In Memoriam: Steve Greenberg, December 15, 1958 – February 26, 2024

May 21, 2024

Steve Greenberg died at his home in Berkeley, California, on February 26, 2024 with his wife, Liz Varnhagen, and a long-time friend by his side. He had been in hospice care for two months with many friends and associates stopping by to visit and say goodbye. He succumbed to a brain tumor from melanoma. He was 65.

Greenberg grew up in Santa Rosa, California, where his father taught high school French and Spanish. Along with his two older brothers he attended public schools and explored the local roads and countryside by bicycle in and around Santa Rosa, before mountain bicycles were popular. Greenberg was curious about how things worked and assisted his father with various home improvement projects and community activities.

In June of 1976, preceding his senior year in high school, Greenberg and his father set out on a tandem bicycle to cross the continental U.S. as participants in the “Bikecentennial” inauguration of the 4,250-mile Trans-America Trail. They completed their journey in about two months, sending postcards home every day. Greenberg graduated from Montgomery High School with honors in June 1977.  That summer he toured 10,000 miles of the continental US again with his high school buddy in his pickup truck

Greenberg’s lifetime passion for environmental sustainability started early. As an engineering student in college, he designed and installed a solar water heater on the roof of the family house in Santa Rosa which remained functional for decades. In 1979, he joined an engineering team supported by the University of California (UC) at the Richmond Field Station to help build a plug-in hybrid car. This was for an Energy Efficient Vehicle Competition held in Detroit, Michigan, the Student Competition on Relevant Engineering.  The team won second place in their category.

As a graduate student, Greenberg moved into Berkeley Student Cooperative Housing and lived at Cloyne Court for six happy years.  He served as Maintenance Manager teaming with other like-minded students and took on a myriad of ambitious projects to repair and upgrade their aging historic residence hall, learning and practicing useful carpentry, electrical and plumbing skills along the way.

Greenberg earned his BS in Mechanical Engineering in 1981 and an MS in Energy and Resources in 1987, both from UC Berkeley, and became a registered Professional Engineer in California. He had begun working at the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory (Berkeley Lab) as a Graduate Student Research Assistant in 1982 and was hired full time at Berkeley Lab in 1990 as a Facilities Energy Management Engineer.

Over the course of his close to 40-year career at Berkeley Lab, Greenberg was involved with many projects, most of them connected to energy efficiency in commercial buildings. Through his exceptional technical understanding of ventilation systems (HVAC), he attained advanced knowledge and came to specialize in energy efficiency in laboratories, data centers and clean rooms. In addition to his outstanding technical work, Greenberg was committed to mentoring and helping others. His service was formally acknowledged through two Berkeley Lab Director's Awards, in 2012 as a member of the Green Data Center Team, and in 2015 for Exceptional Service Achievement for mentoring junior staff, and in 2022 he received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the U.S. Department of Energy. Many of his colleagues offer glowing remarks about his technical assistance with their endeavors.   

Steve Greenberg

Greenberg also assumed roles in several professional organizations, such as technical editor for Home Energy Magazine, treasurer of the local chapter of the Association of Energy Engineers (AEE), Grapevine Newsletter staff at the American Council for an Energy Efficient Economy (ACEEE) conference at Asilomar and as Berkeley Lab liaison on standards and technical committees of American Society of Heating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE).

He had a keen interest in sustainable transportation. Throughout his career at Berkeley Lab, he rode his bicycle up the steep hill to Building 90, rain or shine, occasionally twice a day depending on other activities. The bicycle was his preferred form of transportation and recreation. He completed many organized century rides, including the AIDS Ride. He was also supportive of public transit, with a particular interest in train travel and trains in general. His first purchased automobile was a 1993 high-mileage Honda Civic. In 2004, he got a RAV4EV, fully battery powered, which is still operable with its original batteries. He expanded the solar arrays on the roof of his home to more than cover the electricity demand of the car.

Greenberg was married twice, first to a close companion at Cloyne Court, Alexandra Jacobs, and several years after their divorce, to Liz Varnhagen, a hiking and bicycling friend, with whom he remained for the rest of his life. They settled in Berkeley in 1999. Shortly after moving in, Greenberg organized his friends to help him install the first photovoltaic panels in the neighborhood, on their garage roof. Greenberg and Varnhagen as a couple embraced many environmental sustainability practices to the extent that a friend tipped a Chronicle reporter who wrote an article about them for the SF Chronicle Magazine in 2008.

Greenberg and Varnhagen enjoyed hiking local trails and summer backpacking in the Sierra. In 2010 Greenberg with Varnhagen along with a friend set out to hike the complete Bay Area Ridge Trail, segment by segment. They cultivated a sizable email notification list of followers. The monthly hikes continued for over ten years.

To expand his otherwise modest carbon footprint, Greenberg enjoyed international travel. Because Greenberg’s brother, Allen, served nine tours of duty overseas in his career with the U.S. State Department, Greenberg made a point to travel to each of his postings. Connected with a visit to Moscow in 1996, Greenberg and a friend took a ride across Siberia on the Trans-Siberian Railroad in 1996. Other noteworthy travel included a trip to visit a friend in a tropical rainforest preserve in Borneo, followed directly by trekking in Nepal to the Everest Base Camp with another friend the following week.

Greenberg retired from Berkeley Lab in 2022 due to health concerns, but continued as a rehired retiree for another year. He is survived by his wife, Varnhagen, his two brothers, Mark and Allen, Allen’s wife Haruko, and his nephew, Ben Greenberg and his wife Amanda Cunningham.                                                                                                                                                                           

Greenberg and Varnhagen were steady donors to many environmental and socially progressive organizations. Gifts to the following organizations would be consistent with Greenberg’s causes: Alameda County Food Bank, Transform, Building Opportunities for Self Sufficiency (BOSS), Berkeley Student Cooperative, Bay Area Ridge Trail.