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Q&A with Joe Sugg

Joe Sugg

Joe Sugg explains the green tech at work in the new Learning Commons and Library.
Photo by Charles Barry.

In recent years, Santa Clara University has become a community benchmark for sustainable energy. How has the University done it? Santa Clara Magazine managing editor Steven Boyd Saum sat down for a talk with Joe Sugg, assistant vice president for University Operations, on March 27 to take stock of how far the University has come—and what’s next for greening the Mission campus.

SCM: Last year the University published a study looking at sustainability efforts on campus. Especially for our readers who haven’t read it, can you tell us what is Santa Clara doing?

Sugg: When it comes to our sustainability policy, there are actually several parts to it.

One part of it is running a sustainable campus. That’s the same mission that a whole lot of businesses in Silicon Valley have: to run a sustainable business.

We are also attempting to give students a culture of sustainability so that they will run a sustainable life or business for the next 60 years.

There’s a short-term impact—things that mostly Facilities does. But there’s a long-term impact, too, which people like Sustainability Coordinator Lindsey Cromwell, the GREEN Club, and the Environmental Studies Institute are working on. The real benefit comes over the next 60 years.

In terms of providing a sustainable environment, one of the ways we’re doing that is through the recycling program. Ten years ago we didn’t have much of a recycling program. We’re now recycling about 50 percent of the waste stream. That’s incredible.

We kind of eased into it without any fanfare—and without sacrifice on the part of the people on campus. It was all done organizationally through the way Facilities has changed the way we operate. We’ve done pretty well already. We’re leaders in the Silicon Valley in that, no question about it.

Now, to get from 50 percent recycling to 80 percent, which is the next goal, is going to take a lot of help—from the residence halls, the GREEN Club, the Environmental Studies Institute, the sustainability coordinator.

Another thing that has been without fanfare is our energy conservation program. We haven’t asked people to work in the dark. We haven’t asked people to wear sweaters when it’s cold or shorts in the summer. It’s been pretty much business as usual for the campus.

But what is not evident in this normal lifestyle is that over the last six years, we’ve had a 27 percent growth in the square footage of air-conditioned space on campus, which takes up a lot more energy than St. Joseph’s Hall or O’Connor Hall, which aren’t air conditioned. Air conditioning is about 20 percent of the total electrical load of a building. So we’ve had a tremendous increase in air-conditioning space since the year 2000. And we’ve had only a 3 percent increase in our electrical consumption. It’s saved a lot of money. It’s also saved a lot of carbon dioxide.

If you measure energy consumed by Btus per square foot of buildings on campus, that has dropped 8 percent. We’ve done that through good design, and through quality air-conditioning systems that are more efficient.

We’ve also kept our energy costs down. Our cost of electricity is significantly below the market because we’re lucky to live in Santa Clara, where we have Silicon Valley Power. And of the energy we buy, almost 50 percent of it is made from other than fossil fuels.

SCM: What are the sources?

Sugg: Most of it is wind and solar. Some of it is hydro, and some of it’s even nuclear. But it’s not fossil fuel. Some of it, you may argue, is not necessarily “green.” But, clearly, it’s not carbon-dioxide emitting. Five percent of our energy is provided by windmills that the University owns.

We also save money through energy-cost management. Take our gas prices. We don’t buy gas from PG&E. It’s an unregulated commodity now, so we buy it directly from brokers. We’re 10 percent below PG&E costs. Those are big savings in dollars, along with the big savings in energy.

Green by design

Sugg: With our new building designs, like the library and the Leavey School of Business, we’re taking energy conscious design to another level. The business school will be 10 percent better than the new California standards that were introduced last year for building design. You can’t imagine how hard it was to do that. It took a lot of detail in the equipment we used, the building layout, the insulation output in the windows.

Our next big push is going to be reduction of carbon dioxide. In this room today, we have lights on—but we can’t just have everybody work in the dark, freeze, and burn up. Yes, you’ve got to continue energy conservation efforts. But to make a significant reduction to carbon dioxide, we have to get off fossil fuels—that’s the only way to do it.

The California goal is 20 percent below the 1990 level by the year 2020. We’re going to make 10 percent, I hope, by the year 2010. The way we’re going to do that is through solar panels and windmills. We’re setting up a program to include more green energy sourcing for the campus so that we can make California targets and our own targets for carbon-dioxide reduction.

SCM: You mentioned the new Learning Commons and Library. What are some of the special elements of the building?

