Campuses Get a 'Sustainable' Look

Article excerpt

Construction is looking good on what will undisputedly be Stanford University's most environmentally sound building, but there's one issue that project director Philippe Cohen can't seem to tackle: the lights.

"You know what drives me nuts about some people," a frustrated Mr. Cohen asks as he peers into a fluorescent-lit classroom in the building hidden in the Bay Area's hills. "They never turn lights off."

Cohen, director of Stanford's Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve, is overseeing construction of its first permanent building, a $3.2 million center that will host classrooms, laboratory space, and offices. Everything about the 12,000-square-foot building - from the waterless urinals to the 120-year-old bricks from Leland Stanford's original home that now line the front and back patios - was designed to have as little impact on the earth and its resources as possible.

Cohen's ideas are not foreign on college campuses, but they aren't ubiquitous either. Universities are often some of the bigger developers in communities, with construction of a new alumni center, dormitory, or research space always looming. But on many campuses nationwide, core groups of students, faculty, and administrators have brought sustainable principles - which consider the future while planning for the present - to the forefront of campus life.

"I think the university is an excellent place [for sustainability] for several reasons," says Amory Lovins, chief executive officer of the Rocky Mountain Institute, an environmental think tank in Aspen, Colo. "It has the knowledge to figure out how to do new things, and it has students who have the energy and enthusiasm to do most of the work, and for whom that discovery will be pedagogy."

Stanford students, partly inspired by Cohen's work at Jasper Ridge, worked with the administration to develop Guidelines for Sustainable Buildings, a 38-page booklet that covers everything from energy-efficient lighting to native landscaping. It will be distributed to architects and builders that hope to do work on campus.

Before the administration was persuaded to adopt the principles, the students needed to show how sustainable building can save money.

"We had to learn to speak business," says Grady Jackson, a third- year Stanford law student who helped develop the guidelines.

"If you put the money up front to make a building more energy efficient, it will pay off in operational costs," adds Audrey Chang, who is earning her master's degree in energy engineering at Stanford.

With 275 photovoltaic panels to catch sunlight, there should be no need to buy energy for the Jasper Ridge center from the traditional energy grid. There are even times when the meter will run backward, because surplus energy created by the PV panels will be fed back into the grid.

Enviro-friendly construction doesn't have to be expensive, either, Cohen says. The cost of the Jasper Ridge center was originally estimated at more than $7 million. …