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Wrigley Sustainability Institute News

Smithsonian Institution & ASU Form Sustainability Research & Education Partnership

February 18, 2010

The Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. has joined Arizona State University in an innovative education and science partnership aimed at sustaining a biodiverse planet. Today, Secretary Wayne Clough, head of the Smithsonian, and ASU President Michael M. Crow launched a global classroom – with one foot in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert and the other in the tropical landscapes of Panama.

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Designing transformational solar cells

January 30, 2010

Q&A with Christiana Honsberg and Stuart Bowden

Honsberg and Bowden in the the Solar Power Lab’s clean room

A newly designed solar cell ready for testing

Bowden with members of the Solar Power Lab research team

Professors Christiana Honsberg and Stuart Bowden are the leaders of ASU’s Solar Power Lab. Honsberg is chief scientist of the lab and is considered a pioneer in photovoltaics. Bowden heads the industrial collaboration section of the lab and is credited with improving the efficiency of silicon and crystalline silicon solar cells and the cell manufacturing process.

At what point did “sustainability” become part of your research focus?

When we became involved in photovoltaic research in the mid-1980s, the quest for solar energy had already been driven up by the 1970s oil crises and then redirected toward space applications as oil prices returned to low levels. Nevertheless, we always expected that when the technology became cheap enough, solar power would provide electricity in underdeveloped countries. The Kyoto Protocol in 1997 became a turning point for us because it highlighted world sustainability issues and prompted many highly developed nations to deploy photovoltaic systems. This has led to increased research focus over the past decade on photovoltaic materials and their impacts.

What are your most important sustainability-related research projects?

In one project, we are working to overcome current barriers to the production of very thin, high efficiency solar cells. Such a breakthrough will stimulate rapid improvements in existing commercial solar cell technology, reduce solar cell costs, and increase their use. Our goal is to put solar cells on a track analogous to what Moore’s Law describes for computers — geometric growth in power over time but at the same cost.

In a second project, we are developing ultra-high efficiency solar cells that will exceed existing efficiency limits of about 30 percent for non-concentrated sunlight and 45 percent for concentrated. Because we are using new approaches, such as exploiting the efficiencies of so-called “intermediate band material,” we expect to dramatically reduce the cost of materials and production while increasing power output. These new cells can literally transform our energy system by opening practical new applications for solar power that range from hydrogen fuel production to “smart windows” — glass that controls the amount of heat transfer in response to conditions.

How will your research affect future policy decisions?

Both of our projects make solar cells better and more affordable, which should increase the ability of policymakers to meet greenhouse gas emission targets. Our ultra-high efficiency solar cells, however, will take us even farther than that. We envision a future in which we no longer plug most of our devices into distant power-generating sources, but instead let them generate and store their own power from available sunlight.

What is the world sustainability challenge that concerns you most?

We are most concerned about the world’s growing need for affordable, sustainable energy. This is a matter of environmental, economic, and social concern for both rich and poor countries.

January 30, 2010

Insect wranglers invade the Garden at Southwestern science EXPO

January 22, 2010

Raymond Mendez, the “original insect wrangler” who tamed 25,000 roaches, and trained moths to attack on command for the movie “Silence of the Lambs,” headlines the Southwest’s first Social Insect Science EXPO on Feb. 20 at the Desert Botanical Garden.

Designed for inquiring minds and families, the EXPO brings together some of the top scientists from Arizona State University, their favorite critters and the public. Attendees will be able to peer inside bee colonies and rub elbows-to-antennae with leaf-cutter, harvester and trap-jaw ants. Mendez, founder of Work as Play, which develops exhibits for zoos and museums, will bring his live ant and naked mole-rat colonies to share, in addition to speaking about his work in science, film and television, design and advertising.

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Electronics Companies, Retailers Team to Simplify Green Electronics Purchasing for Consumers

Institute Press Releases

January 21, 2010

Best Buy, Dell, HP, Intel, Toshiba and Walmart to Establish System to Help Consumers Identify “Green” Electronics

TEMPE, Ariz.- The Sustainability Consortium, along with leaders in the manufacturing and sales of consumer electronics, today announced plans to establish a system, including social and environmental considerations, to help consumers identify “green” electronics. The Sustainability Consortium is co-administered by Arizona State University and the University of Arkansas.

Working with Best Buy, Dell, HP, Intel, Toshiba, and Walmart, the consortium will research and publish findings on the lifecycle environmental and social impacts of electronic products. These findings will be used to support efforts to identify products as sustainable or “green.” This type of information is designed to reduce consumer confusion and help standardize product claims.

