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Investing in Materials Management

How the right materials and campus design approaches can promote sustainability
University Business, Feb 2009

VIRTUALLY ALL CAMPUSES ARE STRIVING FOR SUSTAINABILITY. As client institutions make their intentions clear, engineers and architects are continuously searching for the most appropriate materials and design approaches?HVAC systems that maximize the amount of fresh air in work and living environments, green roofs that reduce heating and cooling costs, and renovations that manage storm water on site, to name a few. Materials management plans help make it all happen.

Environmental stewardship is not the sole reason a higher ed institution would implement a materials management plan, but these plans can be a powerful tool in the greening of a campus. They result in better organized operations and support services and getting the highest and best use out of campus real estate.

As IHEs expand, more campus space is needed for operations and support, such as delivery truck traffic, loading docks, storage facilities, materials distribution, recycling, and waste removal. Often there’s an unintended outcome to a project?a disorderly, noisy, and often inefficient campus. Trucks contend with pedestrians, loading docks are in plain sight, dumpsters are prevalent, and hallways and stairwells are used for storage.

Re-evaluating truck
delivery and service vehicle
routes helps in developing
better campus circulation.

But with forethought and creativity, a creative, comprehensive materials management plan can minimize traffic congestion, streamline operational flows, and enhance aesthetics.

The development of better circulation infrastructure is one key piece. Many campuses suffer from an “island” approach to shipping, receiving, and vehicle movement?each building developing its own system for vendors, logistics, and deliveries. Clustering service points to reduce the number of loading docks and truck parking areas can cut down on idling and increase efficiency.

At Harvard, the island approach was rectified during the Northwest Corner project, the most significant new addition to the Law School campus in nearly 125 years. A single loading facility, designed to consolidate service areas and docks from three individual buildings into one, meets shipping and receiving needs.

In addition, service vehicle type, size, and schedule were studied for Harvard’s project for better compatibility with the surrounding neighborhood. The considerable reduction in truck traffic created a safer, more attractive environment.

Evaluating solid and hazardous waste removal, storage, and recycling is also worthwhile and can create greater efficiencies and increased recycling rates.

Effective materials management plans have many benefits. For starters, consolidating, reconfiguring, and better managing the core infrastructure of a campus reduces redundancy and increases efficiency?resulting in annual operating cost savings. Getting higher and better use of institutional real estate is another benefit.

Removing unsafe and unsightly conditions, placing core services out of sight, and creating a more pedestrian-friendly environment can enhance the visual and physical sense of place on campus. This can improve the quality of life for students and serve as a recruitment and retention tool for students and staff.

Materials management planning is one of the best investments an IHE can make. In a sense, this is the fundamental reality of effective sustainability: good business practice. By implementing these approaches to design and operations, an institution’s capital and long-term costs can be substantially reduced.

Arthur Spruch is director of the Higher Education practice group at S E A Consultants, a Cambridge, Mass.-based design and planning firm serving higher education and other markets. Robert Brandon is the firm’s principal architect and planner. Spruch can be reached at

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