How To Do Your Part During One of California’s Worst Droughts Yet

Recycled water sign at SJSU

San José State uses recycled water as part of its irrigation system. Photo: David Schmitz

California is in the middle of a severe drought that keeps getting worse.

Last month, the Santa Clara Valley Water district board declared a water shortage emergency, urging the community to conserve water by 15 percent compared to 2019 levels. In May, Gov. Gavin Newsom declared a drought emergency in 41 counties.

Editor’s note: On July 8, Gov. Gavin Newsom expanded the drought emergency to 50 counties and asked all Californians to cut water usage by 15 percent compared to 2020 levels.

The drought is accelerating faster than those of previous years, which can cause more wildfires that spread faster and quickly decimate wildlife habitats, reported the Los Angeles Times.

Climate change may be one of the reasons this drought arrived so soon after the last one, which lasted from 2011 to 2017, said Katherine Cushing, professor of environmental studies at San José State, in a recent ABC News report.

“It’s not just about people conserving water in their homes,” she said in the report. “It’s also about agencies thinking strategically about how to amplify the use of non-conventional water sources like recycled water.”

Unfortunately, she added, more frequent and more severe droughts could be our “new normal.”

Three things you can do, starting today

Katherine Cushing, professor of environmental studies at San José State

Katherine Cushing, professor of environmental studies at San José State. Photo: David Schmitz

To get through this emergency — and help address the bigger, long-term issue of water conservation — we all need to pitch in. Cushing provided three ways we can join the collective effort to conserve our state’s water. Here’s how you can help:

1. Make changes — both big and small — to your everyday habits.

There are lots of easy things to do: take shorter showers, turn off the faucet when you brush your teeth, only run the dishwasher when full. And those things make a difference, Cushing said.

Or, “the average person flushes the toilet five to seven times per day,” she explained. “If you could reduce that to four to six times, that’s a big improvement.”

When it comes to making bigger, more lasting changes, Cushing advises looking outside.

About half of the water the average household uses is for watering outdoors, Cushing pointed out. She suggested collecting rainwater to use for watering your yard.

If you have a spare $200, you could also turn your used laundry water into an irrigation system. Installing a laundry-to-landscape system can be done without a permit and just requires a plumber to route the used water to your outdoor plants. (Note: If you live in Santa Clara County, you could qualify for a rebate if you install this system.)

Or, you might reevaluate your landscaping altogether.

“Even if we’re not in a drought, the average rainfall for San Jose is 17 inches a year. That doesn’t really go with having a huge green lawn in your front or back yard.

“A lot of the water providers and government agencies are offering incentives to homeowners to convert their lawns to drought-tolerant or native landscaping. And that kind of landscaping is beautiful; it’s designed by nature to thrive in this area. It doesn’t need any water in the summer.”

2. Brace yourself for restriction mandates and follow them.

Restrictions are a crucial part of addressing the water shortage crisis. The state is trying to avoid overtaxing its groundwater supply, Cushing explained, because that can cause subsidence, which is gradual sinking or caving of the landscape. That can impact the structural integrity of buildings, causing salt water to infiltrate groundwater and increase flood risk, she noted.

Restrictions vary by county, and most include limits on watering outdoor landscape. Take a look at restrictions and advisements in your area.

In the face of extreme drought, “you have major crop or pasture losses, so there are significant impacts to the agricultural industry,” Cushing explained. “This drought rivals the dryness we saw in the 1970s, during a very, very severe drought for California. This could be a really bad one, and we don’t know how long it will last.”

3. Look out for future policy and infrastructure changes.

While there are natural fluctuations in precipitation levels, the fact that this drought arrived less than five years after the state’s longest dry spell, which started in 2011 and ended in 2017, is concerning.

“It’s an impact of climate change,” she said. “We’re entering a time where more severe droughts, floods and wildfires are going to occur more frequently, and there’s a higher risk that they’ll be more severe.”

The state needs to be looking for ways to introduce recycled water into its agriculture systems, Cushing said. Construction codes also need to change, so water is used more than once where possible.

“We need to make water conservation and water use a priority,” she added. “It’s an exciting time to think about what we can do, and since we’re in California, in Silicon Valley, we’re in the hotbed of innovation. We are poised to be leaders in this area.”

Learn more about how SJSU’s Office of Sustainability is working to use water more efficiently.

SJSU Launches Inaugural Sustainability Faculty Cohort

Sustainability Faculty Cohort.

Ten SJSU faculty have been selected for the Sustainability Faculty Cohort: top row, l-r: Lecturer Roni Abusaad; Lecturer Sung Jay Ou; Assistant Professor Tianqin Shi; Assistant Professor Faranak Memarzadeh; second row l-r: Associate Professor Edith Kinney; Associate Professor Minghui Diao; Lecturer A. William Musgrave; Lecturer Thomas Shirley; bottom row l-r: Lecturer Igor Tyukhov; and Associate Professor John Delacruz. Image courtesy of the Office of Sustainability.

San José State Justice Studies Lecturer Roni Abusaad is excited to incorporate a module on the environment and human rights law as part of his Human Rights and Justice course this fall.

“This is an evolving area of human rights law and a great opportunity for students to understand the interconnectivity of all rights and connect theory to current issues like climate change,” Abusaad said at a May 24 faculty presentation.

Abusaad is one of 10 SJSU faculty members who are prepared to lead the way in the university’s inaugural Sustainability Faculty Cohort, who will include sustainability modules into their curriculum this fall. The cohort complements existing extracurricular and co-curricular initiatives offered through the Office of Sustainability, the Campus Community Garden and the Environmental Resource Center and offers a chance for faculty to become campus leaders in sustainability education.

