It was during a design charette in 2005 that project executives with Pelli Clarke Pelli Architects and KJWW Engineering Consultants, designers of the University of Illinois Business Instructional Building, first broached the subject of constructing the facility in accordance with LEED standards.

"No one there had ever heard of it," recalls Paul Parry, principal at KJWW.

Nevertheless, planners at the Urbana-Champaign-based campus not only agreed to investigate the idea, but later decided to seek LEED-Platinum certification for the $62-million, 160,000-sq-ft project, a designation the completed facility earned by virtue of displacement ventilation, triple-glazed windows and a 4,000-sq-ft photovoltaic array perched atop its roof, among numerous other sustainable components.

In 2010, its work on the Business Instructional Building, a facility that consumes half the energy of comparable buildings, earned KJWW the American Council of Engineering Companies of Illinois Eminent Conceptor Award, the most prestigious honor of its kind in the state and one more typically reserved for complex civil work.

As for the university, it currently requires that all new construction and major renovations meet standards for LEED-Gold certification. By 2015, all such projects must meet standards for LEED-Platinum certification.

It's an aggressive schedule, acknowledges Morgan Johnston, sustainability coordinator with the university's department of facilities and services. "Someone once asked why universities have grown so dedicated to sustainable design principles when they consume so little energy relative to other users," she says."I guess my response to that would be that we may not consume huge amounts of energy, but we educate 100% of college graduates."

The Sum of Net Zero

Nowhere on the sprawling campus, home to 31,000 undergraduates, is the sentiment more apparent than at the site of the $75-million College of Electrical and Computing Building (CECB) in Urbana, a $95-million, 230,000-sq-ft project that, when completed in 2013, will house students of electrical engineering.

"We've been drawing on the expertise of engineers who will occupy the building. For them, sustainability is already a core value," says Tim Tracey, design director for the Chicago office of SmithGroup/JJR, architect for the new facility.

In addition to targeting LEED-Platinum certification, project team members are seeking a net-zero energy design as a step toward reducing total energy consumption on campus by 40% by 2025 and achieving carbon neutrality by 2050.