ANNA-LILJA DAWSON
Prairies and Northern Bureau Chief

SASKATOON (CUP) — The University of Saskatchewan Students’ Union joined the ranks of environmentally conscious student unions across the country on Jan. 23 when its newest building received a prestigious ranking.

The expansion to the USSU’s existing Place Riel student hub received Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design Silver rating after undergoing major renovations.

LEED ratings are given to buildings as an international mark of excellence in eco-friendly and responsible practices during construction, design and operation. Certification can be given to residential, commercial and institutional buildings and is administered by the Canadian Green Building Council. LEED has four rankings — Certified, Silver, Gold and Platinum.

When the USSU decided that Place Riel was in need of not only a renovation but also an expansion, they voted to design the addition in compliance with LEED standards.

USSU General Manager Caroline Cottrell said that every aspect of the building came down to a decision pitting LEED certification against financial responsibility.

“As a student union, of course we had huge concerns around the financial component. We know who’s paying for this building,” Cottrell said. “We were very concerned that we balance the financial costs against the environmental responsibility but also to create a space that fulfilled the non-athletic, non-academic needs of the students.”

Cottrell said that a major issue the project overcame was having the student union’s executive members explore how the Place Riel project would affect both current and future students.

“It’s easier to look at the short term and save money, but in fact if they can look at the long term they’ll recognize the savings are achievable in the longer term and that they have that longer responsibility to students and to the planet upon which we all live,” Cottrell said.

“Get beyond your own term, get beyond your four years at university and look at the implications of what you’re doing.”

The Place Riel expansion is one of 10 LEED certified projects in Saskatchewan, while there are over 1,000 across Canada.

Cottrell attributes the low number of LEED projects in Saskatchewan to a misconception that certification will be a large added cost. The prairie climate also plays a role in LEED certification, Cottrell said, adding that decisions like window placement and different heating costs become factors that may not be as important in other regions of Canada.

A new student union building at the University of British Columbia is currently underway and is expected to rank in at LEED Platinum — the highest rating — when it opens in late 2014.

The Students’ Association of MacEwan University is in the process of creating a business plan for its own building to be completed as early as 2017. SAMU Vice-President Operations and Finance Josh Stock said sustainability is valued on their campus and will be incorporated into the association’s building.

“Sustainability is one of the eight ‘pillars’ MacEwan University has adopted this past year,” Stock wrote to the Canadian University Press. “While we are a separate entity, SAMU also embraces this pillar fully. Our future building will be constructed to, at minimum, the LEED Silver standard.”

Jeremy Ring was the USSU Vice-President  Operations and Finance during the two major planning years of the Place Riel project and was present when the USSU received the LEED Silver award. Ring spoke to the impact that student governance can have.

“I want to remind this council of the validation that they have. You’re student leaders. This council can affect the educational and the social careers of students currently and in the future,” Ring said. “There are significant impacts that you can have, this is just one of them.”