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Sustainability News

Graduate students discuss climate justice

ASU Wrigley Institute News

February 13, 2017

Sustainability researchers gather on brick walkway for group photoArizona State University School of Sustainability professor Hallie Eakin joined with renowned climate change expert and University of Arizona professor Diana Liverman for an annual meeting of UA and ASU graduate students working on issues of climate, society and environmental justice.

The students shared insights into how to undertake transformative science in ways that directly addresses the needs of vulnerable communities and future generations. "The gathering gives me hope that we will meet the challenges of climate justice through shared ideas and commitment," commented Liverman.

The workshop included research presentations by students from both universities, followed by discussions about the Paris climate agreement, finding optimism in tough times, strategies for engaging people and organizations to achieve environmental justice, and how to engage further in direct climate justice action. Climate communication expert Susi Moser inspired the students with virtual talk on "Hope, even now."

Chinese scholars learn to think sustainably at ASU

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

February 10, 2017

Visiting Chinese students gather around an outdoor algae bed A two-week workshop at Arizona State University's School of Sustainability brought students from China a new way of systems thinking to analyze complex sustainability problems.

Marty Anderies, professor and senior sustainability scientist, introduced the students to the key sustainability challenge areas of food, water, energy and urbanization – both locally and globally. His sustainability class was a combination of learning activities: documentaries and dialogue, interactive role-playing games, field trips and lectures.

The 16 students came from Beijing's Beihang University, an elite research university known for launching the first light passenger aircraft in China in 1950s. They chose ASU because the university is well-known in Chinese academia for its leading research and heavy focus in sustainability.

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NEPTUNE enters Phase II of veteran engagement, energy innovation

Board Letter ASU Wrigley Institute News LightWorks News

February 7, 2017

Soldiers saluting at sunsetDesigned to break new ground in alternative energy; increase educational opportunities for the military community; and bolster science, technology, engineering and mathematics outreach, the Department of the Navy and the Office of Naval Research have launched the Naval Enterprise Partnership Teaming with Universities for National Excellence initiative, or NEPTUNE.

NEPTUNE has just entered its second iteration, growing to a $3 million, three-year program providing funding to four universities – Arizona State, Purdue, MIT and UC Davis – in addition to the U.S. Naval Academy and the Naval Postgraduate School. Its goals are to help the Navy and Marine Corps discover ways to improve energy conservation, generate renewable energy and implement energy-efficient technologies while giving active-duty military, military students and veterans the chance to immerse themselves in university-level research.

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Dr. Gerber named Fellow of Ecological Society of America

Board Letter ASU Wrigley Institute News Biodiversity News

February 6, 2017

Dr. Gerber holding binoculars, doing field research on boat at open seaSenior Sustainability Scientist Leah Gerber, founding director of ASU’s Center for Biodiversity Outcomes, has been named a Fellow of the Ecological Society of America, according to an announcement released by the ESA. Gerber was selected for her pioneering efforts to integrate marine ecology and conservation science into tenable policy and decision-making tools.

Gerber's notable achievements include a publication portfolio of more than 100 papers, receiving the “Inspirational Faculty Award” from ASU, and her role as a lead author for the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services.

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ASU campaign to enhance discovery, success, community

Board Letter ASU Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News

February 2, 2017

Fireworks light up the sky over a band onstage at a baseball parkOn Jan. 26, 2017,  Arizona State University officially launched Campaign ASU 2020,  the first comprehensive fundraising campaign in the nearly fifteen-year tenure of President Michael Crow. This transformational $1.5 billion campaign will engage alumni and friends in expanding the access and excellence for which ASU has become known.

The campaign coincides with the 2020 strategic vision of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability to scale sustainability solutions with like-minded partners around the world. The ASU Wrigley Institute addresses humanity's most pressing challenges in social, environmental and economic sustainability.

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The benefits of bringing the outdoors in

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February 2, 2017

Sonja talks with lecture attendeesBringing nature back into the classroom and other inside spaces is the objective of ASU adjunct faculty members Joe Zazzera and Sonja Bochart. During a February 2017 lecture on biophilia – or love of nature – they expanded on the numerous benefits of interacting with nature, including enhanced productivity, reduced stress and improved well-being.

Bochart explained that the effects of nature can be measured on a physical level; blood pressure drops and parasympathetic healing activates – benefits that our predominately-indoor lifestyles prevent. By including environmental features like natural materials, water, and “living walls” or hanging plants in our homes, classrooms and workplaces, we can increase our overall wellbeing.

