Richard L. Amster Jr. sees MIT as an enormous, working prototype for the sustainable campus of the future.
As director of campus planning, engineering, and construction for the Department of Facilities, Amster and his department are central command for most of the construction, energy conservation, and efficiency projects on campus.
In Amster’s view, MIT is in a unique position to develop and test the latest green building and energy conservation and efficiency methods and practices.
“It’s part of MIT’s model to develop new processes and innovations that make the world better,” he said. “Our mission is to find new and better ways to build buildings and to share those with the world. Our building, planning, and energy conservation and efficiency projects provide the opportunity to test the principles around sustainability every day.”
The Stata Center (Building 32), the Dreyfus building (Building 18), and the Stratton Student Center (Building W20) are the latest campus buildings slated for energy-saving investments. The Stata Center and Stratton will get new energy-efficient lamps, ballasts, and fixtures, and Dreyfus’s fume hoods will be recalibrated. The expected payback period for each project is around three years.
“Given the fact that we have a large existing campus, we continue to look for opportunities to improve the operation of our buildings,” Amster said. Energy conservation projects include cleaning heating coils and replacing filters, upgrading lighting and employing occupancy sensors, and improving the efficiency of steam traps and laboratory fume hoods.
Across the board, “we are evaluating the condition of our existing buildings and looking at investments that make sense to improve efficiency,” he said.
In 2001, MIT developed Institute goals and standards that included conserving energy and reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Because buildings are responsible for around one-third of global energy use, MIT aims for all new capital projects and major renovations to earn at least a silver certification from the US Green Building Council’s Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system.
“It’s our responsibility to help MIT improve in areas of energy use,” Amster said. “With this goal, we work with the faculty to develop the scope of a project, but at the end of the day, we end up dealing with the nitty-gritty details of what gets built, so we have the greatest opportunity to make an impact on doing things right.”
In the current building program, the David H. Koch Institute for Integrative Cancer Research will incorporate a daylight dimming system and heat recovery methods. Its waste management plan calls for a significant amount of construction waste to be recycled. The Sloan School expansion project uses special materials to decrease storm water runoff and chilled-beam air-cooling systems for energy efficiency. “These are examples of some of the measures we are employing in all of our new buildings,” Amster noted.
“I welcome input from everybody—staff, engineers, students, faculty,” he said. “We consider every idea. If someone has a good idea, we want to know about it and we’ll implement it—we like to share our good ideas and we like to hear other people’s.”
Amster’s commitment extends to his own home, which he describes as a “typical New England Cape” in Hingham, Mass. Built in the 1950s, its construction was not as energy-efficient as it could have been, so Amster, in addition to keeping the heat turned down in the winter, added insulation, services the heating system regularly, and fights drafts. “We keep working on it,” he said.
Both at home and at work, Amster said, “One of the most important aspects of energy saving is behavior change. We want people to turn lights out, wear a sweater, close the fume hood, use the revolving door, power down computers, unplug things when they’re not in operation. These are everyday things that don’t cost anything, take only a second to do, and provide the quickest achievable results.
“Personally, I believe saving energy is the right thing to do,” Amster said. “My office lights are out right now.”