Business Schools

Building Green Classrooms


Business schools are adapting many of the elements of green business to their own buildings and facilities

Green business is a hot topic in business school classrooms. Now, it seems, the classroom where those classes are being held is likely to be a little bit greener, too.

Initiatives include a $60-million business school building at the University of Illinois that has just opened and that includes such green features as photovoltaic panels on the roof, triple-paned windows, and low-maintenance plantings. Other examples are compost piles for organic waste and dual-flush toilets at Dartmouth's Tuck School of Business and plans for an energy-efficient upgrade to an historic structure at Thunderbird School of Global Management, just outside Phoenix.

Business schools say their students are demanding and driving the change on campus. Typical is Jake Berlin, a second-year student at New York University's Stern School of Business and vice-president of the Stern Campus Greening Initiative, which is part of the Social Enterprise Association. "Whatever I do must have some sort of impact beyond the money I bring home or what the company I work for [earns]," Berlin says.

Research Grant

In addition to helping implement enhanced recycling and reducing paper use on campus, Berlin and his group are aiming to build a 6,500-square-foot green roof for the top of the Kaufman Management Center, which will include an area where students can relax and a renewable energy system for the elevator machine room. The Class of 2008 donated $530,000 for the roof, and the university recently gave students a $23,000 grant to research the safety and security of a green roof. Stern also boasts water bottle refilling stations to encourage students to use refillable water bottles.

Recyling trash is one thing, but at the Thunderbird School of Global Management in Glendale, Ariz., students are leading an initiative to recycle an entire building, the Thunderbird Veterans & Alumni Tower, which had housed faculty and administrative offices, a student lounge, and a café over the years. But it was closed in 2006 because of structural problems.

Built in 1939, the building originally served as an air control tower and officer's quarters during the operation of the Thunderbird Army Air Field, a World War II training facility. Last fall, a student-led task force took up the issue of the tower and kicked off a project to restore it—and make it green. "We're trying to keep things the same while updating it to be green," says Rebecca Mitchell, one of the students leading the effort to restore the tower. "It's the merging of two worlds."

Zinc Roofing

Students have raised $150,000 so far to create the plans, and they will need $2.5 million to complete the restoration. The building, whose plans are being designed by Drewett+Brenden Architecture, will include a desert landscape featuring indigenous plants to help conserve water, and solar panels and zinc—which is one of the most sustainable materials—on the roof. Old materials from the building are either getting recycled or will be reused in the new building. Mitchell and second-year-student Will Counts say they are aiming for platinum certification from the Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design (LEED) rating system, which is a certification program and nationally accepted benchmark for design, construction, and operation of green buildings.

Many universities are either seeking LEED certification or following its guidelines while constructing or renovating on-campus buildings. Harvard Business School has four LEED-certified projects on campus and three projects pending, says Meghan Duggan, assistant director of mechanical, electrical, plumbing, and sustainability (BusinessWeek.com, 9/28/2007) at HBS.

Harvard's Hamilton Hall received gold certification from LEED and is considered one of Boston's greenest buildings, Duggan says. Moreover, in fiscal year 2007, HBS brought its recycling rate up to 53%, which means the school is sending out more recyclables than trash. Duggan says students, 70% of whom told HBS that the environment will be important to them when they become managers, have motivated the rest of the community to take action. And education and awareness have become key components of their campus efforts. "What our lesson learned has been is that people want to do the right thing," says Duggan. "But they just don't always know what it is."

Special Heating and Cooling

Dartmouth College's Tuck School of Business has had energy-efficient buildings for a while; the cold New England climate makes them a necessity, points out Penny Paquette, a 1976 MBA graduate of Tuck who is now the school's assistant dean for strategic initiatives. She is helping Tuck complete a three-building living and learning complex. Although the school decided not to seek LEED certification because of the cost and additional paperwork, the organizers followed the guidelines set out for Silver-level certification.

Students are expected to move in over Christmas break. Eighty-five students will live in the complex, and it will house three classrooms, 15 study rooms, and many social areas. It includes a system that has air running over cold and hot water pipes for heating and cooling, dual-flush toilets that save water by providing one button for small flushes and another for full flushes, and master light switches in each room. The design also maximized the use of natural light to minimize the need for artificial lighting. There are also built-in recycling stations, low-emission paint, and furniture and carpets that were either made of organic materials or created in a way that used natural resources responsibly. "I really think most people recognize we're having a big impact on the world, and all these little things add up," says Paquette.

Indeed, some schools are even planning for the future of the green movement as they design their buildings. For instance, the MIT Sloan School of Management, is completing one building, currently referred to as E-62, that will be solar ready, so solar panels can be installed at a later date. The building will include some offices, classrooms, and a dining hall, for starters. Although it has sufferend some delays—fund-raising, originally set to start just after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, was postponed, and MIT later got a new president—the building's design was finished in 2005 and construction should be completed in 2010. Sustainable features include recycled materials, hot water preheated in the kitchen, and a "chilled beam" system that can be used for both cooling and heating the office areas.

Greening of Minds

This is just the beginning, says Lucinda Hill, director of Sloan Capital Projects. "It's a sense of lifestyle," she says. "We're not opening a building and then just being done with it. We're going to encourage efficient use of energy throughout the life of the building." And, she adds, the space is flexible so that it can change with the times.

What's happening at these business schools is meant to put green efforts on the priority list for future business leaders. "The real impact we have is when students take what they learn and use it to inform the way they run businesses," says Gregory Unruh, director of the Lincoln Center for Ethics in Global Management at Thunderbird.

At Stern, Berlin and his group this fall are launching what they call the "greening of the minds," in which professors commit to talk to students about environmental issues through the lens of the subjects they teach. Berlin and his group are also campaigning for more case studies related to environmental issues. "Out in the world, there's a lot of skepticism [about going green]. Some people think it's a fad," says Berlin. "We take the stance not only that it's not a fad, but that it's here to stay."

For photos of some of the green inititatives at business schools, click on our slide show.

Business Exchange related topics:

Green Building

Green Technology

Education Technology

Sustainable Design

Higher Education


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