“Customers tell us they want to purchase electronics that have a minimal impact on our planet. This is an effort to help them do that using a common methodology that manufacturers across the industry participate in,” said Scott O’Connell, environmental strategist, Dell. “This is about making it easy for customers to determine what’s ‘green’ and what’s not, and we’d like to have the whole industry involved.”

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Sustainability Consortium clarifies goals, Walmart relationship

December 11, 2009

Sustainability Consortium co-chairs Dr. Jay S. Golden of the School of Sustainability, Barrett Honors Faculty, at Arizona State University, and Dr. Jon Johnson of the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, were the guest speakers at a 90-minute Webcast, “Inside the Sustainability Consortium,” presented by on Dec. 2.

The Consortium is an independent group of scientists and engineers from leading academic research institutions around the world who engage with other leading researchers from the NGO, governmental and industrial sectors. The primary function is to develop the science to support the indexing of consumer products throughout all phases of the products life.

The Consortium clarified its mission and strategies in the Webcast, while debunking the misconception that it is working on a Sustainable Product Index exclusively for Walmart. While the discount retailer was a founding partner of the Consortium, the Consortium’s steering committee is made up of CPGs, NGOs, government agencies, and others interested in advocating for good business.

“Walmart understands that multiple retailer engagement is necessary if this initiative is going to work,” noted Dr. Johnson.

This information, along with a comprehensive dialogue on the types of product data to be collected and shared around sustainability were the topics of the Webcast.

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Professors Awarded Public Health Law Research Grant

December 10, 2009

Timothy Lant, research director at ASU’s Decision Theater, and James G. Hodge Jr., the Lincoln Professor of Health Law and Ethics at the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law, have received a grant to examine the role law plays in critical public health emergencies, such as the H1N1 flu pandemic.

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Strengthening rural food systems for climate change

November 30, 2009

Q&A with Hallie Eakin

Dr. Eakin interviewing a farmer about flood risk in San Bartolo, Mexico

Mexican research collaborators with Dr. Eakin in Chiapas, Mexico

Coffee farmers in Chiapas, Mexico participating in a research workshop

Dr. Eakin is an assistant professor in the School of Sustainability investigating economic globalization and rural vulnerability to climate change in Latin America. She has previously consulted with the World Bank, the U.S. Agency for International Development, and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency on projects in agricultural development and adaptation to climate impacts.

What triggered your focus on sustainability?

My interest in sustainability emerged from my undergraduate thesis on the use of seasonal climate forecasts to alleviate drought hardship in Zimbabwe. A few years later, while working in international development, it became clear to me that farmers would need far more than weather forecasts to improve their decision-making, economic status, and food security. The effective use of forecasts depended also on incorporating farmers’ knowledge into the forecasting science and addressing the many cultural, economic, and ecological constraints they face. This experience highlighted the importance of systemic approaches to problem solving, and helped me to better understand what the challenge of sustainability was all about.

What is your most important sustainability-related research project?

I am coordinating an international group of scholars – including a climatologist, agroecologist, economist, and several geographers – in a project that evaluates how policy and climatic risk affect maize production in Mexico. Maize has been critical to Mexican culture and rural livelihoods for centuries. By examining the way rural farming decisions are influenced through factors such as environmental change, migration, urbanization, and market liberalization, we can assess how economic policy and climatic risk affects Mexican food security, not only for households but for the entire country.

How will your research directly affect policy decisions?

One effective way to address social and ecological vulnerability is to understand what vulnerable people value and worry about, as well as their motivations, needs, and priorities — and then communicate this perspective to leaders who can affect policies. My current project aims to open a dialogue in Mexico on the drivers of change in Mexico’s food system and we hope our findings will contribute to international efforts aimed at reducing threats to critical food systems from climate change.

What is the world sustainability challenge that concerns you most?

I am most concerned with the fundamental problem of global poverty and inequality, and its effect on sustainability. Persistent social injustice undermines the ability of society everywhere to live more sustainability.

November 30, 2009

Research Looks at Water, Energy Impacts of Climate Change

November 30, 2009

Climate projections for the next 50 to 100 years forecast increasingly frequent severe droughts and heat waves across the American Southwest, sinking available water levels even as rising mercury drives up demand for it.

Declining water supply will affect more than just water flowing from taps and spraying from hoses and sprinklers. It will also strongly impinge on power generation, testing the capacity of sources like Hoover Dam, with its roughly 1.3 million customers in Nevada, Arizona and California, to generate adequate power with less water.

