ECO-MAN

by Judith Green

AS FAR AS BRUCE COULL '64 IS CONCERNED, EVERY LITTLE BIT HELPS.

The dean of the School of the Environment at the University of South Carolina stocks his printer with used paper, so that a printout may appear on the other side of a discarded e-mail or a page from an on-line catalogue for scientific instruments. He is president-elect of an academic/professional organization called the Council of Environmental Deans and Directors-whose website, appropriately enough, is powered by an application called Resource Saver.

At home, he keeps multiple bins in the kitchen for newspapers, notepaper, and other recyclables. Sometimes he walks through his neighborhood picking up discarded aluminum cans and plastic bottles to recycle. His wife's new car is a hybrid; and when his current car reaches the end of its useful life, Coull plans to buy a hybrid for himself.

At the same time, he's not some eco-terrorist, donning a ski mask to hijack a truck carrying barrels of toxic waste. Bruce Coull believes in constructive environmentalism. He celebrates Earth Day. How much more establishment can you get?

One of the projects of which he is most proud is the Sustainable Universities Initiative. As its name suggests, it is an agency not of revolution but of incremental change-the only way change can happen meaningfully, in Coull's view, because no idea, no matter how good, can be imposed from above. For change to have permanent value, it requires buy-in at every stage, from initial proposal to completed structure.

Consider the "green dorm" housing 500 students that has just been built on the USC campus. The West Quad Living and Learning Center, to use its formal name, is solar-heated and cooled, and a fuel cell supplies it with some of its electricity. Its laundry room has front-loading washers, which use less than a third the amount of water used by top-loaders.

On the south side of the building, the windows have narrow fixed awnings, which he calls "light shelves," to reflect natural light into the rooms while reducing heat from direct sunlight.

The carpets are made from recycled fibers, and when worn out, can be recycled again. The paints are made without volatile chemicals, so they are odorless. The roof is recycled copper.

Even the sidewalks are innovative: made of porous concrete, so that heavy rains-a big problem in this humid climate-do not cause off-site runoff. The walks are imperceptibly tilted toward the curb to direct rainwater runoff to a constructed wetland.

This dorm is right across the street from an identical one built several years ago without these ecology-friendly features. Except for the solar panels, there's no visual difference between them. But the newer dorm, which Coull boasts is the largest residence hall in the United States that's "built green," uses 45 percent less energy than the one across the street.

To build the green dorm required a defense of the environmental features, some of which initially pushed up the cost to $29 million. And in a university funded by the state legislature, where any construction project is subject to a governmental bidding process, you can imagine the arguments over the expense of eco-friendly appliances and construction features.

The long-term effects of the green dorm don't stop with the building. "All contracts for buildings have to go through the state architect," Coull explained. "And the architectural community was not pleased with our request for a sustainable building. At the time, there was no architect in South Carolina who could meet the requirements for [designing] it." When architects were selected for the various aspects of the project, every one of them had to team up with an out-of-state partner.

Now there are 160 certified green architects in South Carolina, and the newly established South Carolina Green Building Council uses the West Quad as its home. Moreover, the university's president, Andrew Sorensen, who has supported Coull's efforts, has declared that all new buildings at the university will be built green hereafter. Five are currently under construction or in the planning stages.

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Photo: Michael F. Brown