December 6, 2012
George Basile is a professor in the School of Sustainability and a Senior Sustainability Scientist in the Global Institute of Sustainability. He is an internationally recognized creative thinker who was recently on the cover of Sustainability: The Journal of Record. Basile received a B.S. in physics and a Ph.D. in biophysics. He helped develop green M.B.A programs in the U.S. and Sweden. Basile advises Fortune 500 companies on sustainable business practices and is a sought-after speaker on the subject. His expertise lies in green business practices, biotechnology, strategic leadership and sustainability, and entrepreneurship.
1. Can you describe when you first became interested in sustainability?
I was quite young—maybe even before kindergarten or first grade. It just didn’t make sense to me that wiping out most of the animals on the planet and having so many people going hungry was smart or stable. After my graduate work on environmental interactions at the molecular and cellular level at UC Berkeley, I made a move into sustainability (which nobody knew anything about). Combining all that with a deep curiosity in biology and physics—or how things actually work—has led to a lifelong pursuit of helping people make decisions that better fit with how the world actually works, in other words, “sustainability.”
2. What made you want to become a professor?
It was a combination of wanting to explore new and critical areas in sustainability that include all aspects of academic thought, from physics to poetry, and a growing appreciation for the potent role that education, innovation, and entrepreneurship play in sustainability. All of these parts uniquely come together in a university with research, teaching, students, ideas, partnerships, and applications. All in all, I have been amazed at the things my fellow students, faculty, staff, and partners do in this pursuit. That is just plain old fun!
3. What is the global sustainability challenge that concerns you most, and why?
I guess I don’t really frame it or think of it as a specific challenge. To be blunt, I don’t know which specific challenge we see today—be it climate change, poverty, biodiversity loss, conflict, or other global sustainability challenges—is “more concerning” than another or whether a new one is going to pop up that surprises us all yet again. I think the grand challenge of sustainability is to develop knowledge and pathways to get to the root causes of these symptoms of unsustainability and to use this knowledge to help people build sustainable futures. That is why I frame sustainability as a human construct and a decision challenge that we all have to take responsibility for.
4. How will your teaching affect the future paths of ASU’s sustainability students?
Hopefully, I am giving our students a useful mix of cutting-edge conceptual background and hard-won experiential knowledge. I would like to see our students armed with the knowledge and tools they need to be tomorrow’s leaders and entrepreneurs who take the goal of sustainability as a given and actively find ways to move us all in that direction. I am already seeing that with former students who have started sustainability businesses, are leading efforts with diverse organizations, have moved into government and education, and are beginning to have impacts in different parts of the world. What I like the best is when our students do things that I would never have thought of in a million years. That is the power we have on our side!
5. Finally, what does the word “sustainability” mean to you?
Of course it means the obvious or to paraphrase: do today in such a way that we can all continue to do tomorrow. But to me, it means more than that. I see sustainability as a continuation of the basic challenge of science: to understand how the world actually works. In the case of sustainability, we add: to use this knowledge to undertake activity that leads to long-term success for both people and planet. If you put all that together, and as corny as this may sound, sustainability means one of the most exciting and important endeavors that anyone can undertake today—and each of us needs to figure out how to contribute to that in our own way.