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Secretary of Ag Vilsack is guest of ASU Wrigley Institute

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September 14, 2016

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack speaking to a crowd at a USDA Fall Forum hosted by ASUAt a September 2016 forum hosted by the ASU Wrigley Institute, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack stressed that the country's continued food security is closely linked to its response to increasing climate volatility.

Vilsack and fellow panel members agreed that universities have a large role to play in protecting farms of the future against threats like intense storms, invasive species and droughts. In fact, the current administration has charged universities with ramping up research on climate and water issues, as well as on specific solutions like grazing patterns and drought-resistant crops.

Distinguished Sustainability Scientist Osvaldo Sala, a member of the panel, explained that universities have the capacity to work across disciplines to provide evidence-based solutions. He added that they are also aptly suited to mediate interests among the many stakeholders of shared resources.

Watch Secretary Vilsack's keynote and the first panel discussion from the Fall Forum.

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ASU retains title as nation's most innovative school

Board Letter ASU Sustainability News

September 13, 2016

Woman standing on mountain at sunset pointing toward the skyFor the second year in a row, the annual rankings by U.S. News & World Report name Arizona State the most innovative university in the nation. The widely touted list compares more than 1,500 institutions on a variety of metrics. ASU has taken the top spot in each year since the innovation category was created.

“We do things differently, and we constantly try new approaches,” said ASU President Michael Crow. “Our students’ paths to discovery don’t have to stay within the boundaries of a single discipline. Our researchers team up with colleagues from disparate fields of expertise. We use technology to enhance the classroom and reach around the world. We partner with cities, nonprofits and corporations to support our advances as the higher-education economy evolves. This ranking recognizes the new model we have created.”

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One of the 'coolest' schools in the US is in Arizona's desert

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September 6, 2016

Students are working and/or interacting with other students in different learning environments and innovative spaces. These images should be natural and captured in the moment. It is very difficult to stage these type of pictures and doing so is easily picked up on by the viewer. Students enjoying class is a must. Moving up five spots from 2015, Arizona State University was named sixth in Sierra Club's annual "Cool Schools" ranking of roughly 200 colleges and universities.

The ranking lists schools based on a demonstrated commitment to upholding high environmental standards. A few of the categories ASU scored high in are bike facilities, organic gardens, undergraduate programs, student outreach and move-in/out waste reduction.

“For more than 10 years, ASU has demonstrated its fundamental commitment to sustainability,” says Christopher Boone, dean of ASU's School of Sustainability. “We are very pleased to be recognized by the Sierra Club for all of our hard work.”

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Three new partnerships promise better conservation outcomes

Board Letter ASU Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News Biodiversity News

September 2, 2016

Two men and two women smile as an agreement is signedFurthering ASU's commitment to translating knowledge in action, its Center for Biodiversity Outcomes joined three powerful international partnerships over the summer of 2016.

The center's new partners include names you might recognize: the World Business Council for Sustainable Development, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature's Red List and Conservation International.

These partnerships respectively seek to promote sustainable development through the global business community, devise strategies for species conservation and biodiversity decision-making, and expand conservation science and training to the next generation of conservation leaders – aims that will put ASU's wealth of sustainability research and expertise to good use.

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Making every day in the neighborhood a happy one

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August 30, 2016

Tall, smiling man with bike next to smiling young woman outdoorsThere are three factors that promote happiness where we live, say School of Sustainability Professor Scott Cloutier and his colleague Deirdre Pfeiffer. In a paper published in the Journal of the American Planning Association, they name these factors as access to open and green space, environmental design that promotes social interaction, and places that are safe and secure.

Cloutier and Pfeiffer conceived of the study after observing urban planning focused solely on improved physical health, leaving  mental and emotional health by the wayside. Now, the pair suggest strategies planners can use to measure all three “happiness” factors, and evaluate the extent to which their proposals would promote better health overall.

The researchers even developed a tool called the “Sustainability through Happiness Framework” that allows planners to collaborate with neighborhood residents on the creation of places where they'll be happy to live.

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ASU helps national parks with sustainability dilemma

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August 24, 2016

Researcher Dave White and students smiling at Yosemite National ParkAs the National Park Service marked its centennial in August 2016, the federal agency considered its twin mandates of preserving the most beautiful and historic sites in the country while ensuring that everyone gets an opportunity to see them. How can it accommodate growing numbers of visitors in a sustainable way?

Thankfully, the research of ASU sustainability experts like Megha Budruk, Dave White and Paul Hirt can help NPS better understand the natural systems it protects. These scientists – along with other faculty and students – have studied a range of questions including visitor use, the role of technology in saving the parks and the changing nature of interpretation.

Teaching water lessons on Main Streets across America

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August 23, 2016

Birds sitting on a damThe "Museum on Main Street," conceived by the Smithsonian Institution, brings exciting exhibits to small towns throughout the United States. Among these exhibits is WaterSim, an interactive water management tool developed by researchers at ASU's Decision Center for a Desert City.

According to School of Sustainability Dean Chris Boone, “WaterSim America is a great platform to educate the broader public on what they can do as individuals and groups to manage water in ways that lead to positive change.”

