The AJLC was designed to minimize negative environmental impacts both on and off site. In terms of material use, this meant favoring biodegradable, recycled, and recyclable products and also favoring materials that were renewably extracted.
All of the wood used in the building was either recycled or harvested from forests that were certified as sustainably managed. Low volatile organic compound (VOC) containing paints and adhesives were used throughout the building to maintain top indoor air quality. Carpeting in the building is leased from Interface Corporation as a “product of service ”; it will be sent back to the company for re-manufacture when it wears out rather than being disposed in a landfill.
Our economy does not currently account for many of the environmental costs associated with resource extraction, manufacture and disposal. As a result, a number of the design choices for the AJLC required the purchase of more expensive materials.
The Living Machine (LM) cleans organic waste and nutrients from all AJLC wastewater. LM-treated wastewater is recycled within the building as toilet flush water and can also be used to irrigate the landscape. Approximately two thirds of AJLC water use during Spring Semester 2004 was internally-recycled LM effluent.
The Living Machine is an ecologically engineered aquatic ecosystem designed to treat wastewater. As with the ecosystems in the landscape, the Living Machine is still maturing rapidly and we expect it to produce higher quality effluent once the plant community becomes firmly established in the final “polishing marsh.” One might legitimately argue that the scale of Living Machine technology is better suited to a small community than single building. For example, heating loads and pumps for this system consume a significant fraction of the total energy budget for the AJLC. These costs are relatively fixed, so increasing the inflow would have marginal effects on overall energy costs. In this setting, the system is ultimately an educational and research tool. A team of student operators and lab assistants maintain the system and monitor its treatment performance. It has been the focus of many student and faculty research projects and is also a popular and accessible example of ecological design for AJLC visitors.