The Center for Faculty Development, the Office of Sustainability and CommUniverCity hosted an informational workshop for SJSU faculty this spring to offer information about sustainability and how they could apply for a stipend to develop a sustainability module for their courses.

“There are many different definitions of sustainability,” said SJSU Professor of Geology and Science Education Ellen Metzger, who helped organize the initiative. “In our workshop, we defined it in terms of the three ‘e’s: economy, equity and environment. We used those three pillars to invite faculty to envision where their discipline might connect to one of the themes of sustainability.”

The workshop also highlighted the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which were adopted by all UN Member States in 2015 as part of The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The SDGs provide a “global blueprint for dignity, peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and in the future” and supply a framework for interdisciplinary teaching and learning about sustainability. Earlier this year, the Times Higher Education (THE) Impact Rankings, which measure worldwide progress around SDGS, ranked SJSU in the top 30 universities among U.S. universities and in the top 500 internationally.

While students have many opportunities to learn about sustainability on and off campus, the faculty cohort ensures that Spartans can learn discipline-specific applications in areas such as hospitality and tourism management, business development, mechanical engineering and more.

“Higher education has a transformative influence on society, and if we want to empower students to become agents of change, it’s going to require us rethinking how we do things,” said Metzger.

“Universities, both in terms of teaching and research, are really well-poised to lead this reframing. What do we want the future to look like? If we want to contribute to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, we must accept that nothing will change unless education changes.”

The desire to become campus sustainability leaders is evident at SJSU. More faculty applied to participate in the inaugural cohort than could be accommodated this fall. Metzger said that the applications demonstrated a hunger to emphasize sustainability in all disciplines — great news, considering that the Office of Sustainability hopes to continue the cohort program indefinitely.

The Campus Community Garden is just one of the many sustainability initiatives at SJSU. Photo by David Schmitz.

“Our campus has made amazing progress to make our facilities sustainable, from incorporating recycled water in all of our non-potable uses to installing solar panels on every suitable surface. I think this initiative builds on that foundation,” said Senior Utility and Sustainability Analyst Debbie Andres, ’07 Chemical Engineering.

Participating faculty will receive a $500 professional development grant courtesy of PepsiCo and are encouraged to share their experiences with other faculty at future Center for Faculty Development workshops.

“We have always offered amazing courses in every college that focus on sustainability, showing that it can and should be incorporated into every department,” continued Andres. “But we have never had a formal cohort dedicated to curriculum development. We saw how successful and well-attended our workshop was and we plan on this being the start of annual workshops.”

“Together faculty can help students develop the skills, knowledge and outlooks that will help them see themselves as change agents and offer opportunities to make a difference,” added Metzger.

Learn more about SJSU’s sustainability initiatives.

San José State University Receives First International Sustainability Ranking and Listed Among Green Colleges Nationally

Photo by David Schmitz.

Once again, San José State University’s sustainability rankings have made headlines.

This fall, San José State was listed as one of the Princeton Review’s Green Colleges for 2021 and one of the Sierra Club’s top 50 2020 Cool Schools. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) named San José State a top overall performer in sustainability, with special recognition of the CSU Single Use Plastics Policy and the Housing Crisis Mitigation Plan. To top it off, this week, SJSU has received its first international ranking in sustainability, listed in the top 15 percent of universities for the 2020 UI GreenMetric World University Rankings, an initiative of Universitas Indonesia.

What are the criteria for being “green” or “cool?” Princeton Review surveyed 416 schools on everything from solar-powered dorms to clean energy career preparation. The Sierra Club included SJSU among the top 50 of 312 schools to receive a valid Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS) rating, which provides a framework for understanding sustainability in higher education. The GreenMetric rankings were established in 2010 to establish a way to measure sustainability across universities worldwide, taking into consideration university enrollment and size, campus location and green space, energy use, transport, water use, recycling and waste treatment.

“We follow the United Nations’ sustainability goals, which define it as not just taking care of the planet, but taking care of the people on the planet,” Debbie Andres, ’07 Chemical Engineering, SJSU senior utilities and sustainability analyst. “People often think of sustainability in terms of science and engineering, but you can really incorporate sustainability in every college, in every discipline.”

Andres collaborated with multiple departments across campus when submitting data for sustainability rankings. She worked with Ben Falter of the SJSU Cares program and senior student affairs case manager, to submit data about the Housing Crisis Mitigation Plan, which includes over $3 million in grants for student housing insecurity and basic needs support from the California State University system, as well as the development of new housing for undergraduate and transfer students. In addition, the State of California transferred a surplus, obsolete building to SJSU, which will be used to develop up to 1,200 housing units for faculty and staff, graduate students, and students with families.

“Yes, we use recycled water, but we are also trying to make it easier for students, faculty and staff to live nearby and go to school,” said Andres.

Andres added that the Princeton Review’s 2020 College Hopes & Worries survey found that 66 percent of nearly 13,000 college applicants consider a school’s environmental commitment when deciding where to go.

“San José State is the oldest CSU, the oldest university west of the Mississippi, and we are also a feeder school for the biggest tech companies on the planet,” said Andres. “It’s really important for us to reflect that we care about the environment and sustainability, just like many companies in Silicon Valley. It’s important that future students know that we are doing things that are very important to you—we are doing what’s right for the environment.”