Now, Patricia Gober and David A. Sampson of the Decision Center for a Desert City at Arizona State University are teaming with David J. Sailor of Portland State University on a $65,000 grant to wade into this deep problem.

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ASU Plays Key Role in Arizona’s Landing of Suntech

November 18, 2009

The sun shines bright in the Valley, but that is not the reason why China’s leading manufacturer of solar panels, Suntech Power Holdings Co. Ltd., decided to locate its first manufacturing plant here. It is its longstanding ties to Arizona State University that helped convince the manufacturer of the benefits of metropolitan Phoenix, said Jonathan Fink, a Foundation Professor in ASU’s School of Sustainability and the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

“These earlier steps, which date back more than a decade, represent the apolitical, technology based cultivation that universities are best suited to carry out, usually behind the scenes,” Fink said.

Suntech announced its choice of the Phoenix metropolitan area for its first U.S. plant on Nov. 15 and cited several reasons, including the research strengths of ASU, Arizona’s statewide renewable energy policies and the favorable local business climate fostered by groups like the Greater Phoenix Economic Council. While Suntech will provide a modest initial commitment of about 75 new jobs and a facility of about 100,000 sq feet of space, it is the fact that they chose the Valley that has many people excited.

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Renowned Global Climate Change Expert to Lead ASU Law and Sustainability Initiative

Institute Press Releases

November 13, 2009

Daniel M. Bodansky, a preeminent authority in international climate change law, has been appointed the Lincoln Professor of Law, Ethics, and Sustainability at Arizona State University, according to Paul Schiff Berman, Dean of the Sandra Day O’Connor College of Law.

Bodansky also has been named an Affiliated Faculty member in both the College of Law’s Center for Law and Global Affairs, and in the Global Institute of Sustainability’s School of Sustainability at ASU. His appointment is effective Aug. 1, 2010.

“The hiring of Dan Bodansky is a tremendously positive step for advancing ASU,” said ASU President Michael Crow. “On the law and sustainability front, Dan will bring us global thinking at the highest level. This is a great day for ASU.”

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New H1N1 Survey Reveals Arizonans’ Flu Season Plans

November 9, 2009

TEMPE, Ariz. (Nov. 9, 2009) — Arizonans are gearing up for more H1N1 activity this flu season, and a new survey reveals how much they really know about the virus and how they’re preparing for its spread.

The new survey of more than 700 Arizona households was designed and analyzed by faculty and students from the School of Health Management and Policy at the W. P. Carey School of Business, the Decision Theater at the Global Institute of Sustainability, and the School of Public Affairs at Arizona State University. The study was sponsored by the Arizona Department of Health Services and was conducted during the month of October. The results will be used by public information officials from various hospitals, public health agencies and related organizations to determine how to best communicate to the public about H1N1 influenza.

> Read more see “New H1N1 Survey Reveals Arizonans’ Flu Season Plans”

Looking to microbes for clean energy and water

October 30, 2009

Q&A with Bruce Rittmann

Dr. Rittmann with the Environmental Biology team that is studying the role of microorganisms in obesity

Environmental Biology research scientists setting up experiments with a microbial fuel cell

Dr. Rittmann sampling photosynthetic bacteria from the biofuels project “Tubes in the Desert”

Dr. Rittmann is Regents’ Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering in the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, affiliated faculty of the School of Sustainability, and a member of the National Academy of Engineering. As director of the Center for Environmental Biotechnology at the Biodesign Institute, he has pioneered research on microbiological systems that generate usable energy from waste products and remove pollution from contaminated ecosystems.

What event or recognition focused your work on sustainability?

In the mid-1990s, I realized that sustainability is not about “the environment” or “the Earth,” but about the ability of human civilization to survive. Earth will fare well, and so will cockroaches, but will human society continue to exist? Should it? Balancing our deplorable record of destruction with our great works of art, music, architecture, and engineering, I decided humanity is worth the effort, so I made sustainability an explicit part of my research.

What is the most important sustainability-related research project you are currently working on?

Our society’s addiction to fossil fuels is the root cause of most environmental problems. Intoxicated by hundreds of millions of years of stored-up energy to draw upon, we have built a society that depends on coal, petroleum, and natural gas for up to 86 percent of its energy. This cannot be sustained. Therefore, my most important project studies how to use photosynthetic bacteria to capture sunlight and CO2 and convert it into a form of renewable biofuel that can replace fossil fuel.

Why do you believe microbes are the key to sustainability solutions?