Sugg: First of all, just the energy-efficient design. Second, we paid a lot of attention to lighting in the building. In the library, lighting will be about 40 percent of the energy consumption in the building. We’re expecting to operate the building from 18 to 24 hours a day. So, first of all, we picked efficient lighting. And we picked the lighting so that it’s controlled in two ways automatically. The lighting will dim to a lower brightness depending on when someone is or isn’t around.

There is a lot of natural light in the library, a lot of glass. In areas where we have glass, our goal is to keep the tabletop at the same lumens: 50 foot candles. At night, that’s done by the lights; in the daytime, the sensor in the room will automatically dim the lights to get to that 50 foot candles on the desktop. Nobody can measure that just by looking at it, so we have sensors in the room that will dim the lights to compensate for the natural light.

The first, second, and third floors will have a raised floor. There’s about a 12-inch plenum beneath the floor you walk on. The plenum is where the air conditioning and the heating and all the ductwork are from. When the air conditioning is on, for instance, which is most of the time, the air flow comes from the bottom to the top, and takes the odors away, and goes out through the exhaust in the ceiling rather than having the air come from the top. You may have a temperature gradient in the room; as you get up above eight feet, it may be hotter up there, but we don’t care, because nobody is up there.

It’s an energy savings, as well as a great design savings, in terms of how we changed the building around. Five years from now, they’ll learn something different. With the raised floor you don’t have the issues of redoing the duct work, having to bore holes in walls to get wiring out. That’s a sustainability issue. We had to demolish the old library, which was a pretty sturdy building, but it wasn’t sustainable, it wasn’t convertible to something that could support today’s learning environment. We hope this new building will be a little more sustainable in that respect, so that we’ll adapt to changes in the learning environment, not over the next 40 years but over the next maybe 80 to 100 years.

SCM: But while the old library had to be torn down, as part of that process, there was real attention paid toward being able to recycle the building materials themselves, wasn’t there?

Sugg: We recycled all of the concrete. We recycled all of the steel rebar. We recycled a lot of the metals that were inside the building, like the railing on the stairs. Most of the sheet rock, timber, and wood we could recycle, as well. We did a really good job of capturing it.

Thinking 2067

SCM: While we’ve been talking here, you’ve brought up a few times the importance of thinking of the changes that will be coming 60 years down the line, and of creating a culture that will have an effect on society for years to come. You’re a grandfather now, right?

Sugg: Oh, yeah.

SCM: What are your hopes for your grandchildren in terms of the society they’re going to be living in—at least in terms of energy use? What do you hope for them in terms of what this world’s going to look like?

Sugg: I’ll tell you what: Sixty years ago, if I’d predicted today, I’d have never got it right. But we are lucky enough today to live in an environment that supports what we need to do. And I hope, 60 years from now, or 80 years from now, when my grandchildren are sitting here thinking about it, or their grandchildren are sitting here thinking about it, I hope they can say that we have the resources in the environment to support our mission, our lifestyle, what we need to do. And that’s really the thing about sustainability. I use my resources in a way so that there’s something left over for the next generation. Not knowing what it’s going to be, the only thing I can do is be as smart as I can about using our resources wisely.

A carbon-neutral environment would be perfect, where you don’t dump out any more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere that you aren’t able to absorb through some other process.

SCM: In terms of what you’ve been able to accomplish through working with the plan for the University, what are you proudest of?

Sugg: I think we’ve been able to have a successful energy conservation program without adversely affecting the mission of the University. We’ve been able to have a successful water-conservation program while enhancing the appearance of the campus. We’ve been building new buildings and modifying buildings, and I believe, maintaining the culture, the architectural context of the campus, maybe even improved it since the buildings that were built in the ’60s. We haven’t had to sacrifice the things that are glorious about this University, while achieving these things to save money and save energy, and help save the environment. That’s what I’m proud of.

SCM: What would you suggest to alumni who are interested in finding out more?

Sugg: There are some unique opportunities for alumni that have not existed before, in terms of contributing to our goals for energy conservation and carbon-dioxide reduction. Alumni can own a solar panel, or own 100 kilowatts of solar panel. Alumni can own a windmill. There are a lot of things that we’re looking at now that just require a little bit of money, like $20,000 or $30,000, to build a food composter for the dining hall, so that the food waste comes right out the back end of the dining hall, and three or four weeks later, it’s used for fertilizer for the flower beds on campus. We don’t have a Web site right now where you can go and look at all that stuff, but we do have good Web sites where you can see what we’re doing overall.

If alumni are interested in wanting to know more about how they can help, call the Alumni Office, call the Development Office, or call me directly. I’ll be glad to talk to you.

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