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Sustainability News

Meet sustainability student Bridget Abraham

School of Sustainability News Alumni and Student Spotlights

September 19, 2018

Woman with ASU shirt on pier overlooking oceanBridget Abraham recently began pursuing a bachelor of science in sustainability at Arizona State University. She became interested in sustainability during her time at Chandler High School, where she was Student Body President and involved in all Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate classes. During Abraham’s junior year, she enrolled in AP Environmental Science, and through a partnership between ASU and Chandler High, she earned School of Sustainability credit for this class.

Abraham answered questions for us about how this experience in high school led her to choosing a path in sustainability, and what sustainability means to her.

Question: What did you like about the ASU Sustainability School @ Chandler High School program?

Answer: The aspect I enjoyed the most about SOS was the passion behind it. My teacher, Mrs. Culver, loved what she taught and put all her effort into her students to share her knowledge and passion. I was captivated not only by what she taught us, but also her devotion to the environment.

Q: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study sustainability?

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A conservative case for a carbon tax

Board Letter Thought Leader Series ASU Wrigley Institute News

September 18, 2018

Bob Litterman smiling and wearing suitA Thought Leader Series Piece

by Bob Litterman

Continuously pumping greenhouse gases into Earth’s atmosphere is a risk. We simply don’t know our atmosphere’s capacity to safely absorb these heat-trapping emissions, but we do know it’s not limitless. Evidence shows that Earth’s temperature is rising, oceans are warming and acidifying, ice sheets are shrinking, and intense weather events are happening more and more frequently — all of which directly or indirectly cause societal damage. Though Earth’s climate has always changed, it is virtually certain that this rapid trend of warming is caused by human activity since the mid-20th century. And there’s no sign of it slowing down.

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, carbon dioxide accounted for 81 percent of all greenhouse gas emissions in the United States in 2016. As we drive gas-fueled cars, power electricity grids with fossil fuels, grow food and live our lives, we are dumping carbon into the atmosphere at an unprecedented and alarming rate. Once released into the atmosphere, carbon dioxide can affect climate for hundreds or thousands of years — longer than any other greenhouse gas.

At what point will we reach a catastrophic tipping point in which future generations will be unable to adapt to the impacts of climate change, leading to a significant and permanent decline in well-being?

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ASU sustainability scientists aim to mitigate urban heat in Phoenix

ASU Wrigley Institute News

September 14, 2018

Downtown Phoenix skyline with yellow skyNot only is Phoenix situated in the Southwest desert — the hottest region in the United States — it also happens to be the hottest major city in the country, and among the hottest in the world. More than 300 days of sun and thousands of square miles of concrete, asphalt and glass combine to make Greater Phoenix a living laboratory for the urban heat phenomenon and its associated ills.

And it’s only getting hotter.

Climate scientists predict daytime high temperatures will get higher, and nighttime low temperatures will continue their alarming upward trajectory. This is happening in a city that has already warmed an average of 5 degrees Fahrenheit over the past century, according to Nancy Selover, the state’s climatologist at Arizona State University’s Arizona State Climate Office.

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Propelling environmental and career change with the Master of Sustainability Leadership

School of Sustainability News Alumni and Student Spotlights

September 13, 2018

Woman standing and smilingFor many ASU Online students, the chance to make a difference in their communities is a powerful motivator for earning a degree. Whether their goal is to advance in their current field or propel into a new arena altogether, working professionals who enroll in one of our online degrees find the flexible and robust nature of the program helps set them up for success.

Pursuing a Master of Sustainability Leadership degree enabled ASU Online student Annalise Dum to transition from the field of architecture into the nonprofit sector, where she now works as the Chicago facilities and workplace wellness manager for the Natural Resources Defense Council. Her role with the environmental action group includes overseeing the day-to-day operations of the Chicago office, in addition to consulting and advocating for the wellness component of sustainability within institutional construction projects and NRDC’s workforce.

“I focus on holistic sustainability, corporate social responsibility, and health and wellness in the workplace,” Annalise says. “I am certain that I got here, in large part, because of the MSL program. Being able to talk about the four different threads of the program and my capstone project is what sold me in my interview."