Bacteria can grow 100 times faster than plants and do not compete for arable land or consume and pollute our water resources. With a working large-scale microbe-based system, we could generate enough renewable energy to replace the world’s fossil-fuel use in a total area roughly equal to Texas. Microbes can provide other services as well. In our lab we are developing microbe-based systems that can purify contaminated water and increase our usable water supplies.

How do you think your sustainability-related research can affect policy decisions?

Once policymakers realize it is possible to replace fossil fuels without harming our food supply or water resources, we can focus on global cooperation instead of competition over fossil fuels. I expect some push-back from entities with vested interests in fossil fuels, but society has no choice but to move steadily over the next 20 or so years towards an energy supply that is predominantly clean and renewable.

What is the world sustainability challenge that concerns you most?

Global climate change is the most difficult technical challenge because fossil fuel use permeates every aspect of our society and we are way behind in finding solutions. What worries me most, though, is that war and terrorism may overrun civilization if we cannot find technological solutions fast enough.

October 30, 2009

ASU Polytechnic gets Gold LEED Rating

October 28, 2009

Arizona State University received a gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council’s Leadership and Energy and Environmental Design program for the academic complex at its Polytechnic campus.

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> Polytechnic Academic Complex

Global Challenges of Sustainability Call for Action and Solutions

Institute Press Releases

October 26, 2009

ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability Brings Slate of Transformational Leaders to Arizona

TEMPE, Ariz. – To engage public dialogue about the mounting challenges that must be addressed to create a sustainable world, the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University (ASU) is announcing the 2009-2010 slate of distinguished speakers for its Wrigley Lecture Series on Sustainability.

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ASU Exceeds $300 Million in Research Expenditures

October 26, 2009

Arizona State University has topped $300 million in research expenditures for the first time in its school history. With a total of $307 million in research expenditures for FY2009 (which ended June 30), a growth of nearly 9 percent compared to FY08, ASU has made a dramatic climb in the ranks of top research universities.

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Arizona State University is Rated a Sustainability Leader by the College Sustainability Report Card

October 7, 2009

Arizona State University (ASU) is topping the charts for its efforts in sustainability. ASU earned high marks from the Sustainable Endowments Institute’s College Sustainability Report Card 2010, with an overall grade of A-.

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Decision-making for climatic uncertainty

September 30, 2009

Q&A with Patricia Gober

Dr. Patricia Gober

Rapid growth on urban fringes exacerbates water supply challenges from climate change

Using WaterSim for decision support in the Decision Theater

Dr. Gober is a professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and in the School of Sustainability. She is also a Policy Research Associate at Morrison Institute for Public Policy and Co-Director of Decision Center for a Desert City, one of five National Science Foundation-funded centers focused on developing fundamental new knowledge and tools for decision-making under climatic uncertainty.

When did you come to focus on “sustainability” in your research?

I’ve been a “closet” sustainability scientist for as long as I can remember. During more than 30 years interacting with earth scientists, biogeographers, and climatologists, I became more interested in our connections than our differences. Then, in 1998 I was elected president of the Association of American Geographers, which triggered the realization that my field — geography — was a potent catalyst for the marriage of science, social science, technology, and the humanities. Gradually, I moved from there to the long-term perspective, collaborative practices, and solution-oriented work of sustainability science I’m involved with today.

What is your most important sustainability-related research project?

I co-direct the Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC) to address water management decision-making in the face of climate uncertainty. The premise of our work is that society needs to prepare for the effects of climate change, but even the best climate science will never completely eliminate all unknowns. To mitigate the uncertainty decision-makers must face, we developed WaterSim, a scientific simulation and policy tool that enables them to explore the consequences of different policy scenarios on future water supplies. By asking carefully crafted “what if” questions, applying the best available scientific and institutional knowledge, and collaborating closely with water managers and policymakers, we help identify which choices avoid misfortune and are robust under a range of future climate conditions.

How does your sustainability-related research affect “real world” decisions?

Locally, our goal is to draw attention to the need for climate adaptation in Arizona — particularly to persuade water managers and the public of the need for action. We’ve also worked in collaboration with the city of Phoenix’s Water Services Department to investigate the consequences of using irrigated landscaping to mitigate the urban heat island effect.

Thinking globally, the strategies and solutions we find here can be applied to many other rapidly urbanizing regions around the world. In recognition of that, DCDC was chosen as a winner of the Prince Sultan Bin Abdulaziz International Prize for Water in the category of water resources management and protection.

What is the world sustainability challenge that concerns you most?