The lecture was an installment in the ASU Wrigley Institute's Sustainability Series, where speakers discuss a range of environmental, social and economic topics.

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JCLP Special Volume Published on Leadership towards Sustainability

ASU Wrigley Institute News

February 1, 2017

A green building towers over conventional buildingsAn international team of professors, including Senior Sustainability Scientist George Basile, made up the editorial team of a recently published “Special Volume” of the Journal of Cleaner Production – the world´s leading journal in the area of sustainable development, according to Google Scholar.

The timely knowledge captured in this SV helps leaders to learn how to define social and ecological sustainability, to get a deeper understanding of the leadership case for sustainability proactivity, and to operationalize sustainability in a systematic and strategic way across diverse disciplines and sectors.

“We invited the whole scientific community to contribute and received a great response," says Managing Guest Editor Göran Broman. "After selection based on the theme and after thorough peer-review, we ended up with thirty-five published papers.”

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Modeling smart water management in megacities

ASU Wrigley Institute News

January 31, 2017

Water streams from a blue and red outdoor spigot How are decisions really made to manage flooding, water scarcity or water contamination in the world’s megacities?

We might assume that most decisions would be made on a cool, rational weighing of the technical options that are most likely to result in a reduction of risk. We know, however, that few decisions are made on technical criteria alone. In some cities, authorities may not be able to consider some water management options, such as using recycled waste water for drinking, because of the potential for political opposition. In other cities, elected officials are susceptible to pressures to appease particular voting constituencies in their allocation of water resources.

Over time, what options are considered and what decisions are taken give concrete shape to the built environment. These decisions affect how the city grows, what physical infrastructure is put in place, where and for what purposes. The  intangible but potent social and political influences on decision-making can be called “social-political infrastructure”: the norms, values, rules and relationships that influence and reinforce persistent patterns of decision-making in cities – and shape urban development – in ways similar to the “hard” infrastructure of the built environment.

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For the Love of Life, Religion and Ecology

ASU Wrigley Institute News Environmental Humanities

January 27, 2017

by Adam Gabriele Roger S. Gottlieb smiling outdoors

Religions have undeniably shaped today’s world. Scholars in the field of Religion and Ecology study the billions of people worldwide who not only identify but also define themselves religiously.  They argue that any attempt to understand the thoughts and decision-making processes of human agents without considering religious drivers is impoverished.

Scholars of Religion and Ecology study religiously charged conflict and division, but they also highlight the potential for respectful inter-religious communication and cooperation. Indeed, Lynn White’s influential 1967 article “The Historical Roots of Our Ecologic Crisis” – a central text in the field – makes the case that ideas particular to certain religions and religious scripture are most responsible for our current environmental precariousness.  He references the Hebrew Bible, for example, which authorizes humankind to have “dominion over the earth” (Genesis 1:28).

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EPA's Region 9 and Arizona's communities

ASU Wrigley Institute News

January 25, 2017

EPA Representative Karen Irwin wearing white top and smilingSince its convening in 2008, the Sustainable Cities Network has maintained contact with EPA Region 9. This ongoing connection has allowed for each body – Region 9, ASU and Arizona communities – to learn and share knowledge, case studies and resources so that the lexicon of sustainability best practices steadily expands and so partnerships may emerge when interests align.

SCN recently interviewed Karen Irwin of EPA Region 9 to get details on the kind of support it can provide for urban sustainability initiatives, including smart growth, walkable and transit-oriented communities; green infrastructure; energy efficiency; renewable energy; waste reduction and materials reuse and recovery; sustainable water and wastewater infrastructure; and green fleets, among others. Read the full interview with Irwin to find out about additional opportunities, resources and ways to get involved with Region 9.

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Sharing desert lessons with a drying world

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January 25, 2017

Drawing of people looking through windows at a desert landscapeThe U.N. anticipates that almost half of Earth's population will be living in “areas of high water stress” by 2030 as a result of climate change. Experts estimate that, without intervention, as many as 700 million people may find themselves displaced.

To build resilience to this scenario, ASU has partnered with Scottsdale’s future Desert Discovery Center – an expansive research center that teaches “a global audience to value, thrive in and conserve desert environments.”  The center's public face will feature a series of exhibits that address "what I can see, what I can’t see and what it all means."

“There are things going on in the desert that are deep in the crust, and they’re teeming with life,” says Senior Sustainability Scientist Duke Reiter. “But without this research and a sophisticated guide, at both a macro and micro scale, it would be impossible to see.”