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Sustainability student brings talent to the UN in Korea

School of Sustainability News Alumni and Student Spotlights

September 10, 2018

Sustainability student Junkee Ahn in suit standing in front of UN sealJunkee Ahn is a senior at Arizona State University studying sustainability at the Tempe campus. This summer, he took his skills abroad to South Korea to work in the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific. His studies focus on sustainable energy, materials and technology.

Ahn recently spoke with ASU Student Life about his internship. "I found my internship opportunity and applied through the official United Nations website," he said. "I strongly encourage students to visit their website to search through available positions since there are many internship opportunities throughout various sectors in numerous countries."

Read Junkee Ahn's full Q&A from ASU Student Life.


ASU LightWorks hire brings new energy to ASU

ASU Wrigley Institute News LightWorks News

September 10, 2018

Jim Miller stands with colleagues around the CR5 thermochemical reactorDecades ago, oilmen had little interest in natural gas, the byproduct of crude oil extracted from the earth. So, they burned it off, like so many lit torches atop Texas’s oil fields. Jim Miller’s grandfather recalls reading the evening paper by their light. Miller, too, recalls living in their shadows. Now he’s living in the Valley of the Sun, working to develop a different kind of energy industry.

The native Texan says he wanted to be a chemical engineer because the successful people he knew as a child either worked in chemical plants or they worked for NASA. “That was it,” he says.

But years later, he found himself working not in a chemical plant nor at NASA but instead thinking up ways to create and harness alternative energy — energy gleaned not from fossil fuels but from renewable sources.

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ASU sustainability scientist recognized for research on bicycling safety

ASU Wrigley Institute News

September 6, 2018

Woman holding a water bottle standing near bikeThe Association of Pedestrian and Bicycle Professionals (APBP) announced the winners of its annual awards program to honor excellence in the profession. Among those being honored is sustainability scientist Trisalyn Nelson, foundation professor and director of the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, who is being named the Research Professional of the Year.

“Dr. Nelson’s research contributing to improving bicycling safety data and methods to map bicycle ridership stand out in the field,” said the APBP in its announcement of the award. “Her project to capture crowdsourced and official bicycling safety data allows professionals to characterize conditions in which crashes versus near misses are reported and the development of safety predictors along multi-use pathways will have a long-lasting impact on our profession.”

Nelson founded in 2014 after a near miss she experienced while riding her bike. Following that incident, Nelson combined her GIS expertise and enthusiasm for biking to create a platform to collect crowdsourced data to identify where crashes, near misses, hazards and bike thefts were taking place. Today, data is being submitted from more than 40 countries.

Bicyclists ride past the bike counter installed at College Avenue and Apache Boulevard.
This data is used to inform local governments of where there are areas of safety concerns. Nelson and her team recently worked with the city of Tempe to highlight the 12 most dangerous spots for cyclists.

Her research can also be seen on the ASU campus. Nelson, in collaboration with ASU Parking and Transit Services, installed two bike counters on the Tempe campus in January of this year. These counters collect real-time data that can help inform researchers and ASU officials of the amount of biking taking place on ASU’s Tempe campus.

“It is an honor to be recognized for research that I am so passionate about,” said Nelson. “ is generating data that is helping planners make better decisions globally. This award recognizes the success of the entire team.”

Nelson will be recognized as the Research Professional of the Year at the APBP’s annual meeting in New Orleans later this month.


ASU sustainability scientist Bruce Rittmann receives 2018 Stockholm Water Prize

ASU Wrigley Institute News

September 6, 2018

Bruce Rittmann on stage holding Stockholm Water Prize next to the Crown Princess Victoria of SwedenProfessors Bruce Rittmann and Mark van Loosdrecht received the 2018 Stockholm Water Prize on Wednesday for microbiological research and innovations that have revolutionized water and wastewater treatment. The prize was presented to them by Crown Princess Victoria of Sweden at a ceremony in Stockholm City Hall during World Water Week.

Bruce Rittman is a sustainability scientist in Arizona State University's Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and a regents' professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment. He is also the director of the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology in the Biodesign Institute. Rittmann's research, along with the research of van Loosdrecht from Delft University of Technology in the Netherlands, has contributed to the understanding of how microorganisms can transform organic pollutants to something of value to humans and the environment.