Increasingly, I focus on the challenge of sustainable cities. We can no longer discuss urban water, land, or energy decisions without examining their consequences for maintaining healthy ecosystems, supporting economic progress, feeding the world’s population, and managing the risk of shortages across social groups and communities. The challenge for the world’s cities is to look at the interconnectedness of their social, economic, and environmental systems and policies. Water is but one piece of this complex puzzle.

September 30, 2009

Study: Wealth buys rescue from urban heat island

September 21, 2009

by Shaun McKinnon
The Arizona Republic

Heat discriminates. Phoenix’s sweltering summer inflicts the most misery and illness in poor neighborhoods, a new study shows, and among people least able to protect themselves from the elements. Conditions in those neighborhoods, with their sparse landscaping, high-density housing and converging freeways, create pockets of extreme heat that persist day and night. Inside, homeowners sometimes can’t afford to turn up – or even turn on – the air-conditioner.

Wealthier homeowners, meanwhile, often in neighborhoods just blocks away, maintain lush yards and trees that help cool the air more quickly at night, shortening the hours of the hottest heat waves. They can buy further relief with a nudge of the thermostat.
The disparities present threats more serious than just discomfort on a hot day, according to the study, produced by Arizona State University researchers. Prolonged exposure to heat can cause illness or even death. The densely developed nature of the hottest areas also means more of the people most vulnerable – the elderly, children, the homebound – live in the neighborhoods where the risk is greatest.

That link between money and the ability to cope with extreme weather emerged clearly in the research. Among the startling revelations: For every $10,000 an area’s income rises, the average outside temperature drops one-half degree Fahrenheit.

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The Aspen Institute Announces Arizona State University’s Jay Golden as Winner of 2009 Faculty Pioneer Award

Institute Press Releases

September 16, 2009

NEW YORK, N.Y., TEMPE, Ariz. – The Center for Business Education at the Aspen Institute announced today that Professor Jay Golden of Arizona State University (ASU) has been named 2009 Faculty Pioneer. This recognition program, dubbed the “Oscars of the business school world” by The Financial Times, celebrates business educators who have demonstrated leadership and risk-taking in integrating ethical, environmental and social issues into the business curriculum. Golden will be honored on November 6th at an awards breakfast at Ernst & Young’s corporate headquarters in New York’s Times Square.

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National Expert on Urban Ecology

August 31, 2009

Q&A with Nancy B. Grimm

Dr. Nancy B. Grimm

A CAP LTER student collects water samples in a stormwater retention basin

CAP LTER technicians and graduate students survey desert study plots

Dr. Nancy B. Grimm is Professor of Ecology, Evolution, and Environmental Science, affiliate faculty member in the School of Sustainability, and Co-Director of the Central Arizona—Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research project (CAP LTER), an interdisciplinary study of the Phoenix metropolitan area.

When did you first incorporate the ideas of “sustainability” into your research?

I’ve been aware of sustainability’s relevance since the 1991 report, The Sustainable Biosphere Initiative, from the Ecological Society of America. Applying the concepts of sustainability, however, became directly relevant for my own research in 1998 when I began working in the field of urban ecology as principal investigator of the CAP LTER project. That made me consider how we can integrate the understandings of social sciences — human behaviors and actions — into ecological research.

What is your most important sustainability-related research project?

The CAP LTER project takes a long perspective on understanding human–ecological interactions in the Phoenix metro area. We study land change, climate, ecosystem structure and function, water, biodiversity, and material inputs, outputs, and transformations. Cities are prime ground for sustainability research: they are where most people live, and where both problems and potential solutions are concentrated. The key to finding urban solutions is they must be based in sound ecological principles or they won’t prove to be sustainable.

How can your sustainability-related research affect policy?

I want to help decision-makers and planners incorporate an ecological perspective into the design and construction of urban landscapes. For example, we know it’s a challenge to handle stormwater runoff in urban environments that have impervious surfaces and dramatically altered stream channels. Why not design ecologically sound ideas into the system such as nutrient removal, sediment trapping, and groundwater infiltration that have been successful in other regions? This is a conversation that must take place.

What is the world sustainability challenge that concerns you most?

In the long run, I am most concerned about climate change — not just warming, but the severe climate and weather events it will cause such as drought, floods, sea-level rise, and storm surges. These will pose significant threats to people who live where risk is greatest, mainly in cities.

How is your message getting out?

Science magazine published my ideas on the role of urbanization in global environmental change in a special issue on cities released Feb. 8, 2008. I also coordinated the society chapter in the U.S. Global Change Research Program’s synthesis book, Global Climate Change Impacts in the United States, which was jointly released by the White House and has been described as the most comprehensive report to date on the possible impacts of climate change across America and the policy choices we face.

August 31, 2009