Andres said that 30 percent of SJSU classes are designated sustainable, though that number could be higher now that courses are being offered online due to the pandemic. She has partnered with resources across campus, including the Gender Equity Center and the Black/African American Student Success Center, to offer sustainability-related programming. Currently enrolled students can visit the Office of Sustainability website to browse courses across all ten colleges that offer topics in sustainability, read the 2020 Sustainability Report and discover easy ways to make their lives a little greener.

Spartan Recreation and Aquatic Center Achieves LEED Gold Certification

Night shot of the SRAC pool and exterior building.

Spartan Recreation and Aquatic Center Photo: Kevin Korczyk

For its energy efficiency and green building sustainability achievements, the Student Union at SJSU Spartan Recreation and Aquatic Center (SRAC) received confirmation of its LEED Gold Certification on October 8.

LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)—the world standard for green buildings—is a certified rating system offered through the US Green Building Council. SRAC’s LEED Gold certification marks its superior achievement of numerous sustainable and environmental stewardship measures. For example, SRAC met USGBC’s world-class standards for energy savings, water efficiency, CO2 emissions reduction, and indoor environmental quality.

Traci Ferdolage, senior associate vice president for Facilities Development and Operations (FD&O), said “SRAC is a beautiful building and an amazing asset for the campus and the community. But it’s always extra special when we can attain a level of sustainability that contributes over time to our goals around having a lighter footprint. Achieving a LEED Gold certification certainly is something we can point to that aligns with campus and CSU goals around achieving carbon neutrality, as we move forward in the future.”

Tamsen Burke, executive director of the Student Union, Inc. at SJSU who oversees SRAC, Provident Credit Union Event Center, and the Campion Diaz Student Union, said, “Leading the industry in sustainability practices, building construction and design allows us to minimize our carbon footprint by reducing energy, lower operating costs, and creating a healthy environment for the recruitment and retention of employees and prospective students to SJSU.

Ashraf Fouad, FD&O senior director of planning, design and construction, said the long process of achieving the distinction was much more complex than is commonly understood. “LEED Gold certification is not as simple as people might think,” Fouad said. His team examined everything from choosing flooring materials that don’t release volatile organic chemicals to planning an efficient HVAC system for cooling large spaces. “I want to highlight that it’s not easy to do,” he emphasized. “Every decision affects the target.”

LEED certification requires not just green design, but meticulous attention at each stage of construction, Fouad said. Even the handling of the building’s waste construction materials—leftover bits of two-by-four or sheet metal, for example—must be precisely accounted for. Details like vehicle miles driven while disposing of construction waste are counted. The LEED certification process tracked sustainability practices from design through construction, Fouad said. “You have to maintain it throughout, with checkpoints every single step of the way.” Fouad credited “the willingness of our design and construction partners” for their persistence during the process. To win LEED Gold, he said, exhaustive documentation of each sustainability measure is essential, “because maybe you’re doing it—but if you’re not documenting it, it’s not counted.”

The interior of the SRAC with curving blue, grey and gold ceiling with workout equipment on the floor.

Spartan Recreation and Aquatic Center interior Photo: Kevin Korczyk

Numerous credits toward the Gold certification were awarded in the indoor environmental quality category for SRAC features such as outdoor air delivery monitoring, air circulation, and minimizing dust. Fouad said large gymnasium spaces were challenging because “people generate a lot of heat, playing basketball and so on. We did computer modeling of where that heat is, where you can push and extract air.” Ventilation systems were sited based on the model. Ferdolage said SRAC’s ventilation design efficiently moved warm air away, taking advantage of natural heat flows. Exterior wall vents draw in outside air, and destratification ceiling fans help keep temperature consistent. “It takes a lot of creativity,” she said.

The project received points for its half-mile proximity to public transportation and its accommodations for bicycle parking and storage. Lights activated by motion sensors reduce wasted electricity. Showers and bathroom facilities were designed for water efficiency. To top it off, SRAC’s special roof has a high solar reflectance index—reflecting more than 75 percent of sunshine that hits it—keeping it cooler on the inside. Moreover, Ferdolage said, its roof is an example of how SRAC planners thought carefully about ongoing life cycle costs, with an eye to future savings.

“When they constructed the building, they made it solar ready,” Ferdolage said.  “We just now learned of our LEED certification, but through a separate project we’re already starting to install PV panels. The campus didn’t just think about LEED rating points; we plumbed it for future solar, which also demonstrates our commitment to sustainability overall. It’s a wonderful use of that flat roof to further decrease our carbon footprint.” Ferdolage said she was pleased to pass by recently and see workers “on the roof tugging some panels around.” Sustainability improvements are ongoing.

Fouad said, “Our campus user group, stakeholders from the Student Union and others, were very supportive of making the goal a reality.”

Ferdolage said any new CSU building must now achieve LEED Silver equivalency status—but the SRAC planners aspired for more. By achieving Gold, the team far exceeded the CSU minimum. “It demonstrates a commitment by the campus to ensure that it’s taking steps to achieve our carbon neutrality goals,” Ferdolage said. “Not every project in the CSU ends up LEED Gold. It takes a client and a campus valuing the goal. It took leadership and desire. It’s not easy to achieve these levels of certification while also managing a project that meets the budget. It’s something we’re quite proud of.”

“It’s a healthy building,” Fouad said. “You will be healthier inside that building, using it or breathing the air inside. That’s very important, because you will feel it.”

“As operators and managers of SRAC, one of our main responsibilities once you receive the LEED Gold standard is to continue to maintain the life of the building to that standard,” Burke said. “Moreover, strategically, it is how we complement the overall CSU and university sustainability plan which provides a healthier space for students and for the environment.”

