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The Benedictine Women of Madison’s Holy Wisdom Monastery

Madison, WI LEED-NC (version 2.2) Platinum


How did a simple monastery become one of the greenest buildings in the United States? Divine intervention? Maybe, but more than likely it started with a vision from the Benedictine Women of Madison, an ecumenical monastic community that weaves prayer, hospitality, justice and care for the Earth into daily life and ministry.

In March, the Benedictine Women of Madison's Holy Wisdom Monastery earned 63 out of a possible 69 points under USGBC's LEED for New Construction (version 2.2) Rating System, making it the first building to receive a rating this high in the history of the LEED-NC program.

Working toward environmental solutions and teaching the importance of nature is their primary mission, so they called upon Hoffman, LLC, and Vertegy to help them strive beyond conventional building practices when they realized their existing conference center, Benedict House, had become an obsolete, energy wasteful facility.

Instead of undergoing renovations that would total $5 million, the sisters decided to replace Benedict House with a building that was 50 percent smaller and built to the highest level of LEED certification (and designed to ultimately achieve a "zero carbon footprint" through future renewable upgrades).

To help earn the title of highest-rated LEED Platinum building to date, the following features were incorporated into Holy Wisdom Monastery:


  • Open areas for 70 percent of the project's site area restored to native prairie habitat
  • A white membrane roof, high albedo paving surfaces and permeable concrete, all of which help decrease the heat island effect
  • An accessible green roof on a portion of the building over the garage
  • No permanent irrigation system, one gallon per flush toilets, waterless urinals and low-flow lavatory and kitchen faucets


  • A geothermal heating and cooling system that uses 39 closed-loop wells, each 300 feet deep
  • Photovoltaic cells on the monastery roof which generate 13 percent of the building's energy needs. The goal is to eventually provide 100 percent of the monastery's energy needs—on a net basis—from on-site, renewable sources


  • More than 99 percent of the construction and demolition waste was diverted from the landfill
  • The floors of the main gathering spaces are made of bamboo, and nearly 30 percent of the building materials were produced regionally, within a 500-mile radius


  • An outdoor air delivery monitoring system incorporated into the building's ventilation equipment and validation of the indoor air quality through stringent testing prior to occupancy
  • Highly sustainable windows that contain specially customized glass, which eliminate the need for window blinds and provide views and natural lighting to interior spaces