a deeper, intensive portion along the edge. The roof is also a habitat and part of Rochester’s Seneca Park Zoo Butterfly Beltway Project. The plants help to insulate the building and elongate the life of the roofing membrane, protecting it from the sun’s ultraviolet rays.

Bathroom fixtures: Low-flow fixtures have been installed in all of the bathrooms, including pint flush urinals, which use 85 percent less water than the standard 1 gallon/flush urinal.

Reusing rainwater: Rainwater is collected from the roof and stored in a 1,700-gallon tank in the basement. The water is used for all the flush fixtures in the building and drastically reduces the building’s use of potable water.

Water-efficient landscaping: Native- and draught-tolerant plant varieties were used in the landscaping around the building. Once established, the landscaping will not require any irrigation.

EV charging stations: The two level 2 charging stations in parking lot “T” are tied into the building’s micro grid, which means electric vehicles plugged into these stations can charge using energy generated from the building. In addition to making it more convenient for RIT community members and guests to charge their vehicles, it also enables unique research opportunities.

Education: In addition to the academic programs that it houses, the building itself was designed for use as a teaching tool. Interactive video displays and signage tell the story of the building’s conception and design, while a mobile app provides a self-guided tour of the building describing its many specialized features and labs.

Regional materials: Many of the materials used in the building came from less than 500 miles away, including RIT’s signature brick.

Environmentally responsible wood: Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood products were used throughout the building. In order to earn FSC certification, forest managers must demonstrate that the timber and non-timber products were harvested in a way that maintains the forest’s biodiversity, productivity and ecological processes.

Recycled materials: From the steel used in construction to the floor and carpet tiles, many of the materials and products used in the building contain post-consumer recycled content. Purchasing products that contain recycled content help build the demand for recyclables, creating a more closed-loop system.

Waste diversion: Roughly 80 percent of the excess materials generated during the construction of GIS were diverted from the landfill.

Hydration stations: RIT is working to eliminate bottled water on campus. The hydration stations throughout the building make it easy and convenient to fill reusable bottles, reducing the need for disposable beverage bottles and eliminating excess waste in the building.

Bike commuter infrastructure: Transportation decisions have a big impact on RIT’s carbon footprint. Providing shower facilities and bike racks at the building will make biking to campus, rather than driving, more feasible for many building occupants.

Go to for more information.

Recommended News