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Students study in Union South, which was just given a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Gold award. The designation was given for the building’s design and operation traits.[/media-credit]

The recently finished Union South was designated a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Gold building, an award given out by the U.S. Green Building Council to buildings whose construction, design and operation meet high environmentally-sustainable standards.

Wisconsin Union spokesperson Marc Kennedy said the LEED Gold award is a remarkable achievement, especially because it is the highest award given out by the U.S. Green Building Council.

“[The buildings] are rated on their ‘greenness,’ on the way they’re designed, the way they’re built and how they are operated,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said this enhanced level of sustainability has always been a goal for the Union South building, especially in all the recycling and “green” considerations taken during the building process.

When the building that was to be replaced by the current Union South was demolished, Kennedy said 90 percent of the building’s material was recycled. He said much of the wood that went into Union South was recycled barn wood from around the state and added other materials used came from within 500 miles of Madison.

“Whenever possible, we tried to salvage material in the building process,” Kennedy said. “In the lower level of Union South near the bowling area, if you look carefully at the wall and tables, the wood in that area is recycled basketball court from the Kohl Center when they re-did their basketball court a couple years ago.”

The roof, Kennedy said, is another aspect that makes Union South “green.” He said the roof was built to catch rainwater that is recycled through the outdoor water features around the building, saving valuable water resources.

Wisconsin Union President Sarah Mathews said the LEED Gold designation given to Union South expresses how University of Wisconsin students were able to make a big difference on campus to help the environment.

“The reason why we programmed Union South to be so focused on environmental stewardship is because of vocal student input in support of that outcome,” Mathews said in an email to The Badger Herald. “This award shows the value of listening to and being guided by the student voice.”

Kennedy said UW students were actively involved in designing the new building and those students’ demands are what helped Union South reach such high standards of sustainability.

Kennedy said thousands of student voices were heard in the process. He said from this, they were able to determine how to construct and operate the building to reach the most sustainable outcomes.

“Many student voices were heard through open forums, surveys, focus groups and participation on various sub-committees over a long period of time,” Kennedy said. “[These committees] wanted to make sure students got what they wanted.”

Mathews said the LEED Gold designation shows how valuable it is for universities to listen to the ideas of their students. She said the outcomes have been good for both the environment as well as lowering costs of maintaining the building.

The high sustainability goals achieved by Union South in receiving the LEED Gold award, Mathews said, will also be a main objective in renovating the Memorial Union.

Green buildings are good for environmental stewardship and represent lower costs related to maintenance and energy use long-term, according to Mathews. She said there has been a lot of discussion on how Memorial Union can reach these sustainability standards while still containing the historical significance the UW campus loves.

“In the discussions I’ve been a part of on the reinvestment project, we’re absolutely focusing on renovating the Memorial Union to not only meet but surpass LEED Gold standards, while at the same time maintaining the old-world character and charm of our well-beloved building,” Mathews said.