Sustainable Housing for Colleges & Universities
By Glen Hiemstra, February 25, 2008
On February 1, 2008 I had the opportunity to address a design competition event sponsored by the Association of College and University Housing Officials International (ACUHO-I). The project is their 21st Century Project. This is an effort to imagine and then actually build a prototype for housing of the future, or housing that would be relevant and useful in 2030.
A little background. The Association began this project in 2006 when they brought together 100 housing officials, architects and designers, and other stakeholders for a 3-day design session, in which they outlined the key requirements or characteristics for a future housing project for higher education. I was privileged to be invited to join them for the first day. In a keynote speech we explored important future trends as they relate to 2030, and then I assisted in the opening discussions. Among the key requirements that emerged were flexibility, and sustainability.
After the intial design session, a request for proposals went out, and design firms in conjunction with university architecture departments competed to design the primary housing unit. Winning teams competed in a juried competition in 2007. This year, 2008, the competition was to design the “neighborhood,” which included the entire building and the campus environment surrounding it. Five teams met in Clear Water, Florida to present their designs in a day-long event.
In the coming year a competition will be held for campuses to propose actual building sites. And, if all goes well, in coming years the final phase will be to build an actual prototype.
My opportunity this year was to listen to the competing presentations, and to comment on them toward the end of the day. But mostly the Association wanted me to present some thoughts on the theme of “sustainability,” one of their key criteria for housing of the future.
Here in this article, and in the PDF version of the same article (with illustration included), is a summary of what we learned and what I had to say about sustainability and housing of the future.
Introduction to Methodology
The future creates the present. The way that we view the future affects the choices we make now. Key Events, Trends and Developments (ETD’s) help us understand the direction we’re heading. By exploring our ideas of possible, probable, and preferred futures, we can chart a course toward that which we prefer. Each of the future scenarios—possible, probable and preferred—are represented in the model of three overlapping cones. “First Winâ€ action points represent the initial successful actions we can take toward the goal, and are quite important for solidifying our path.
“When the lines that create the cones are drawn back to the present, the real task of shaping the future becomes clear. You want to shift your trajectory from the probability cone to the preferred cone. If you just keep doing what you do, you will get what you always got…If you want to head toward the preferred future, you have to make a shift, and that means you have to do something new.â€
Events, Trends and Developments
The future is shaped by future events, trends and developments (ETD’s). What are the ETD’s that are now exerting influence on the arena of campus living and sustainability? Knowing this helps us to identify leverage points for guiding our efforts toward the future we prefer.
Demographics: Demographic tidal shifts affect every aspect of how we live together as a society. Currently, we’re looking at major shifts of two big population waves: the aging Boomers, and Digital Natives (those born between 1980 and 2000). Among the last group, we see a surge of 60 million in the United States alone, making this wave almost as large as the Boomers. They will have a very strong influence on how colleges plan not only their curricula, but also their learning and living environments.
Information Technology: We see the Digital Natives bringing their techno-based communication, education and entertainment preferences and deep experience with them. Complementing this, information technology will continue its strong development in the areas of surface computing, the growing ubiquity of convergent technologies like the iPhone, and the widespread use of tele-presence technologies, enabling virtual classrooms, as well as facilitating even greater student social networking.
Materials: We can expect the continued proliferation of nanotechnology applications to have a big effect on building materials and, by extension, design. Solar panels, battery, and water technologies will all advance rapidly. Just this year, we expect to see delivery of 20MW stationary nano-batteries; the completion of a fabrication plant for the printing of thin-film solar nano cells (a single fab plant capable of generating the equivalent of one-third to one-half the energy output of a nuclear plant per year); and increasingly accessible nano-technologies for water filtration.
Environment: The reality of global warming is upon us. Successful building and community development cannot afford to overlook the effects of global warming, both in dealing with the ramifications of a melting earth, and making design and construction decisions that reduce our impact.