This remarkable scientific achievement has led to the implementation across the globe of technologies that make it possible to remove harmful contaminants from water, cut wastewater treatment costs, reduce energy consumption and even recover chemicals and nutrients for recycling.

Read the full story on ASU Now.


Sustainability student talks on ABC15 about Arizona Sustainability Alliance grant

School of Sustainability News Alumni and Student Spotlights

September 4, 2018

Sustainability student Tearsa Saffell talks on ABC15Arizona State University School of Sustainability undergraduate student Tearsa Saffell was interviewed on ABC15 Arizona morning news for her involvement with the Arizona Sustainability Alliance, a nonprofit organization with a mission to create and support cutting-edge, project-based sustainability solutions in Arizona. The organization recently won a $5,000 Community Heroes grant to expand their program bringing vertical gardens into low-income schools.

"We bring in vertical gardens and have the students help us set them up, and then they're able — for the entire school year — to work with the gardens, and maintain them, and harvest them and eat the delicious food," Saffell said in the interview. The first graders "say how much they love eating vegetables and how excited they are to pick them and eat them, so it's really great to see."

Saffell is a Food Systems Priority Lead for the Arizona Sustainability Alliance. Along with majoring in sustainability, she is working toward a certificate in Food System Sustainability.

Watch Saffell's interview on ABC15 Arizona.


Bipartisan conversation on pricing carbon emissions attracts nearly 1,200

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

August 30, 2018

Since 2015, Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability and ASU LightWorks have partnered with the Security and Sustainability Forum on a variety of webinars related to sustainability. The most recent of these, moderated by ASU Wrigley Institute board member Bob Litterman and featuring a powerhouse panel headlined by Rhode Island Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, attracted nearly 1,200 registrants. It was the most highly-watched webinar since the partnership began.

The School of Sustainability-sponsored webinar, Bipartisan Conversation on Pricing Carbon Emissions, included a discussion of current efforts to price carbon emissions. Panelists explored the most likely pathways toward pricing carbon, whether federal or state legislative efforts would gain more traction, and what kind of solutions might generate bipartisan support. The webinar followed an ASU LightWorks-sponsored event, Reframing Carbon Capture and Reuse.

RELATED: Litterman penned a recent Thought Leader Series essay on the topic of carbon pricing, outlining a conservative case for a carbon tax.


SolarSPELL increasing outreach to island nations feeling effects of climate change

ASU Wrigley Institute News

August 30, 2018

Fiji teachers receive the country's first SolarSPELLsThe effects of climate change are showing up all over the world, but small island nations such as Fiji are feeling them more strongly than most places. Over the past few years in Fiji, communities have been relocating to higher ground and away from shorelines due to rising tides, heavier rains and more destructive storms. It’s no small feat.

“We are now at an almost constant level of threat from these extreme weather events," said Fiji’s prime minister, Frank Bainimarama, in April after Cyclone Josie ripped through Fiji’s main island.

Recently, Arizona State University faculty, staff and students working to expand the reach of Solar-Powered Educational Learning Libraries, known as SolarSPELLs, visited Fiji and found that residents wanted to learn more about climate change. Access to the internet and outside information can be hard to come by for villagers living on remote islands, so SolarSPELLs are important resources. These portable, digital libraries come with their own offline Wi-Fi hotspots and are packed with thousands of educational documents and videos that are locally relevant.

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Meet sustainability alumnus Sean McGraw

School of Sustainability News Alumni News Alumni and Student Spotlights

August 28, 2018

Sean McGraw FOR EnergySchool of Sustainability alumnus Sean McGraw founded FOR Energy while he was still an ASU student, and now it’s among the fastest-growing companies in the United States (number 1,215 to be exact, according to Inc. Magazine’s annual list). FOR Energy helps homeowners in Arizona and Nevada use energy more efficiently by conducting energy audits and completing home improvements — things like installing solar panels or energy-efficient windows, sealing leaky ducts, and improving insulation. The company’s 2017 revenue was $2.2 million — not bad for an idea that came to McGraw one day in a renewable energy class at ASU.

