Sustainable Building Design @ MIT: Walking the Talk

author: Jason Jesurum Jay, Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
moderator: John D. Sterman, Engineering Systems Division, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Adam Siegel, Sloan School of Management, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Theresa M. Stone, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
author: Theresa M. Stone, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, MIT
published: March 10, 2012,   recorded: September 2008,   views: 2730

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There’s “just exactly enough time, with no time to lose” to address the massive challenge of climate change and renewable energy, says moderator John Sterman. With this sense of urgency, MIT faculty, administration and students have taken to heart the mission of rendering their campus and the larger world more sustainable.

Sterman describes a triumph of green construction rising on campus, Building E62, the product of a decade of design and negotiation, which many hope will set the standard for future MIT development. The building features lighting that will use half as much power as existing campus buildings, and heating and cooling that will reduce energy use by one-third. But this is a success story with lessons: green construction requires higher up front costs, and MIT executives were not immediately sold on the benefits of lower operating costs.

Theresa Stone lays out the fundamentals of MIT’s environmental stewardship: be comprehensive and involve the entire community; consider behavioral as well as engineered solutions; and think about return on investment. These principles have guided a thorough ongoing review of energy use, leading to improving radiators in half the Institute’s academic buildings; and getting researchers to close the sash on the 1000 chemical fume hoods on campus, which Stone characterizes as a major MIT “energy hog.” In some cases, MIT examined whether its safety standards were excessive, and consuming excessive energy.

The Sloan School’s Jason Jay outlines the complex network of MIT student-based sustainability initiatives, some of which have coalesced under the rubric MIT Generator. As an analyst of organizational change, Jay noted that in MIT’s unique culture, petitions and rallies were less likely to galvanize people than collaboration across disciplines, and the “engineering-hacking aesthetic of hands-on projects.” There are dozens of unique projects underway after just two years, including an experiment in using waste heat from MIT’s cogeneration facility for electric power.

One student club, Sustainability@MIT, has built a membership of 780, and hosts conferences, high profile speakers, and symposia. Representative Adam Siegel sees his group working with community organizations, and revving up voter interest in clean energy during political campaigns. His group recruits faculty mentors, and solicits corporate support to bring practitioners on campus, and to discuss jobs in sustainability. One sign of this movement’s success: There’s a wait list for Sloan’s Sustainability Lab.

Since her return from the World Solar Challenge, Anna Jaffe has been very busy creating the Vehicle Design Summit Project, an attempt to produce a car that’s 20 times more sustainable in its life cycle than the Prius. She’s developed an international consortium of students, worked with master auto makers in Turin, Italy, and has finished prototyping the first car. Beyond this vision lies a grander goal: acting as a catalyst for others with big ideas, and serving as a flashpoint for fellow MIT students. “We’re surrounded by so much genius, so we sometimes look to peers for answers,” she says.

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