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Berkeley Lab Taps UC Merced’s John Elliott as Chief Sustainability Officer

Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) has named John D. Elliott as its first Chief Sustainability Officer, a new position that underscores the importance of energy efficiency and sustainable practices within the same institution where scientists have pioneered resource-sparing technologies for decades.

In his new position, reporting to Deputy Laboratory Director Horst Simon, Elliott will provide organizational and technical leadership for Berkeley Lab’s overall sustainability operations and serve as its main spokesperson on such issues.  His appointment is a recognition that sustainability goals are of utmost importance at Berkeley Lab, which in January selected UC’s Richmond Field Station site as the location of its planned second campus.

John Elliott, Berkeley Lab's new sustainability manager (Photo: Roy Kaltschmidt)

John Elliott, Berkeley Lab's new sustainability manager (Photo: Roy Kaltschmidt)

“Doing the science that improves the way the world harnesses, stores, and uses energy is an incredibly important part of the Berkeley Lab mission,” says Berkeley Lab Director Paul Alivisatos. “To walk the talk we must use our own facilities to show the world what can be achieved.  John’s role will bring focus to this area, especially as we look to our future initiatives, like the Richmond Bay Campus.  I am hopeful that this will be a way for us to take much of what our own researchers are discovering and put it into practice both in new buildings as well as our existing infrastructure.”

Elliott is wrapping up a five-and-one-half year stint as Director of Energy and Sustainability at UC Merced, where he has been in charge of similar efforts, beginning that job in 2006 shortly after many of the new campus’ first buildings were completed. His appointment marks his return to the Bay Area, where he had lived and worked since he was an undergraduate at Stanford and earned a masters degree in Energy and Resources at UC Berkeley.  Before leaving for UC Merced, Elliott served in a variety of environmental engineering, energy efficiency, and energy software roles at private Bay Area firms in San Francisco, Oakland, and San Mateo.

He is the first Chief Sustainability Officer to be named among the 17 national laboratories funded by the U.S. Department of Energy. The posts have been established in prominent businesses as diverse as Dow Chemical, Verizon, and Google.

As a graduate student at UC Berkeley, Elliott worked with a project sponsored by Berkeley Lab that assisted Native Americans in developing energy efficiency and renewable energy projects.  He has continued to tap Lab expertise ever since. “As an energy efficiency consultant, I relied heavily on data developed by Berkeley Lab’s Environmental Energy Technologies Division (EETD),” says Elliott.

At UC Merced, Elliott helped to develop what the university calls its” Triple Zero Commitment” — zero net energy, zero landfill waste, and zero net greenhouse gas emissions by 2020. In addition to a mandate that every new building on the campus consume half the energy of comparable university facilities in the state, the campus located in California’s sun-drenched Central Valley now features a 1-megawatt photovoltaic array located on eight acres. When the sun is shining, the new facility routinely provides about half of the entire university campus’s electric power.

At Berkeley Lab, Elliott will play a central role in developing energy efficiency and sustainability strategies as the crowded laboratory undergoes significant new construction on its 200-acre hilltop campus and lays plans for the 152-acre Richmond Bay Campus, slated to open in 2016.

“John has a tremendous background in sustainability.  His work at UC Merced has been cutting edge and has been responsible for shaping and implementing their campus sustainability strategy,” says Deputy Laboratory Director Simon.  “I look forward to working with him as the Lab moves into a new era around sustainability.”

To carry out his new role, Elliott will be working directly with Berkeley Lab’s Facilities Division, which has responsibility for new construction and maintenance of existing structures.  His experience in developing sustainability strategies at UC Merced, with 1.1 million square feet of new construction, will undoubtedly be put to use at the Richmond Bay Campus, which has the capacity for 2 million square feet of new laboratory and office space. “I come from a facilities background, but have worked closely with the construction and planning units at UC Merced as well as several consulting building design teams,” says Elliott.

As part of his strategic planning, Elliott says he plans to work with Berkeley Lab energy scientists to integrate their research into the design of new facilities and retrofits of existing ones. “Building a ‘living laboratory’ that leverages sustainability goals with the core research mission of the institution is an incredible opportunity,” he says. “To begin with, I look forward to building on relationships I developed with EETD researchers while working with them on several projects at UC Merced.”

Elliott says that UC Merced is on track to meet its “Triple Zero” sustainability target by 2020, and that it is feasible that Berkeley Lab could follow a similar path.  Zero net energy is a strategy that employs aggressive energy efficiency — such as smart windows, cool roofs, and advanced heating and cooling systems — and strives to meet the remaining energy requirements using renewable sources such as wind and solar. Zero landfill waste combines recycling and composting strategies with efforts to reduce the production of waste, while zero net greenhouse gas emissions programs offset the remaining greenhouse gas emissions after zero net energy has been achieved.

Elliott stresses that each institution has different needs and its own unique environment.  At UC Merced, the campus zero net energy strategy relies primarily on energy efficiency, solar energy, and plasma gasification, along with various smart grid strategies. Zero waste efforts currently emphasize composting and control of purchasing to simplify recycling efforts. Campus efforts are only beginning to address climate neutrality beyond initial attainment of zero net energy.

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Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory addresses the world’s most urgent scientific challenges by advancing sustainable energy, protecting human health, creating new materials, and revealing the origin and fate of the universe. Founded in 1931, Berkeley Lab’s scientific expertise has been recognized with 13 Nobel prizes. The University of California manages Berkeley Lab for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science. For more, visit