Green building techniques are gaining in popularity, and a new program aims to explore the use of sustainable building at the university level. Students at seven universities around the world will study how buildings can be designed in a sustainable manner, and they will also undertake a real-world project to put their skills into action.

The program is called Pillars of Sustainable Education, and it’s the creation of Alcoa Foundation, www.alcoafoundation.com, New York, N.Y., and Architecture for Humanity, www.architectureforhumanity.org, San Francisco, Calif. The Alcoa Foundation is a corporate foundation dedicated to furthering sustainability and addressing community needs, while Architecture for Humanity is a nonprofit that works to bring design services to communities that cannot afford them.

Pillars of Sustainable Education, a $1.5 million program, will study the use of sustainable materials in architecture and community design. Students at the participating universities will delve into curriculum focused on building design and material use, culminating in the creation of a community-based project that draws on their research.

The universities participating in the program are Carnegie Mellon University, The Georgia Institute of Technology, Purdue University, Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, Ostwestfalen-Lippe University of Applied Sciences in Germany, University of Sao Paulo in Brazil, and Tsinghua University in China.

The plan is for students to learn from experts in the field, such as industry-executive guest lecturers, partnerships with local nonprofits, and involvement with the Architecture for Humanity network.

Some of the schools have already identified planned projects for the program. For instance, Georgia Tech’s team will look into the topic of rising energy use and the market of carbon-neutral housing. The team plans to design, engineer, and build a net zero energy house prototype, or a house that uses zero net energy consumption and produces zero carbon emissions annually. The goal is to use the house for ultra-low energy efficiency testing, and as a demonstration model of what is possible.

Participants in the program will provide open-source project updates, allowing others to learn from their example. Incorporating green building practices can lead to more energy-efficient cities, allowing for increased urbanization and cleaner living.