Caltech prioritizes sustainability in building design and construction, complementing building occupants' efforts to minimize the waste and environmental impact associated with their laboratories, housing, offices, and shared spaces.
Built to Be Sustainable
For more than a decade, Caltech has committed to green building principles, and today, one-sixth of the campus building space is certified as LEED Gold or better. LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design and is a rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.
The campus now features 12 LEED-certified buildings, up from four in 2011. Caltech LEED certification includes eight buildings rated Gold and four rated Platinum. Since 2008, 747,000 square feet of renovated or new building space has been certified.
Caltech has gone beyond LEED in piloting sustainable laboratory design techniques, transforming historic spaces into cutting-edge laboratories, and reconceiving campus utilities.
The Resnick Sustainability Center, a future hub for energy and sustainability research, is being built just north of San Pasqual Street on the east side of Wilson Avenue. Caltech is pursuing LEED certification for the building, which will open in 2024.
Waste, Recycling, and Conservation
Laboratories use significant amounts of energy, supplies, water, chemicals, and materials. Caltech's Green Labs program encourages research groups to assess their environmental impact and institute energy-, water-, and waste-saving practices. The includes a certification option, communications network, and organization of rebates and information related to laboratory sustainability. Three Caltech research groups have gained recognition as Green Labs.
After hiring a new waste vendor in 2021, Caltech gained data on waste and recycling that can support conservation improvements. About one-third of trash collected at Caltech in 2021 was actually recyclable, and one-third of the recyclables sent to our vendor were rejected due to contamination. Outreach and education about recycling practices, particularly in laboratories, cafeterias, and living spaces, can make a significant difference.
People are generating less waste on campus: Per-capita production of municipal solid waste decreased 27 percent between 2016 and 2021, from 0.38 tons to 0.27 tons, or, from 2 pounds per person per day to 1.5.
Some waste generation can be centrally managed: During construction, Caltech works with contractors to prevent construction waste and make sure that as much waste as possible is diverted for reuse or recycling. When the old Mead Laboratory was demolished to make way for the new Resnick Sustainability Center, construction workers sorted concrete, wood, and metal for reuse and recycling.
Image, top of page: Caltech's Tianqiao and Chrissy Chen Neuroscience Research Building won LEED Gold certification for its sustainable construction. Designed to conserve energy, the building uses approximately 30 percent less than a comparable laboratory, is powered by a 1 megawatt fuel cell, and is surrounded by native and climate-adapted plantings.