Read on for why McGraw switched his major to sustainability and what he believes is the most important factor that has contributed to FOR Energy’s success.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to study sustainability?

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Cambridge University Press’s New Directions in Sustainability and Society book series appoints new editors

ASU Wrigley Institute News Environmental Humanities New Directions

August 27, 2018

In 2013, Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability and the Amerind Foundation entered a partnership with Cambridge University Press to publish a book series exploring the impact of the sustainability sciences. That series, New Directions in Sustainability and Society (NDSS), has just been renewed by Cambridge University Press under new leadership. ASU professors Joni Adamson, an environmental humanist, and Shauna BurnSilver, an environmental anthropologist, have been tapped as the new series editors. The renewed series will expand the original collaboration to include ASU’s Environmental Humanities Initiative.

During its first five years, NDSS was co-edited by Christopher Boone, dean of ASU’s School of Sustainability, and and Norman Yoffee, professor emeritus at University of Michigan’s Department of Anthropology and Department of Near Eastern Studies. Several compelling works were published, including "Traditional Ecological Knowledge: Learning from Indigenous Practices for Environmental Sustainability." This book emerged from a symposium held in 2013 at the Amerind Foundation which gathered sustainability, anthropology and humanities scholars from ASU and across the U.S. to think about sustainability from the perspectives of indigenous peoples. Published in 2018 and edited by Melissa K. Nelson and Dan Shilling, "Traditional Ecological Knowledge" is an exemplar of the collaborative potential of NDSS projects.

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Meet School of Sustainability Freshman Dustin Grief

School of Sustainability News Alumni and Student Spotlights

August 22, 2018

Student Dustin Grief posing for senior photoThis is Dustin Grief’s first full week as a School of Sustainability student at Arizona State University, but he already has three credit hours toward a degree. While he was in high school in Mesa, Arizona, Grief participated in the Collegiate Scholars Academy, a program that allowed him to earn ASU credit for his AP Environmental Science class (which translates to SOS 110 - Sustainable World at ASU).

The Collegiate Scholars Academy gave Grief the inspiration to pursue a sustainability degree. Every few weeks, School of Sustainability instructor Colin Tetreault would visit Grief’s AP Environmental Science class to talk about sustainability, energy and the environment.

“I was mesmerized every time he came to speak, and so I knew that I wanted to continue down the path of sustainability,” Grief said. “After talking with Colin and doing some research and a tour of the university, I decided that ASU would be the best fit.”

Grief answered a couple questions for us about his background and what he hopes to accomplish in the future.

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Reforms to US recreational fishing management could generate up to $1 billion in benefits

ASU Wrigley Institute News

August 20, 2018

Recreational fishing is a culturally and economically important practice around the world. In the United States alone, more than 9.5 million anglers take 63 million fishing trips per year, providing food, leisure and connection to nature while creating opportunities for employment in coastal communities. These leisure trips also contribute to costly overfishing.

Worldwide reforms to fishery management practices could create valuable benefits to anglers and related sectors — benefits that could total one billion dollars in value annually in the U.S., according to a new paper out today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America.

The study uses survey data from anglers who fish in the Gulf of Mexico to estimate the potential benefits of management reforms. The results showed that anglers preferred to choose when they could fish; longstanding frustrations over inflexible and shrinking seasons for recreational red snapper fishing in the Gulf of Mexico have fueled political debate and sparked contentious proposals in the region as well as in Congress.

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Former USDA deputy secretary named executive director of Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems

Board Letter Institute Press Releases ASU Wrigley Institute News Food Systems News

August 20, 2018

Kathleen Merrigan, former U.S. Deputy Secretary of Agriculture and a leader in sustainable food systems, is the first executive director of the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University. Merrigan also holds the position of the Kelly and Brian Swette Professor of Practice in Sustainable Food Systems with appointments in the School of Sustainability, College of Health Solutions and School of Public Affairs.

The Swette Center was announced in late 2017 after entrepreneurs Kelly and Brian Swette made a major gift to ASU to establish the center and an endowed scholarship. The foremost goal of the Swette Center is to educate the next generation of consumers and decision makers through the first Sustainable Food Systems degree program.