The second major environmental event shaping the future is the end of cheap oil. A recent memo posted on the Shell Oil website from CEO Jeroen van der Veer put it like this: “We are experiencing a step-change in the growth rate of energy demand due to rising population and economic development. After 2015, easily accessible supplies of oil and gas probably will no longer keep up with demand.â€ Understanding that this is on the horizon will guide our efforts to develop and adopt alternative energy sources, and provide a potent incentive for incorporating them into our building strategies.
Consideration of Events, Trends and Developments in the Context of Sustainability
As we go forward, it becomes profoundly important that we think about sustainability in a very holistic way. We’ll look at five key points to consider.
The Campus Building Industry Leads the Nation in Sustainable Design
The ETD’s listed above are shaping the future of campus building design and technology, as markers of what’s happening in the society at large. Here are some trends and leaders in the market:
- Hold the Carbon. 415 campuses across the nation have pledged to go carbon neutral.
- Three in five campuses have Green Building projects.
- The Harvard Green Campus Initiative. One of the greenest campuses in the country, Harvard’s Green Campus
- Initiative employs 20 full-time staff and 40 students. Their endeavors include teaching 9,000 students how to reduce waste in their dorms. The initiative will be instituting more than 200 conservation measures this year alone.
- Emory University has pledged that all future buildings on campus must be certified to at least the LEED silver level. Similarly, Duke has mandated certification by the U.S. Green Building Council for all new construction.
Sustainability Must be Holistic
Green building is important, but its benefits go farther when integrated with other aspects of campus life. Curricula, student identity, food, community, building and facilities must support each other. Examples currently being used include:
- Curricula: offering courses in sustainability and ecology, as well as integrating the principles in cross-disciplinary studies.
- Student identity: sponsoring competitions for “greenest dorm;â€ requiring stewardship statements in dorm applications.
- Food: sourcing locally produced foods; developing organic gardens on campus.
- Community: purchasing local sustainably produced materials; protecting habitat.
- Building and facilities: educating the campus and community about the sustainability of the new construction; developing sustainability leadership in the facilities management sector.
Explosion in Creative Methods for Sustainability
Campuses are jumping in with a multiplicity of responses to the question of sustainability. The Sierra Club acknowledged the efforts in their “Cool Schools: Ten That Get Itâ€ article in December 2007 (see below).
Consumption Patterns and Conservation are Key
The tendency to pin our hopes on big technological breakthroughs can forestall necessary and very beneficial actions that are available to us right now. Increasing understanding about consumption levels, designing with usage patterns in mind, and fostering community awareness of consumption and conservation must be part of the sustainability portfolio. In other words: Don’t wait for new technology to save the day.
Princeton University professor Robert Socolow’s concept of Stabilization Wedges indentifies 15 key technologies available to us now that can cut carbon emissions. An excerpt from the article Socolow and colleague Stephen Pacala published in Science magazine explains the concept:
“Humanity already possesses the fundamental scientific, technical, and industrial know-how to solve the carbon and climate problem for the next half-century. A portfolio of technologies now exists to meet the world’s energy needs over the next 50 years and limit atmospheric CO2 to a trajectory that avoids a doubling of the preindustrial concentration. Every element in this portfolio has passed beyond the laboratory bench and demonstration project; many are already implemented somewhere at full industrial scale. Although no element is a credible candidate for doing the entire job (or even half the job) by itself, the portfolio as a whole is large enough that not every element has to be used. â€
Imagine the Next New Learning Environment
In the footsteps of the Digital Natives will come a generation even more bred into the world of interconnected technology. Blended environments will become more important, as students seek a sense of physical community that can mesh with their virtual (and virtually ever-present) on-line community. Schools will need to be prepared to provide the high-capacity electronic interface necessary to support and nourish this new type of community. Schools also need to assume that many credits earned by resident students will in fact be earned elsewhere via the 21st Century network.
Events, trends and developments in demographics, technology, materials, and the environment are the key forces shaping the future of sustainable campuses. Industry leadership in sustainability is responding to a robust market. Successful sustainability efforts will be holistic, involving more than just building and design, as already being seen in creative efforts on campuses across the country. Stabilization Wedges and conservation remain important tools for true sustainability, and campuses can look forward to creating a future of blended environments, complementing technology with sustainability.
