To delve deeper into our coverage of the 2012 COTE Top Ten Awards, ECO-STRUCTURE asked the winning firms to detail their experiences with sustainable design. These offices didn’t just happen upon a winning scheme—rather, they’re all well-versed in making high-performance strategies an integral part of each project. Below we take a closer look at some of the core values that shape each firm’s ethos.

Location: Merced, Calif.
Campus Architect: Thomas E. Lollni, FAIA
Founded: 2002
Size: 25 employees (UC Merced Physical Planning, Design and Construction)
Little-known fact: UC Merced was originally a golf course. Golf balls are found nearly on every project site.

What was the biggest lesson you learned from your 2012 COTE Top Ten Project, the Long Range Development Plan at the University of California, Merced?
Thomas Lollni: This is the first master plan to be honored with this award. Engaging the broad community of faculty, staff, and students in the planning process led to higher aspirations that might not have been achieved otherwise.

What insights from this and other sustainable projects would you share with other professionals?
Set your sustainable goals early in the process so they become integral to your design thinking throughout the planning process for energy design discipline.

What is your school's philosophy on sustainable design?
Sustainability is an integral element of UC Merced's identity, so the physical campus serves as an instructional and research laboratory for the planning, design, and implementation of every project.

What kinds of sustainable solutions are non-negotiable for your school? What are the baseline standards your school aims to meet with every project?
All projects must meet or exceed energy performance targets set 30 percent below California Title 2, and ASHRAE. Dynamic energy modeling is required on each project with peer review as part of the process. LEED Platinum is the goal for each new project with LEED Gold established as a minimum. A 40 percent reduction in water use is also a minimum goal.

How do you think these types of innovative green solutions might become standard?
Setting and achieving ambitious sustainability goals, and measuring performance while maintaining traditional project budgets provides a compelling demonstration of what is achievable for others. UC Merced set a LEED Silver minimum back in 2002. Now the entire UC system and State of California have set LEED Silver as a minimum. We continue to raise the bar by achieving LEED Gold on six of our first seven projects. Our next eight buildings are expected to hit LEED Gold or Platinum. By showing what is possible, without spending extra money, we are raising standards through the state.

More information about the Long Range Development Plan at the University of California, Merced is available here.