LEED-certified buildings not only save resources, they save money and offer the university many economic benefits. From 2015–2018, LEED-certified buildings worldwide saved an estimated $1.2 billion in energy savings, $149.5 million in water savings, $715.3 million in maintenance savings, and $54.2 million in waste savings. Reduced energy use means green buildings also reduce carbon emissions, to help protect the climate. A USGBC scorecard details each LEED points-winning category the SRAC was awarded.

“My hat’s off to the entire SJSU team that worked on this important project,” Ferdolage said, “and for delivering a facility that not only exceeds the CSU goals but also is sustainable into the future with regard to its operation and maintenance lifecycle.”

Fouad added, “As an educational institution, we’re proud that we’re actually practicing what we’re teaching. We teach students how to do better, more thoughtful engineering—of buildings or roads or what have you. So we’re actually practicing that as well.”

Senior Utilities and Sustainability Analyst Debbie Andres said, “the great thing about LEED certification for any of our buildings is that it allows a broad campus coalition to be involved with implementing sustainability at the facility level. Not only is the building an amazing achievement on its own, but we ensured that the building functions as an integral part of the sustainability mission of the whole campus. For example, shower facilities and bike storage are available to our students, faculty and staff to complement biking to campus efforts. Recycled water usage was expanded to use for irrigation and will be used in toilets. Educational materials and signage will be available for students to learn about environmentally friendly buildings. And construction waste was virtually all diverted, contributing to our zero waste efforts. We even show that green cleaning procedures that are in place for the campus are in place for the SRAC.”

A 128,000-square-foot state-of-the-art facility for reaching and maintaining fitness goals, SRAC has three full-court gyms for basketball, volleyball, badminton and more, four fitness studios, an indoor track, a climbing wall and bouldering area, and a 50-meter lap pool. SRAC’s Gold certification recognized not only its electricity savings, water savings and maintenance savings—but also the design innovations that amplify the sensory human experience of using the space.

A Gold Star for Sustainability, and a How-to Series for Viewers at Home

Water fountain with a recycled water sign next to it.

Water fountain on El Paseo De César E. Chávez. Photo: David Schmitz.

Improving sustainability demands more than a string of individual actions. It requires partnerships.

That’s why the SJSU Office of Sustainability is working with a long list of campus partners to continue making the campus cleaner and greener.

Its achievements were rewarded last March when SJSU received a Gold rating from STARS, the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment and Rating System. STARS is a “transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance,” awarded San José State its level Gold ranking this spring, with a score of 71.91.

The Gold ranking is not merely a measure of good recycling or energy-efficient buildings but evaluates numerous efforts: academics, campus and public engagement, facilities, transportation, waste management, and energy and greenhouse gas emissions. The Gold ranking recognizes not only the buildings, but what’s happening inside and outside them–the web of partnerships geared toward improving sustainability on campus.

Senior Utilities and Sustainability Analyst Debbie Andres said that the challenge of a three-year campus-wide audit was important in helping to infuse sustainability practices throughout campus. “In 2016, we were the first CSU to get the Gold ranking,” she said. “That was really exciting.”

This summer, together with a list of partners, the Office of Sustainability is hosting a Summer Workshop Series, short videos offering tips on using public transportation, reducing food waste–even “conscious closet cleaning.”

The first offering in the video series, in partnership with the Women’s Wellness Center, was Conscious Closet Cleaning Part 1. Soozy Zerbe, zero waste student intern at the Office of Sustainability, explained much more than shared ideas about how to reduce unwanted clothing. Zerbe said the global fashion industry has a higher carbon impact than airlines or shipping. Student president and co-founder of the Women and Wellness Club Guadalupe Moreno said in the video that in addition to reducing waste, “cleaning out your closet is great for your well-being and a method of self-care.” The video contains a tidy closetful of highly informed data about how much clothing we unthinkingly send to the landfill. “Cluttering takes up space, and decluttering can make you feel calm and relaxed,” Moreno said.

Andres said the idea for the topic originated with Moreno, who noticed how often students are posting questions and sharing information via videos on sites like Instagram. The summer video series evolved from an initiative dreamed up by students into a broader way to help the campus community think about sustainability at a time when regular modes of outreach can’t happen.

“It’s on YouTube, so people can access these videos any time. I thought there was so much information we could share out there.” Students pay attention to and learn through media like Instagram videos, Andres said—and all the more so now, when they aren’t crossing campus or dropping in the sustainability office, which they have always done frequently in the past.

The workshop series, Andres said, was formed during events earlier this summer, with the goal of offering people at home a set of “how-to” guides in an easy to watch format. “For me, and for my office, sustainability isn’t just about environmental sustainability. It’s about people. If we’re not protecting people on the planet, we’re not protecting the planet.”

More tips on keeping sustainability in mind in the home and office will appear in three more videos throughout July. Videos coming in August include gardening at home in small containers (with AS Community Garden), public transportation tips (with AS Transportation Solutions), and cooking tips when shifting to a plant-based diet, with the Spartan Veg Club. Spartan Eats partnered on a video about how to reduce food waste when on campus, and how SJSU incorporates sustainability in food options. The last video in September, made with SJSU’s Spartan Food Pantry and SJSU Cares, will discuss how to apply for Cal Fresh benefits, and how to access the Spartan Food Pantry and other basic needs resources on campus.

“It just started morphing into ‘What else would students be interested in learning about?’ It was a team effort with my students to reach out to organizations that were doing awesome things that tied in with sustainability.”

