Sustainable Stanford

L.A. Cicero Y2E2

The Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building

With its stone walls, covered arcades and clay roof tiles, the new Jerry Yang and Akiko Yamazaki Environment and Energy Building evokes architectural themes dating back more than a century to the founding of Stanford University and the construction of its signature Main Quadrangle.

But its four atriums—each topped with a soaring skylight that helps to provide natural light and ventilation—send a very 21st-century message: The building shows how Stanford is pioneering energy-efficient ways of operating a university campus. “It’s our most dramatic statement by far in trying to do sustainable building,” said Burt McMurtry, chair of the university’s Board of Trustees.

The building’s official dedication today underscores the university’s broader commitment to finding ways to reduce its carbon footprint—its amount of greenhouse gas emissions—in the coming years.

The new building, known as Y2E2, is a linchpin of this effort as it is a template for other buildings to follow. Already three other buildings are planned to surround it, comprising the new Science and Engineering Quad that will be the home of the School of Engineering Center, the Center for Nanoscale Science and Technology and the Bioengineering/Chemical Engineering Building.

What makes Y2E2 so remarkable is that it is projected to use roughly half the energy and 90 percent less potable water for fixtures than a typical building of its size.

Y2E2 is a concrete example of how the university’s Initiative on the Environment and Sustainability, launched in 2001, is already having an effect. The initiative is part of The Stanford Challenge, a $4.3 billion fundraising campaign dedicated to finding solutions to the most pressing challenges facing society and educating a new generation of leaders for the 21st century.

“Y2E2 reflects the environmental initiative’s commitment to pursuing practical solutions to the global challenge of sustainability,” said Barton H. Thompson Jr., the Perry L. McCarty Co-Director of the Woods Institute for the Environment and the Robert E. Paradise Professor of Natural Resources Law. “Y2E2 is a living laboratory for best conservation practices and an inspiring environment for the development of new solutions to problems ranging from climate change to drinking-water access.”

Promoting sustainability, of course, is not new to Stanford. Awards for sustainability dot the websites of Stanford’s various departments. Stanford Dining was the first university food service to be certified as a Green Business in 2004 by Santa Clara County. The Stanford Recycling Center received the National Recycling Coalition’s Outstanding School Program Award in 2002. Parking and Transportation Services has won the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Best Workplaces for Commuters prize for the last five years for its innovative transportation demand management program. Last year, the university conducted a carbon inventory and hired an executive director for campus sustainability. [See Q&A.]

Y2E2 is further proof of how the university is prepared to make investments today to reap savings tomorrow. “Even though initial construction costs may be higher, we know that the life-cycle costs will not be higher,” McMurtry said. “Since we’re an institution that is attempting to be around for the very long term, we should not be overly concerned with the near term. If we can figure out how to handle the financing, we should not be concerned about making investments that are just so completely positive from a good citizen point of view, individually and collectively.”

The $118 million project also reflects Stanford’s commitment to solve global environmental problems by bringing together experts from many disciplines—biologists, Earth scientists, ecologists, economists, engineers, legal scholars and policy analysts—under one roof. [See Multidisciplinary story.]

The four-story building, which has three levels above ground and laboratories in the basement, is filled with offices, classrooms and meeting rooms, and a cozy arrangement of couches and chairs on every floor. Soon, it will have a café.

“This is not just a building for the inhabitants of the building—that’s a point I would really like to emphasize,” said Jeffrey Koseff, the Perry L. McCarty Co-Director of the Woods Institute, which serves as the hub of multidisciplinary environmental research, teaching and problem-solving at Stanford. “We want this to be the coming-together place for the environment and sustainability initiative. We want people who don’t have offices here to come and have their meetings here, their seminars here, and then hang out afterward and bump into other people.”

Koseff said the building was designed to fulfill several missions.

“I like to think that it was built to conserve, that it was built to inspire and that it was built to teach,” said Koseff, the William Alden Campbell and Martha Campbell Professor in the School of Engineering, who studies the interaction between physical and biological systems in oceans and estuaries. Koseff also is the Michael Forman University Fellow in Undergraduate Education.

He said the building gets halfway toward its energy conservation goal—to use 50 percent less energy than a building of comparable size and use—by relying as much as possible on natural lighting for illumination, as well as natural ventilation for cooling.

His ground-floor office on the south side of the building, which gets the most sun, has a light shelf that bounces sunlight into the room, and then bounces it through a translucent panel on the opposite wall into the hallway.

“I often don’t turn on the lights in my office until 4:30 or 5 o’clock in the afternoon—and that’s in January and February,” Koseff said. “If you don’t turn the lights on, you reduce the need to cool the room, because a lot of the energy that comes out of the light is not just light, it’s heat. You get a double win.”

Koseff said a public website will provide up-to-date information on energy use throughout the building.

“Our hope is that if people have access to this information they could potentially modify their behavior in a positive way,” he said. “They might think twice about turning on the lights, or about the types of computers that they purchase. It will become a teaching tool. It will teach people how to use the building more efficiently.”

The building is the third “green” building to be completed on campus, joining the Carnegie Institution’s Department of Global Ecology building and the Leslie Shao-ming Sun Field Station at the Jasper Ridge Biological Preserve.

Jack Cleary, associate vice president of land, buildings and real estate, said that when Stanford decided to build Y2E2, the university had no idea whether it could achieve its ambitious goal of reducing energy use by 50 percent. Now, it appears Y2E2 will use 56 percent less energy than a traditional building of its size.

The building has demonstrated the benefits of investing in high-performance features, such as windows designed to maximize light and shade based on the direction they face, and the electronic systems designed to control mechanical equipment, Cleary said.

As a result, Stanford has provided the extra funding needed to achieve the same goal—a 50 percent reduction in energy use—for the other three buildings in the new Science and Engineering Quad.

“For the SEQ, the other three buildings that will be built will have the same sustainable commitment,” said university architect Dave Lenox, referring to upcoming buildings for the School of Engineering, nanotechnology, and bioengineering and chemical engineering. “We have a strong set of sustainability guidelines on campus that we use for our buildings.”

That said, the emphasis on creating high-performance environmental buildings—ones that use substantially less energy and potable water than comparable standard structures—will not translate to inflexibility, Lenox said.

“Although our new buildings are designed to be ultimately flexible, our sustainable guidelines still allow for us to make informed choices that respond to specific programming needs,” Lenox said.

For instance, because the occupants of Y2E2 teach and research sustainability, various types of solar panels were chosen for the roof because of their value as research and teaching aids, Lenox said. How well each performs will help the university decide what type of panel to install in the future.

“Anything we do is very sustainable,” Lenox said. “It’s just a matter of how many degrees up do you go.”

Cleary said Y2E2 has taught the university another lesson, too.

“In order to be super-sustainable, you’d think a building has to look like modern art or some sort of metal contraption,” he said. “What Y2E2 shows is that sustainability and high performance can fit within a context like Stanford, with its rich historical tradition of stone and clay tile, and still be compatible. That’s a really strong message.”

David Orenstein, communications and public relations manager at the Stanford School of Engineering, contributed to this story.