The growing emphasis in the United States on a building's sustainability as it is constructed is clearly indicated by the exponential growth of the U.S. Green Building Council's LEED rating system. In addition, society is beginning to pay attention to the existing building stock's environmental footprint, focusing on energy and water efficiency. There is less discussion, however, on how the design of the building can actually facilitate sustainable living within and even affect behavior beyond the building's envelope. In some cases, what we do in the building may outweigh the environmental impact of the building itself.
A dining facility on an average college or university campus, for instance, has potentially the single highest environmental footprint compared to all other buildings on campus, outside of laboratory or medical facilities. It is one of the most costly to operate and employs a high percentage of campus staff. The dining facility is one of the campus's largest consumers in terms of purchased goods and producers of waste. It is also one of the biggest energy and water hogs. Conditions for the people working in the building can be dismal, with many kitchens lacking natural light, let alone fresh air or views to the outside. Yet, at the same time, the dining facility often serves as the center for student life on campus and has the greatest opportunity to affect students' behaviors relative to sustainability.
In 2004 when Bates College began planning for a new dining facility (Figure 1), the goal was to break the stereotype for campus dining. The College wanted to push the envelope of the healthy and sustainable dining experience. In the end, Bates built a new dining Commons that is energy and water efficient, equitable to staff, produces close to no waste, supports local and organic food, uses materials responsibly, and increases relationships between students and faculty, coursework and dining, and campus life and community work.