Follow @sjsugreencampus on Twitter to get the full schedule of videos and their release dates.

Art Lecturer and Students Explore Sustainable Materials in Costa Rica

SJSU students make lithographs with sustainable materials in Costa Rica.

SJSU students make lithographs with sustainable materials in Costa Rica.

SJSU Lecturer Irene Carvajal teaches printmaking to her students. Lithography is one of the processes she teaches, a medium that has changed very little in the last 300 years.

“For hundreds of years we’ve used the same materials,” Carvajal said. “The joke in the art department is that if Rembrandt were to rise from the dead, everything would shock him except the printmaking department.”

For the last two summers, Carvajal and some of her students traveled to Costa Rica for a summer faculty-led program (FLP) to explore ways to move printmaking into the modern world by moving from petroleum-based, toxic and limited materials, to sustainable materials.

The seed of summer program began several years before when Carvajal visited her home country and visited her alma mater University of Costa Rica. She described the country as having a strong environmental identity and a place where artists and citizens celebrate the natural riches of the country. At the university, she paired up with artists and scientists to explore sustainable materials that might be used in printmaking.

“The only reason we use petroleum is because of its PH and chemical properties,” she said. “But that naturally occurs in fruit and plants, such as lemon juice, pineapple juice and honey. We cook with these things on a daily basis and realized the properties actually match the properties of petroleum. We can etch on stone or metal with these materials.”

Lecturer Irene Carvajal and students visited the rain forest in Costa Rica for inspiration for their art.

Lecturer Irene Carvajal and students visited the rain forest in Costa Rica for inspiration for their art.

Working with the College of Professional and Global Education and with Susie Morris, the director of Study Abroad and Away, Carvajal developed curriculum and an itinerary for a three-week summer program. In 2018, 11 students participated and this summer eight students traveled with her. The SJSU students spent half-days during the week at the University of Costa Rica.

“The world of art is not particularly sustainable most of the time,” said SJSU photography student Nanzi Muro. “At the University of Costa Rica, I learned that it is possible to be a viable artist when creating art. It is a process that takes time and many steps, but it is a matter of wanting to make the change of being a sustainable artist. I have already started the process, and now it is time to continue practicing the steps I learned in my lithography class in Costa Rica.”

The students spent the rest of the day with curators, gallerists, visiting museums as well as government agencies, and nonprofits focused on the environment. Weekends included hikes through national parks or organic farms.

“We traveled to top of the rainforest and swam in hot springs, but we were always looking for some inspiration to take back to class,” said another student, Rene Campos. “Whether it was leaf patterns or volcanic rocks we were always trying to find something from our new surroundings to adapt to our lithographs. “

Students captured views of tropical rain forests in Costa Rica.

Students captured views of tropical rain forests in Costa Rica.

For part of the visit, the students traveled to a remote rain forest region to experience an innovative rural tourism experiment. Three decades ago, 25 families submitted claims to the Costa Rican government for farmland.

“When they arrived, they realized that it was beautiful,” she said. “There was a waterfall and a river, and all sorts of animals and plants. They decided to farm a small portion and keep the rest as a tropical rain forest.”

The Costa Rican group applied for a grant to get money to build eight small, minimal houses on the property. The houses are rented out to scientists, environmentalists or others who want to study the region or learn about the culture in the rural area.

“We were the first group of artists to visit,” Carvajal said. “They taught us about plants, animals and their way of life. We ate from what grew around us, we became part of their family, we taught them how to screen print and make ink out of the native plants.”

Upon returning to SJSU, the students put together an exhibition of the work they created while in Costa Rica. She describes art as the record of what is going on that can be a record of what is going on in the world when it is created.

“As a multicultural person who has lived back and forth in multiple countries, one thing I have thought is that in developed nations we tend to fix problems with money,” she said. “In countries such as Costa Rica there is no money so people have to be creative to come up with solutions to fix their problems. I teach my students the creative process is not just artistic – it is an everyday activity that has to do with looking at life and how to make it better.”

K-12 teachers in an SJSU classroom for professional training

Sustainability Education Pilot Project Receives $71,000 Grant

K-12 teachers in an SJSU classroom for professional training

The effort will build on SJSU’s Bay Area Earth Science Institute, which offers a comprehensive, year-round professional development program for teachers of grades 4-12 (Elena Polanco photo).

By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director

Improving the sustainability literacy of California’s 450,000 sixth graders is the goal of a new pilot project uniting SJSU and Creative Change Educational Solutions, a national leader in sustainability education.

This effort will also form a network of teacher education faculty members from SJSU and CSU East Bay. They will develop a sustainability lens for teachers of grades K-8.

The California Alliance for Sustainability will be funded by a $71,333 grant from the the Clarence E. Heller Charitable Foundation.

Professor of Geology Ellen Metzger will be the principal investigator. Assistant Professor of Education Grinell Smith, science education coordinator for elementary education, will be the co-principal investigator.

Over 20 in-service teachers and education faculty members from SJSU and California State University East Bay will participate in summer workshops. Then they will receive follow-up support as they significantly re-frame their instructional units and university courses using a sustainability lens, one that expands environmental education to include issues of social equity and economic sustainability.

Metzger and her colleagues will focus on sixth grade science standards, investigating and addressing barriers to implementing educating for sustainability in real classrooms.

Chevron provided $5,000 in seed funding for the project. The effort will build on Metzger’s role as director of SJSU’s Bay Area Earth Science Institute. Now in its 21st year, BAESI offers a comprehensive, year-round professional development program for teachers of grades 4-12.

