Colleges and universities are honing sustainable design into a tool for recruiting
top students, faculty,
Colleges and universities have discovered that environmentally friendly
architectural design can help recruit top undergraduate and graduate students
as well as faculty, researchers, and administrators.
Strategies include recycling campus buildings, building with regional
materials, employing rapidly renewable resources whenever possible, and
devising user-controlled lighting and HVAC systems.
How To Recycle Buildings
In the interest of full disclosure, recycling a building ultimately means
renovating— renovating in more comprehensive and more sophisticated
ways, perhaps, but still renovating.
Still, the change in terms seems appropriate. Renovating sounds expensive,
while recycling sounds less expensive and more responsible. In fact, the
distinction holds up. The concept of re-using an existing building has
environmental value. An old building often proves to be a built resource
already in place—why not recycle it?
Pure cost analyses might suggest that it would be cheaper to tear down
old buildings and put up new ones. But there are more cost issues to consider
than cash outlays. Architects today can conduct comprehensive feasibility
studies to determine when recycling a building or starting over makes
Feasibility studies look over the bones of a building. Does the building
have a sound, re-usable structure? How much will it cost to bring it up
to current seismic standards and life safety codes? Significant structural
deficiencies generally cost so much to repair that it can make more sense
to demolish a building.
On the other hand, if the structure is sound, it may make sense to redo
the mechanical, plumbing, and electrical systems, along with modifications
to the exterior skin and interior walls.
First, the cost of renovating or replacing those systems should not approach
the cost of demolishing, disposing of rubble, and rebuilding with new
Second, renovating or recycling a building will not consume significant
quantities of structural steel, concrete, or masonry. Instead, renovating
conserves those in place resources and their embedded energy. It also
conserves the fossil fuels that would be needed to transport structural
building materials to a site.
Building recycling programs can be quite creative. Idaho State University,
for example, recently completed the Rendezvous Center, a new facility
that includes a student union, 50 classrooms, and housing for 300 students
all in one building. The 300 new residences enabled the University to
take an outmoded residence hall out of service and recycle it for office
Building With Regional Materials
Building with indigenous materials is a sustainable technique that conserves
fossil fuels while supporting the local economy. The U.S. Green Building
Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program
includes the strategy in its rating systems and recommends finding materials
within 500 miles of the site.
The concept sometimes controls elements of building design. Suppose, for
example, that a concrete plant is just 30 miles from a site, but trucks
would have to carry steel more than 1,000 miles. In such a case, a strategy
of building with regional materials would direct architects to design
Sustainable issues aren’t always black and white. Consider the case
of a building project aiming for a LEED platinum designation, the program’s
While attempting to satisfy the local-use requirements for LEED, the contractor
came across a conundrum. In a renovation, LEED calls for old carpet to
be recycled. In this case, the closest carpet-recycling center was 800
miles away, too far to be considered local. There was a local landfill,
however. Landfilling would save fossil fuels but reduce space available
for solid waste by filling that space with a recyclable product. It’s
a judgment call.
Like wind and solar energy, some building materials are considered renewable.
While old growth forests that developed over hundreds of years, cannot
withstand clear-cutting, a number of renewable resource vendors are growing
trees on plantations and harvesting the wood after just 10 years, for
use in building doors, cabinets, and other components.
Fast growing bamboo is another easily renewable product that is being
used to produce floor coverings, wall coverings, and ceiling tiles.
Linoleum is still another natural and rapidly renewable flooring covering,
with a cost roughly equivalent to non-renewable vinyl. Natural fibers
such as hemp and sisal are renewable agricultural products available for
use in wall coverings. The cost of these natural fibers roughly matches
the cost of non-renewable paints and vinyl wall coverings.
User Controlled HVAC And Lighting
Ideal building designs coordinate heating, ventilating, and air-conditioning
(HVAC) systems with lighting systems. The reason is that lights produce
heat that HVAC systems must cool — which uses electricity produced
by burning fossil fuels.
A coordinated system adds natural light to the mix and reduces the need
for artificial lighting, which in turn reduces the size of the HVAC system
required to heat and cool the space. First costs for lighting and HVAC
equipment go down. Lifetime costs decline as well, since smaller lighting
and HVAC systems use less electricity (which, in many cases, is produced
by non-renewable fossil fuels).
Another element of sustainable lighting and HVAC design gives occupants
the ability to control their own microenvironments.
One such design employs a mechanical system with a floor plenum that distributes
air under the floor. The entire floor is raised six to 18 inches, providing
space for electrical wiring and forming a plenum or ventilation area that
reduces the need for ducts. Conditioned air is fed into the floor plenum,
which distributes the air to cubicles or offices through perforated panels
spaced throughout the floor.
Control baffles beneath the perforated floor enable occupants to control
the temperature in their cubicles or offices by sliding a solid panel
over perforations to reduce the air flowing into the space.
Individual HVAC controls can be designed with ceiling plenums also, but
they cost more. Such systems require more dampers and more automated controls.
They may even require thermostat controls at each workstation.
Turning to lighting, window designs can provide enough natural light to
replace a substantial number of light fixtures in a classroom or office
building, again reducing first costs. Desk surface task lighting can provide
plenty of light for individual occupants during times of the day when
natural light isn’t sufficient.
Communicating The Strategy To Prospective
Students And Faculty
Sustainable designs offer their own reward in terms of cost-saving economics.
Given a bit of publicity, they can also help recruit students, faculty,
and administrative talent.
People are well aware of sustainable issues. They know that sustainable
buildings are more comfortable and enjoyable places to work.
A number of studies show that sustainable buildings with properly balanced
lighting and HVAC controls lead to higher productivity on the part of
occupants. Some studies have shown that sustainable designs boost the
performance of students.
To promote the benefits, sustainable buildings plus supporting studies
can be used as learning tools in classes about sustainable design.
For building users, signage explaining the sustainable features of buildings
can be placed at strategic points in the buildings to educate them about
how the principles of sustainability were applied in their building. Sustainable
designs can be mentioned in literature, videos, and web information promoting
Another way to communicate a school’s interest in the environment
is to create recycling programs. The student center, cafeterias, and other
food services on campus can set up recycling stations where students can
separate and drop off paper, plastics, and food scraps as they leave.
Recycling stations in offices and classrooms can offer separate disposal
containers for newspapers and office paper.
Whatever you do to keep your campus environmentally friendly shows your
commitment to sustainability, a commitment that current and future students,
faculty, and administrators will appreciate, especially as you communicate
your commitment with them. Kyle can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.