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


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.