Hurricane Katia off the Northeastern US Coastline Viewed from the space station, Hurricane Katia presented an impressive cloud circulation as its center passed the northeastern coast of the United States on September 9, 2011.

Sustainability Matters: Our Changing Planet Viewed from Space

Hurricane Katia off the Northeastern US Coastline Viewed from the space station, Hurricane Katia presented an impressive cloud circulation as its center passed the northeastern coast of the United States on September 9, 2011.

Viewed from the space station, Hurricane Katia presented an impressive cloud circulation as its center passed the northeastern coast of the United States on September 9, 2011 (courtesy of the NASA Earth Observatory).

Date: September 29, 2011

Time: 3-4:30 p.m.

Location: Morris Dailey Auditorium

Summary: The first event of the Fall 2011 Sustainability Matters Speakers Series will be “NASA’s Earth Observations of the Global Environment: Our Changing Planet Viewed from Space,” by Michael D. King, Laboratory for Atmospheric & Space Physics, University of Colorado. A bird’s eye view of the Earth from afar and up close reveals the power and magnificence of the Earth and juxtaposes the simultaneous impacts and powerlessness of humankind.  Dr. King will present Earth science observations and visualizations in a historical perspective.  See the latest stunning images from NASA remote sensing missions, which will be visualized and explained in the context of global change and our impact on our world’s environment.  Spectacular visualizations of the global atmosphere, land and oceans show how much the temperature of the Earth’s surface has changed during the 20th century, as well as how sea ice has decreased over the Arctic region, how the sea level has and is likely to continue to change, and how glaciers have retreated worldwide in a response to global change.

Dr. King will present visualizations of global data sets currently available from Earth orbiting satellites, including the Earth at night with its city lights, where and when lightning occurs globally, and dramatic urbanization in the desert southwest since 1910. He will show images of flooding resulting from tropical cyclones and satellite imagery of fires that occurred globally, and discuss how new satellite tools aid understanding of environmental change and can be used to help fight environmental disasters from spreading further.

Dr. King is a member of the U.S. National Academy of Engineering, a fellow of the American Geophysical Union, a fellow of the American Meteorological Society, and recipient of the Verner E. Suomi Award of the AMS for fundamental contributions to remote sensing and radiative transfer. He has also received the Space Systems Award of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics for NASA’s Earth Observing System Team. Other honors include an honorary doctorate from Colorado College, selection as a Goddard Senior Fellow, and recipient of the NASA Outstanding Leadership Medal, NASA Exceptional Scientific Achievement Medal, and NASA Exceptional Service Medal. He has also received the William Nordberg Memorial Award for Earth Science, Goddard’s highest scientific achievement award.

Sponsors include the Department of Meteorology and Climate Science with support from the Office of the President and the Department of Communication Studies. For more information, email Professor Anne Marie Todd.

— Submitted by Professor of Communication Studies Anne Marie Todd

U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren with SJSU students in group photo behind large table.

U.S. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren Visits SJSU Seeking Student Input on Sustainability

Lofgren with students

U.S. Rep. Zoe Lofgren meets with SJSU students to discuss sustainability. Photo courtesy of Environment California.

By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director

While Big Wheels roared around a race track and students crowded an outdoor fair elsewhere, a studious but powerful group gathered to mark Earth Day.

Around 30 of SJSU’s best and brightest met April 21 with U.S. Congresswoman Zoe Lofgren, attracted by the opportunity to affect change in the nation’s capital.

The event was sponsored by the SJSU Environmental Resource Center, the Office of the President’s Sustainability Initiative, and Environment California.

Lofgren sought “feedback” and to “bridge the gap” between young people here and her colleagues in Washington D.C.

A member of the House Committee on Science and Technology, she was well prepared to tackle just about anything students presented to her during the one-hour conversation.

The Invisibility of Climate Change

While the topics varied from nuclear power to ethanol to oil extraction fees, the group spent the most time on what geology major Ian Newman described as the “invisibility” of climate change.

Vice President Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” convinced millions worldwide of the effects of global warming on the environment.

But some of Lofgren’s colleagues in Washington continue to refute the science, perhaps because they can’t see the impacts in their own backyards.

“We are in a situation where the science is going this way, and the politics is going that way,” she said. “Obviously, we need to get things back on track.”

Lofgren also observed the situation is almost “too terrifying to contemplate,” and, like many long-term problems, gets pushed away given more immediate worries.

Tremendous Progress

Still, the congresswoman encouraged students to think creatively, noting that “promoting sensible projects locally makes a big difference.”

She also made a very positive observation, mentioning the United States has come a long way since Earth Day was founded 41 years ago by the late Senator Gaylord Nelson, an SJSU alumnus.

The whole concept of environmentalism has gone from fringe to mainstream, sweeping up lawmakers, academics and scientists as well as everyday people.

“Though we have tremendous challenges,” Lofgren said, “we’ve made tremendous progress.”

Professor and five students inside ZEM House.

Multidisciplinary Team Builds Zero Emissions House

Professor and five students inside ZEM House.

Professor Jinny Rhee with students inside their ZEM house (Rhee, Michael Signorelli, Kendrick Lau, Eden Specht and daughter, Michael Murray and Jesus Contreras). Photo by Elena Polanco.

By Pat Lopes Harris, Media Relations Director

What’s the best thing about SJSU’s very first ZEM (that’s zero-emissions) house?

We built it,” said mechanical engineering major Eden Specht.

