September 25, 2018
At the fourth annual State of Sustainability Summit, Arizona State University remains committed to leading — and teaching — sustainability. Home to the world’s first school of sustainability and the first university to offer a degree in the practice, ASU strives to act as a living laboratory and example of sustainability for society.
“We are educating the next generation of leaders who will go out with this knowledge, and every decision they make will be informed by this knowledge,” university Chief Financial Officer Morgan Olsen said. “I can’t think of anything more important in the area of sustainability we can do than that single function. … We’re a model of what we’d like to see in this world.”
Set against a global backdrop, the university’s efforts aren’t even a drop in the bucket. All the efforts of all American universities who signed a pledge to reduce carbon emissions amount to about 3 percent of U.S. emissions.
“That’s as far as your brain can go?” ASU President Michael Crow said he asked a reporter who tossed that observation to him in an interview. “We have 100 percent of the learner imprint, and 3 percent of the carbon footprint. I’ll take the learner footprint, and we’ll move forward with that as a thing we work to alter and change and advance.”
Creating a sustainable future is not about what corporations, politicians and governments can do. It’s about what individuals do.
“We had to be more than academics who sat around and came up with ideas for other people to implement,” Crow said. “We also had to implement those ideas ourselves, so we signed up easily. We’re going to try to take our carbon footprint to the lowest possible number. I don’t have a date yet. … The point is, we need to be an all-in place that alters the teaching, learning and discovery environment about this really important thing — sustainability.”
In fiscal year 2018, the university diverted 43 percent of 9,149 tons of waste from landfills. Its campuses now run on 60 percent renewable energy during the day. ASU committed to be the largest fair trade university in the U.S. this year, joining 47 other universities and 533 university retailers pledging to provide fair trade food: items like coffee, tea and chocolate produced with fair labor practices and environmental protections.
ASU came in seventh among doctoral institutions in the 2018 Sustainable Campus Index, a publication by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education that recognizes top-performing colleges and universities overall and in 17 sustainability impact areas.