“We are fortunate to have Kathleen lead the center, and there isn't a better place to launch it than ASU,” said Kelly Swette. “There can no longer be an indifference to how and what we eat.”


Don't throw those contact lenses down the drain

ASU Wrigley Institute News

August 19, 2018

contact lens being applied to eyeArizona State University scientists are reporting the first nationwide study that shows consumers, by discarding used lenses down the drain, may be unknowingly contributing to plastic pollution.

“We found that 15 to 20 percent of contact-lens wearers are flushing the lenses down the sink or toilet," said Charles Rolsky, a PhD student who worked with sustainability scientist Rolf Halden on the study. “This is a pretty large number, considering roughly 45 million people in the U.S. alone wear contact lenses, amounting to 1.8–3.36 billion lenses flushed per year, or about 20–23 metric tons of wastewater-borne plastics annually."

Lenses that are washed down the drain typically are conveyed to wastewater-treatment plants. The study showed that wastewater plants fragment them into microplastics, which accumulate in sewage sludge. For about every two pounds of wastewater sludge, a pair of contact lenses typically can be found.

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ASU students study wildlife in Okavango Delta

ASU Wrigley Institute News DCDC News

August 17, 2018

ASU students in Botswana analyzing wetlands water for oxygen levels and microorganismsSix Arizona State University students spent 10 days in the Okavango Delta in Botswana, one of the most remote places on Earth, studying a critically important ecosystem with some of the top experts in the world.

The study abroad trip is a new project of the PLuS Alliance, the two-year-old partnership among ASU, King’s College London and UNSW Sydney in Australia. The ASU team joined seven students from the other two universities in an immersive three-credit research course titled, “Intersection of Water, Ecosystems and Governance.”

The point was to look at one of the world’s last unspoiled aquatic environments from an interdisciplinary perspective, according to sustainability scientist Dave White, a professor in the School of Community Resources and Development, who was the ASU professor on the trip. The other experts were professors from KCL and UNSW, who were experts in aquatic ecosystems, and Claire McWilliams, an instructor in tourism the School of Community Resources and Development.

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Arizona, Italy connection via study abroad cultivates possibility for ASU students

School of Sustainability News

August 15, 2018

Someone tending to a vegetable gardenA gourmet meal led to a food-for-thought opportunity for a handful of Arizona State University students this summer.

As a result of discussions sparked at Dinner 2040 — a meal-tasting-turned-panel-talk in Phoenix — between a local organic farmer, an ASU professor and a former project coordinator in the School of Sustainability, five students added a comparative farming practicum to their coursework for the Italian Language and Culture in San Severino Marche study-abroad program coordinated by the ASU Study Abroad Office. A longstanding program led by Associate Professor of Italian Juliann Vitullo, students take immersive Italian language courses in a 13,000-inhabitant Italian town, San Severino Marche.

“Students got an inside look at co-op produce. They saw 10 farms and got to witness infrastructure developing with CSA (community-supported agriculture), the business and the lack of infrastructure for farming in Phoenix,” Vitullo said.

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Sustainability scientist Martin Pasqualetti to be recognized by alma mater as distinguished alumnus

ASU Wrigley Institute News

August 9, 2018

Headshot of Martin PasqualettiAs the new school year approaches, it kicks off with great news for Martin Pasqualetti, who has been named as this year’s distinguished alumnus by the University of California, Riverside’s Alumni Association. Pasqualetti will be bestowed the honor at the Chancellor’s Dinner on the university’s campus later this year. A professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning and senior sustainability scientist with the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, Pasqualetti is known worldwide for his contributions to the field of geography, specifically in relation to energy policy.

With a 40-year career dedicated to studying the geographical dimensions of energy, Pasqualetti’ s work has resulted in advancements in many areas, including landscape change; issues of energy security and geopolitics; perceptions of energy provision and use; energy education; environmental costs of energy demand; public acceptance of renewable energy landscapes; and the spatial nexus of our need for food, energy and water.

Read more about Pasqualetti and this honor.