“We” means 25 students from five departments, making this one of San Jose State’s most ambitious interdisciplinary senior projects ever.

Specht placed the emphasis on the “we” because students built the whole thing from the ground up: drawing up plans, picking out materials, and hammering the whole thing together.

You can check out their pride and joy — and perhaps learn something new about sustainability — at the Charles W. Davidson College of Engineering Open House 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. April 16. Featuring department presentations, lab demonstrations and the like, the engineering event is timed to coincide with Admitted Spartan Day.

Bright Blue Walls

“This far exceeds anything I’ve ever supervised before,” said Jinny Rhee, associate professor of mechanical engineering.

The house is definitely a site to behold, its bright blue angled walls rising from the engineering courtyard (which, by the way, is chock full of all sorts of inventions). With just one room, the house was built more for learning than living, though all the techniques are very much applicable to real homes.

For instance, that power blue material peeking out from unfinished interior? That’s insulation made from recycled denim jeans. And the angled, south-facing front wall? That’s a passive solar element that keeps the house cool during the summer and warm during the winter given seasonal changes in the sun’s path.

The house is also equipped with a heat pump, solar panels and LED lighting with motion detectors, though there’s not much need for daytime lighting. Sunlight fills the interior without heating it up thanks to a bank of small, north-facing windows along the peak of the A-frame roof.

The project is being funded by a $150,000 National Science Foundation grant. Other sponsors include Westinghouse Solar, Sun Xtender, Heartwood Communities, Schneider Electric, and Prestige Glass and Storefront Company. Rhee is the principal investigator. Co-principal investigators are David Parent (electrical engineering), Anuradha Basu (business), Leslie Speer (industrial design), and Larry Gerston (political science).

Working together, students from all these departments drafted plans, built a model, sought support from corporations and foundations, and then began construction March 1. Even a couple civil engineering students pitched in, adding trusses to ensure the 100-square-foot structure is earthquake-safe.

Real World Experience

Though the house is considered coursework, it’s clear that for students like Specht, it’s about far more than getting a good grade. A new father who comes to campus carrying his baby girl, he pours time into the effort, motivated by the opportunity to do hands-on work on a well funded endeavor supported by many faculty members.

“This is my favorite part of being an engineering student,” he said.

For mechanical engineering major Kendrick Lau, working with students with all kinds of expertise, from finance to fire safety, is invaluable.

“We get to see what it’s like in the real world before we hit the real world,” he said.

To Professor Rhee, the house sends a very clear message about the contributions technology can make to sustainability.

“I plan on researching green buildings for years to come,” she said.#

Frances Moore Lappe

World Renowned Food Activist to Speak at SJSU in Celebration of Earth Month

Frances Moore Lappe

Frances Moore Lappe

By Amanda Holst, Public Affairs Assistant

Award winning author and food activist Frances Moore Lappe will speak at 3:15 p.m. April 5 in Morris Dailey Auditorium. She will be introduced by Jesse Cool, a nationally recognized Bay Area chef, owner of Flea St. Café in Menlo Park, and advocate for local and organic foods.

The SJSU Sustainability Initiative, Environmental Resource Center, Division of Student Affairs, College of Social Sciences, and Salzburg Program will sponsor the event, which will be preceded by LOCAVORE! a food and garden fair beginning at noon in the sculpture garden near Clark Hall.

Frances Moore Lappe is the author of 17 books, including her best-selling Diet for a Small Planet.  Celebrating its 40th year, this book aims to inspire changes in eating habits in order to save the planet. Francis also leads the Small Planet Institute with her daughter Anna Lappe.

Focusing on the excerpts from her latest publication, EcoMind: Seven Thought Leaps for Our Planet and Its Changing Climate, Lappe talked to SJSU Today about what sustainability means to her and why the key to change is connecting with other people.

Among the messages she emphasized were “we have hit the limits of a finite planet,” “the answer is no growth,” and “consumer society is to blame.” The following was edited for length and clarity.

SJSU Today: Can you tell me about the keynote address you have in store for SJSU?

Frances Moore Lappe: This address is an attempt to identify some of the ways that we can frame the environmental crisis and the ways we can go beyond what we consider limiting. Instead of being trapped in mechanical ways, the focus is thinking in terms of the fundamental principal of ecology. Thinking like an ecoystem helps us to focus on the connection rather than the separateness.

SJSU: Can you tell me about how you started being sustainable-conscious?

Lappe: The best decision I ever made was to ask the most basic question in the world: Why is there hunger? Addressing the number one question — Why are we together in societies creating a world that not one of us as individuals would ever chose for ourselves? — that’s the question our species has to answer.

SJSU: Which part of researching sustainability was the most interesting or inspirational to you?

Lappe: The heart of my message now is that if we really incorporate the ecological worldview into our daily existence and really understand how incredibly interconnected we are, we have the power to fix it. The key is to understand that every choice we make has ripples throughout the system. Everything we do is changing the world. The choice we have is whether we are changing it consciously in the way that we want to.

SJSU: What else do you want SJSU students and alumni to know about sustainability or being mindful about their diet?

Lappe: Connect with other people and challenge yourself to learn and push the edge for the things that you are most excited about. There are endless possibilities to being sustainable, from getting rid of bottled water to choosing sustainable foods to recycling. The key is to connect with other people on your campus who are energized and bring that “what-can-you-do” attitude.

Frances Moore Lappe

Sustainability Matters: Frances Moore Lappe

Frances Moore Lappe

Frances Moore Lappe

Date: April 5, 2011

Time: 3:15 p.m.