WaterSim achieves this by simulating the impacts of factors like population growth and drought on a given state's water supply and demand. Users then respond to challenges by selecting policies that steady their state’s water system.

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At the forefront of global biodiversity policy

ASU Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News Biodiversity News

August 20, 2016

Researcher sitting at the end of a boat looking out on the ocean where a whale tail is visible.As biodiversity is depleted, ASU oceanographer Leah Gerber – director of the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes – guides a United Nations panel that helps policy makers navigate scientific literature on the topic.

Gerber was named coordinating lead author of the United Nations' Intergovernmental Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services, a panel of scientists who will review the massive body of scientific literature around biodiversity and ecosystem services. The panel will organize the combined knowledge into a report that is both relevant and accessible to those who make decisions that impact plant and animal life.

The first authors’ meeting took place in Bonn, Germany, in August of 2016.

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Designing a way to live in a world that's hot

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August 5, 2016

Man wearing glasses and navy shirt, standing in the Arizona sunASU researchers are working on a range of long-term solutions to beat the Phoenix heat. Among them are members of the Urban Resilience to Extremes Sustainability Research Network, like sustainability scientists Nancy Grimm and Chuck Redman.

According to Redman, solutions to challenges like heat need to come from a variety of places. He points to landscaping, water use and green roofs as opportunities for improved cooling. Grimm stresses the need to strengthen power infrastructure, our first line of defense against the summer heat. If temperatures trend upward toward 130 degrees, she says, it becomes even more crucial that our infrastructure can withstand both an increased demand for cooling and the heat itself.

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Seminar provides sunny outlook on solar in Kosovo

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July 19, 2016

An old-looking power plantWhen asked to design a program on renewable energy and sustainability to be presented in Kosovo – a country that relies on two coal-fueled power plants – the School of Sustainability's Ryan Johnson gladly accepted.

Johnson, who directs the school's professional training and custom sustainability education efforts, then approached geographer Martin Pasqualetti and electrical engineer Ron Roedel because of their expertise in renewable energy, as well as with a similar program in the Middle East.

After studying Kosovo's great solar potential, the two professors presented their insights at a two-week seminar beginning in May 2016. Each day was split between presentations by Pasqualetti – a sustainability scientist who focused on the social aspects of transitioning to a new energy source – and Roedel, who focused on the technical aspects of renewable energy. Together, they demonstrated the value of renewable energy and interdisciplinary collaboration.

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Locust outbreak brings ASU expert to Argentina

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July 14, 2016

A hand holding three locusts of different sizesWhen a massive locust outbreak struck Argentina in 2016, Senior Sustainability Scientist Arianne Cease flew to the scene to offer her expertise.

Cease, a professor in the School of Sustainability, has studied locusts around the world. She and her lab manager arrived to swarms more than four miles long and two miles high – the worst Argentina had seen in 60 years.

After assessing the situation and sharing her research, Cease hosted a two-day workshop. Here, she described to university researchers and government officials how to address locust outbreaks using a systems approach.

With the aim of creating a rapid-response team to address situations like the one in Argentina, Cease is building a Global Locust Consortium. She hopes to host the initial meeting by early 2017.

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Taking useful technology to market

Board Letter ASU Sustainability News

July 12, 2016

The modern glass aesthetic of ASU's Biodesign building reflecting the sunset The environment of creativity fostered by ASU was recognized in July 2016, when the National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association released their annual rankings. According to the groups, ASU ranks 38th among worldwide institutions in utility patents earned, with 55 patents secured in 2015.

“It’s a very nurturing culture that makes it easy for folks to file patents,” says Senior Sustainability Scientist Rolf Halden, who has been awarded six patents in the last six years.

Halden, who directs ASU's Center for Environmental Security, works to improve human health by studying exposure to toxic chemicals and inventing ways to clean up contamination in soil and groundwater.

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Students study culture and sustainability in Morocco

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June 27, 2016

Two scientists enjoying coffee outside a Moroccan cafeFor the fourth year in a row, the School of Sustainability sponsored a study abroad excursion to Morocco, where Arizona State University students studied the complexities of sustainable development.

Senior Sustainability Scientist Mary Jane Parmentier – who served as a member of the Peace Corps in Morocco in the 1980s and has maintained contacts there – led the program.  Students learned about the differing priorities among the unique cultures in this North African nation, then digested that knowledge during nightly meetings.

The study abroad program has evolved from year to year, becoming more culturally immersive and focused on evaluating sustainability solutions that are being implemented in host countries. For more updates from this excursion and others, visit the Global Sustainability Studies Program's blog.

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Inaccurate emissions numbers weaken Clean Power Plan

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June 24, 2016

Illuminated power plant at night, its reflection in nearby waterAccording to an Arizona State University study led by Senior Sustainability Scientist Kevin Gurney, federal data on power-plant carbon dioxide emissions is significantly flawed.

Power plants are responsible for roughly 40 percent of carbon dioxide emissions nationwide. Inaccurate data concerning these emissions undermines the federal Clean Power Plan, which is designed to strengthen the clean-energy trend by setting a national limit on the carbon pollution produced by power plants.