© 2008 Glen Hiemstra
Sierra Club’s Cool Schools: Ten That Get It.
By Jennifer Hattam
- Oberlin: Oberlin College’s environmental accomplishments are music to a tree hugger’s ears. A third of the food served in its dining halls is produced locally, the school hosts the first car-sharing program in Ohio, student activity fees subsidize public transportation, and half of its electricity comes from green sources. A real-time monitoring system tracks 17 dorms and displays how much juice all those laptops, blenders, and iPod chargers are burning at any moment. Last spring Oberlin held its first ecofriendly commencement, with biodegradable utensils and programs printed on 100 percent recycled paper.
- Harvard: This Ivy League exemplar is a front-runner in getting the most structures certified by or registered for the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) standards. A $12 million loan fund provides interest-free financing for ecofriendly projects—such as installing motion-sensor lights in classrooms and converting a recycling truck to run on waste vegetable oil from one of the dining halls. Such efforts generate enough savings to pay back the loan.
- Warren Wilson: (Swananoa, NC; 850 students) This small Southeast star wears its environmental ethos on its sleeve and backs it up with a sustainably managed farm, garden, and forest that provide food and lumber for the campus; streetlamps that reduce light pollution; and community service as an integral part of the curriculum.
- University of California system: When one of the richest state’s largest employers approves a system-wide green policy, the benefits are going to be big. The University of California has pledged to generate ten megawatts of renewable power by 2014, increase use of low- to zero-emission vehicles by 50 percent by 2010, and achieve zero waste by 2020 at its ten campuses. While UC Davis improves its agricultural sustainability, UCLA fights gridlock with a bicycle master plan that has increased ridership by 50 percent. The newest campus, UC Merced, received the second-highest LEED rating for its first building complex; the oldest, UC Berkeley, has a certified organic kitchen in one of its dining halls and a new major in society and environment.
- Duke: The Blue Devils are turning green, mandating certification by the U.S. Green Building Council for all new construction, improving on-campus bike trails, collecting 17 types of recyclables, and pouring money into wind and small hydropower projects.
- Middlebury College: the school that spawned the national Step It Up protests against global warming is all about energy—in both senses of the word. Students lobbied hard for the $11 million biomass plant now being built, which will be a big player in making Middlebury College carbon neutral by 2016. They’ve also convinced residence halls to lower their thermostats two degrees in the winter; exchanged more than 2,000 incandescent lightbulbs for energy-efficient ones; and worked with the college’s ski facility, the Snow Bowl, to offset its carbon dioxide emissions. Wood used in on-campus construction comes from sustainable, local forestry operations, and a ten-kilowatt wind turbine provides power to Middlebury’s recycling facility, which has helped divert more than 55 percent of the college’s waste since 1994.
- Berea (KY): the first interracial and coeducational college in the South is staying ahead on environmental issues too. Berea College is perhaps best known (at least in sustainable circles) for its Ecovillage, a housing complex for students and their families that incorporates passive-solar design elements, heavy-duty insulation, efficient appliances and fixtures, and rainwater collection. The ideals of the Ecovillage are reflected throughout this progressive Christian college, from the dining-hall menus that feature campus-raised produce and meat to the new solar array on the roof of the Alumni Memorial Building.
- Penn State: This Big Ten school gets big props for committing to a system-wide goal of LEED certification of all new buildings, a $10 million annual investment in retrofitting and efficiency, and a 17.5 percent decrease in greenhouse-gas emissions by 2012.
- Tufts: Home of the first university environmental policy in the country, this OG (original green) school keeps itself current with solar panels on its newest residence hall, energy-saving motion sensors on campus vending machines, and an electric tractor to mow its organically tended baseball field.
- Carnegie Mellon: You’d expect innovation from a school renowned for its tech programs, and Carnegie Mellon University delivers with student-designed green roofs on several buildings, what it claims was the country’s first ecofriendly dorm, and a collaborative research center with a modular raised-floor system that doubles the amount of fresh air circulating in the building.
Glen Hiemstra is a futurist speaker, author, consultant, blogger, internet video host and Founder of Futurist.com. To arrange for a speech contact Futurist.com.