Location: Morris Dailey Auditorium

Summary: Award winning author and food activist Frances Moore Lappe will deliver an address. She will be introduced by Jesse Cool, a nationally recognized Bay Area chef, owner of Flea St. Café in Menlo Park, and advocate for local and organic foods. The SJSU Sustainability Initiative, Environmental Resource Center, Division of Student Affairs, College of Social Sciences, and Salzburg Program will sponsor the event, which will be preceded by LOCAVORE! a food and garden fair beginning at noon in the sculpture garden near Clark Hall. Frances Moore Lappe is the author of 17 books, including her best-selling Diet for a Small Planet.  Celebrating its 40th year, this book aims to inspire changes in eating habits in order to save the planet. Francis also leads the Small Planet Institute with her daughter Anna Lappe. Read more.

beautiful poppies in bloom

SJSU Wins Silicon Valley Water Conservation Award

beautiful poppies in bloom

SJSU will soon use recycled water for landscape irrigation on the main campus.

By Amanda Holst, Public Affairs Assistant

Hard work by many SJSU community members involved in our sustainability initiatives has paid off. The campus has saved thousands of gallons of water, and won a prestigious award.

“It’s good recognition for the efforts that are being undertaken by facilities and other departments on this issue in general,” said Jared Isaacson, energy analyst for SJSU’s Facilities Development and Operations group.

The Silicon Valley Water Conservation Awards recognize organizations, agencies, businesses and individuals who have made outstanding advances in water conservation efforts.

A 14-member coalition panel comprised of local, city, and state environmental organizations chose SJSU because of its conservation leadership and over 200 courses and academic resources related to sustainability.

For over ten years, SJSU has used recycled water to cool its central power plant and irrigate the athletic fields on South Campus, saving 40 million gallons of potable water and more than $100,000 in water and chemical costs annually. The re-piping and technical changes mean SJSU is on track to reduce its potable water use by more than 45 percent.

“Our facilities people took the time to figure out what was needed to make that change, and they have really been a leader in this area,” said Katherine Cushing, director of sustainability.

According to Cushing, winning this award reiterates SJSU plays an important role in educating the public on water conservation and sustainability. The award also shows students can get involved by taking advantage of related classes.

Beginning this month, King Library will use recycled water for toilet and urinal flushing, estimated to save five million gallons of potable water per year.

Irrigation for landscaping on the main campus is also being converted to recycled water, a process that will be completed this fall.

The Water Conservation Award will be presented on World Water Day March 22 at the Milpitas Silicon Valley Humane Society.

Environmental studies graduate student Anna Le and engineering graduate student Gordon Poon explain usage of electricity, natural gas and water on a utility bill to a San Jose resident.

How the Green Wave Can Help You Save

Environmental studies graduate student Anna Le and engineering graduate student Gordon Poon explain usage of electricity, natural gas and water on a utility bill to a San Jose resident.

Environmental studies graduate student Anna Le and engineering graduate student Gordon Poon explain usage of electricity, natural gas and water on a utility bill to a San Jose resident.

By Amanda Holst, Public Affairs Assistant

A new San Jose State sustainability program is reducing the carbon footprint of the university community, one residence at a time.

The Green Wave program trains and deploys SJSU student-auditors to measure the amount of energy being wasted in individual homes and dorm rooms. It’s a free service that can add up to considerable utility bill savings for participants, and is available to San José residents (and offices) through the end of May.

The program’s goal is to save over 2,000 pounds of CO2 emissions per household annually. In the process, the program is building a cadre of students with real-world skills in environmental analysis and community outreach. Seventy-five students are currently receiving hands-on-training to perform energy audits as part of their coursework for the spring semester.

“Green Wave teaches students practical skills, and allows them to make an impact and make a difference in their community,” said Katherine Cushing, who leads the program and is director of sustainability at SJSU.

Still a pilot program, Green Wave is modeled after “Green @Home,” a residential efficiency program run the Palo Alto-based environmental organization Acterra. Green Wave is working in conjunction with the city of San Jose on its Green Vision Plan, which aims to reduce the city’s carbon footprint by half over 15 years.

“But our immediate goal is to audit 300 houses,” said Cushing. “We are hoping to get San Jose students, alumni and employees signed up for audits.”

To sign up for a free home audit, or to become a Green Wave auditor, visit

Students Catch the Green Wave, Tackle Energy Audits Date: 08/23/2010

San Jose State will train over 100 students to “catch the green wave” by helping to conduct energy audits in offices and homes. Learn more at “Taking Action on Climate Change and Energy Efficiency at SJSU” at noon Tuesday, August 31, in King 225. The Office of the President will sponsor the event, and refreshments will be served.

SJSU Sustainability Director Katherine Cushing wrote: “This effort will be a partnership with the city of San Jose. Participating students will be formally recognized by Mayor Chuck Reed for their contribution to helping the city meet its Green Vision goal of reducing per capita energy consumption by 50 percent by 2022.”

The Green Wave follows last year’s Ecological Footprint Challenge.

Earth Day @ SJSU

Mayor Chuck Reed to Speak on San José’s Green Vision During Sustainability Week at SJSU

View a Sustainability Week event schedule.

Contact: Lynne Trulio, 650-740-9446, Pat Lopes Harris, 408-924-1748

SAN JOSÉ, Calif., — In celebration of the 40th anniversary of Earth Day, San José Mayor Chuck Reed will give the keynote address for Sustainability Week at 3:15 p.m. Thursday, April 22, in Engineering 189. Continue reading