“This policy relies on the achievement of state-level CO2 emission-rate targets,” write the study's authors. “When examined at the state level, we find that one-third of the states have differences that exceed 10 percent of their assigned reduction amount. Such levels of uncertainty raise concerns about the ability of individual states to accurately quantify emission rates in order to meet the regulatory targets.”

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A neighborly partnership for energy reform

ASU Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News LightWorks News

June 23, 2016

Beltrán stands at a podium with a black curtain behind himLeonardo Beltrán Rodríguez, undersecretary for planning and energy transition under Mexico’s Secretary of Energy, is managing the most significant reform of Mexico’s energy sector in more than 70 years – and ASU is helping him do it. In June 2016, Beltrán met with ASU leaders to formalize a relationship of future collaboration in energy research and education.

“ASU is one of the premier universities in the U.S. in terms of energy research, with nationally recognized centers...,” said Stephen Goodnick, deputy director of ASU LightWorks. “ASU also has strong partnerships within Mexico, with more than $35 million worth of projects related to Mexico either in partnership with Mexican entities or with a focus on Mexican topics, cultures or materials.”

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HOAs influence water use, ASU study finds

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June 5, 2016

Low-water landscaping in desert neighborhoodHomeowners associations are good for water conservation, according to a study led by Senior Sustainability Scientist Elizabeth Wentz.

Upon analyzing water-use records for properties throughout several neighborhoods in Goodyear, Arizona, Wentz and her research team found that houses in HOAs used significantly less water than those that were not. They also found that houses in HOAs had less vegetation overall, even when minimum vegetation requirements were listed among the HOAs' rules.

The team concluded that a sense of community, coupled with fines for non-conformers, make homes in HOAs more likely to observe an area’s social and environmental norms – even if those norms are never codified in law. If HOAs shaped their standards to reflect environmentally-friendly landscaping, they could save thousands of gallons of water per household every year.

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Meeting emissions targets after Paris climate talks

Board Letter ASU Sustainability News School of Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News Professional Training and Custom Sustainability Education

May 19, 2016

Smokestacks billow emissions in front of a blue skyWithin months of the Paris climate talks, more than 20 city officials from around the world gathered in Washington, D.C. for a "how-to" on inventorying sources of greenhouse gas emissions. The training – led by Raj Buch, practice lead for the Walton Global Sustainability Solutions Services – helped attendees determine where emissions cuts are most needed.

Twenty-one city officials attended, from countries including Argentina, India, South Africa, Korea, Bolivia, China and Bangladesh. All of them were clients of World Bank, an organization that mainly finances Third World infrastructure projects and is concerned about the effects climate change will have on them.

Bank officials asked the School of Sustainability to design and deliver a curriculum around this topic, as it had done for other topics in the past. The workshop will be produced in an online format, as well.

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Love of a language shapes sustainability grad's path

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May 16, 2016

Bridget Harding standing on a wet walking path through a field of tall flowersSchool of Sustainability student Bridget Harding's love of the Korean language, which she studied throughout high school and her time at ASU, has shaped her path in a few profound ways.

First, it prompted her to study abroad in South Korea, where she became interested in East vs. West perspectives on nature and ecology. It also became a point of intrigue for potential employers, who viewed that the knack for learning such a difficult language as an indicator of other aptitudes – like learning difficult computer programs.

Harding was admitted into the Fulbright Scholarship Program in South Korea, where she will teach English for at least one year. She is one of the 118  uniquely-talented students to graduate from the School of Spring in 2016.

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A big boost for bioenergy research at ASU

Board Letter ASU Sustainability News

May 16, 2016

Bright green algae in tubesTwo ASU biofuel projects are among six nationwide receiving $10 million from the U.S. Department of Energy to explore innovative solutions in bioenergy.

One project aims to improve algal biomass growth while reducing evaporation and eliminating the need for cooling. It has the potential to reach five times the current algal production rates, reducing the cost of enclosed algal cultivation systems and boosting total fuel potential.

The other will engineer cyanobacteria for the production of ethyl laurate, which is easily converted to biofuels or bioproducts that are compatible with existing infrastructure. The expected outcome is an economically competitive yield of a biofuel produced directly from CO2 under the influence of sunlight.

These projects will support the work of the Bioenergy Technologies Office to develop renewable and cost-competitive biofuels and develop a more robust bioeconomy. This means more green jobs and innovation, as well as a better environment and national energy security.

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A glimpse into the future of algae

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May 11, 2016

summerfeld_and_algae-5One of the nation’s top experts on algae, ASU sustainability scientist Milton Sommerfeld, has spent half of a century exploring the possibilities of the plant as a super food, fuel, fertilizer and more.

Sommerfeld – co-director of the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation at ASU's Polytechnic campus – explains that there are roughly 75,000 different types of algae, and that certain strains are more optimal for given uses than others.

According to Sommerfeld, the most immediate impact from algae will be in bioremediation – a waste management technique that uses organisms to remove or neutralize pollutants from a contaminated site. He expects commercial algal biofuels further down the line, as production will require scaling the small cultivation operations of the present to an industrial level.

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