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By Ben Pimentel

If it could talk, the South Building would likely be in a foul mood these days.

In a few years, the Stanford Graduate School of Business will abandon the 41-year-old edifice from which the GSB emerged as one of the world’s top b-schools.

And a group of students from the Stanford School of Engineering has given the building a failing grade.

Green BuildingThe South Building was constructed in 1966 as the School, led by former Dean Ernest Arbuckle, was becoming nationally known as a leading academic institution for management education. So there’s a lot of history to be proud of here.

Today, however, the 259,000-square-foot facility—along with the newer Knight Building and Littlefield Management Center—is out of sync with an increasingly green-conscious world. As people pay more attention to the multiple factors affecting climate change and pollution, they are asking that buildings contribute less to the problem.

Engineering students from Assistant Professor John Haymaker’s class, Goals and Methods of Sustainable Building Design, evaluated the “green profile” of the existing business school campus last spring, and all gave it a big fat “F.”

One group pointed to leaky windows and to the outdated storm water management system. Another, using a rating system that analyzed air quality within the buildings, complained about the lack of adequate ventilation in some locations.

“It was no one thing, but rather a death by several cuts,” Haymaker said of the students’ evaluation. “The buildings don’t inspire, don’t provide a comfortable place of work and learning, lack flexibility to meet an evolving curriculum, are not environmentally friendly to operate, and lack in the way they provide for community interaction.”

Now it must be pointed out that the students’ analyses were part of a classroom exercise and not the result of a professional evaluation. Haymaker’s civil and environmental engineering class was meant to introduce students, both grads and undergrads, to the concept of “sustainable design” and the different “environmentally sustainable” building standards that have emerged over the past decade. That was when concerns over climate change and the growing impact of society on the environment prompted builders and designers to come up with guidelines for greener construction projects.

For Haymaker’s students, the Business School’s plan to move to a new, state-of-the-art campus offered a unique opportunity. “We used the GSB as a good case study, as something to sink our teeth into,” Haymaker said. “It’s great that we can walk through the existing building and have the designer come and talk to us about the [process of designing the] new building.”

The class analyzed the existing campus based on several standards now being adopted by more designers and builders amid the rising concern over the environmental impact of construction projects. The most widely accepted is LEED, or the “Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design” rating system from the U.S. Green Building Council, a trade association for the building industry. LEED rates a building based on the number of points it earns by meeting performance benchmarks in categories that include power use, water efficiency, and indoor environmental quality.

An existing building needs at least 32 points to be certified. A building could aim for greater green glory: A score of at least 40 earns a silver classification, while tallying at least 48 points means a gold rating. The highest classification is platinum—a building needs at least 64 points to reach that level. (LEED uses a different set of criteria for new construction. A new building would need at least 26 points for basic certification, 33 for silver, 39 for gold, and 52 for platinum.)

How green is the existing campus based on LEED?

Pretty pale, according to each group in Haymaker’s class. On one group’s tally sheet, the campus earned only 11 points. While the School earned points for what students described as innovative practices—such as offering compostable cafeteria utensils made from potato starch—the buildings scored poorly on other key aspects.

The campus, for example, earned only 9 out of a possible 22 points for “indoor environmental quality,” which includes such factors as ventilation.

One group observed that “there was inadequate ventilation in many spaces.” The group cited the walkthrough report of engineering PhD student Ben Welle who said, “The men’s and women’s bathrooms don’t get exhaust when supply shuts off, though used 24 hours a day.”

The campus also got poor marks in energy efficiency, with one group citing the use of incandescent and halogen lighting in some classrooms. Haymaker’s students pointed to the lack of operable controls in classrooms and offices that prevent occupants from simply opening or closing a window to maintain a pleasant indoor temperature. The existing campus also flunked LEED standards for “light pollution reduction” because, as one group reported, “The campus focuses on achieving a feeling of safety at night by using lots of lighting instead of on decreasing light pollution.” Recommended alternative light fixtures focus brightness downward.

Students went beyond the green stuff by citing issues that, in their view, made the South Building a socially unappealing environment. Junior Jen Tobias, for example, pointed to the Arbuckle Cafe’s subterranean location. “There are a lot of people, but it’s buried down here,” she said as she gazed around the near-empty cafeteria last summer. “The feeling we got from talking to people was the cafeteria was not the place they loved and where they can just hang out for fun.”

Some building rating systems cover areas beyond what are generally understood to be green issues, such as how energy efficient are the light bulbs or how water-wise the plumbing.

The Sustainable Project Appraisal Routine guidelines, known as SPeAR, a proprietary system developed by a London-based engineering firm, includes scores for non-green factors such as employees’ access to education and training.

Haymaker himself is helping to develop a new standard at the Stanford School of Engineering called Multi-Attribute Collective Decision Analysis for Design Initiatives. The system, known by its quirky acronym MACDADI, takes an even more comprehensive approach. In evaluating the environmental friendliness of a new construction, MACDADI factors in the preferences and desires of people who will be using a new construction—faculty, staff, and students, for example—and others who will be affected by the project—the rest of the Stanford community and even the city of Palo Alto.

The South Building may have flunked the engineering students’ evaluations, but building a new campus is an opportunity to aim for higher marks. In fact, Dean Bob Joss and the team planning the new campus are aiming for the highest score—they want the future Knight Management Center to go LEED platinum.

The design for the new campus has yet to be finalized, but the planners are looking closely at a host of green features. Those include using rainwater or recirculated gray water to cut potable water usage for building sewage and using building materials that emit little or zero volatile organic compounds that cause poor indoor air quality. Kathleen Kavanaugh, program manager for the building project, said designers are also looking into a system that monitors indoor and outdoor temperatures and lets people in a building know when it’s okay to open their windows to let cool air in. The system is meant to save money on air-conditioning costs.

“It’s a very green message,” Kavanaugh said. “It’s the easiest way to communicate your high aspirations. … Pursuing LEED platinum for the Knight Management Center campus sends a very clear message about [the GSB’s] position on the important role business plays in the environmental movement.”

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