The ASU Wrigley Institute is currently exploring opportunities for educational outreach services, particularly those that engage K-12 audiences, through the new center.

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Fragility of smallholder farmers in a globalizing and warming world

ASU Wrigley Institute News

January 19, 2017

A farmer sprinkles fertilizer in a rice field at sunset The backbone of agriculture production and food security in developing countries is smallholder farmers. Those smallholder farmers have small pieces of land and mainly rely on family labor. But in the last decades, those farmers have experienced increasing challenges such as extreme weather events, increasing dependency on fertilizers and pesticides, and increasing dependency of global markets that define the prices for their products. How will those farmers cope with those challenges?

A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the USA – co-authored by School of Sustainability Professors Marty Anderies and Marco Janssen – shows that those external challenges affect the way those communities make investment decisions on their infrastructure. The international research team performed experiments in 118 small scale rice-producing communities in China, Colombia, Nepal and Thailand. The results show that the more a community is integrated with the market economy the less those communities invest in the community’s public good during the experiment. Furthermore, when communities face collective risks, this effect is amplified.

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Bringing clean water to communities in the Middle East

Board Letter ASU Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News

January 12, 2017

Two ASU sustainability experts talk with a local utility expertParticularly with the growing influx of refugees from neighboring countries, communities across the Middle East are facing severe water shortages. Some communities rely on limited and variable water supplies without the infrastructure to adequately treat and transport the water. Energy sources needed to purify water can be inaccessible, expensive or unreliable.

That's why an ASU-led global consortium will implement a two-year, $1.95 million USAID project to develop and test affordable, portable clean water solutions in the region. The project – established in accordance with community-specific legal and cultural frameworks – will be implemented in 18 communities throughout Jordan and Lebanon, benefiting more than 36,000 people.

Leading the consortium are Richard Rushforth – a project manager for the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives – and sustainability scientists Rhett Larson and Nathan Johnson. Together, their expertise spans sustainability, law and engineering, and they are joined in the consortium by public and private partners from across the globe.

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How a 16-year-old is aiding in the effort against climate change

Board Letter ASU Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News

January 11, 2017

Georgescu and another researcher pose in front of climate models with 16-year-old computer whiz Gupta Senior Sustainability Scientist Matei Georgescu uses a lot of data in his research, studying how a changing landscape can affect local climate and resources. He achieves this by running simulations that make long-term projections with the goal of finding a more sustainable future. That's a lot of work.

Thankfully, through an innovative solution from ASU, Georgescu was paired with a gifted community member who could help. 16-year-old Vishesh Gupta was looking for a way to apply his knack for computer programming, and now assists Georgescu by using supercomputers to crunch data and make sense of disparate measurements.

The projects the pair are working on include the Urban Water Innovation Network, as well as a partnership with Georgia Tech and the University of Michigan that focuses on improving emergency preparedness during extreme-heat events.

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Visiting author points out leaks in common water myths

ASU Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News DCDC News

January 10, 2017

Receding water reveals the decay on the lake bed of Lake MeadIn his January 2017 lecture "How Much Water Does Arizona Need?," author and journalist John Fleck drew from over two decades of reporting on western water issues to offer a surprising perspective on challenges unique to the region.

Fleck, who serves as director of the water resources program at the University of New Mexico, explained how cooperation and innovation have enabled the Southwest to grow and prosper in the face of diminished water supplies – not conflict, as some believe. That rich communities take water from poor communities was another notion Fleck labeled as a myth, saying that ideas like these make it difficult to establish collaborative relationships.

The lecture, co-sponsored by Decision Center for a Desert City, was part of an ongoing ASU conversation the examines water from a range of disciplines – from science and conservation to law and policy.

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Studying sustainability through a top online bachelor's program

Board Letter ASU Sustainability News School of Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News

January 10, 2017

Hands type at a laptop, with a notebook and highlighter in the foregroundAfter working on issues of environmental responsibility as Girl Scout leader, Jessica Ohrt was inspired to pursue a bachelor’s degree in sustainability through ASU Online.

“I looked for a local college that had a sustainability program that would be comparable, and there wasn’t one. It was such a distinctive program and set of classes that I decided to stick with it,” said Ohrt, who lives in Marietta, Georgia.

The School of Sustainability's programs are among more than 60 undergraduate online degrees offered by ASU. In fact, the university's online bachelor’s degree program has been ranked fourth in the nation out of more than 1,300 reviewed by U.S. News & World Report, who scored based on student engagement, faculty credentials and training, student services and technology, and peer reputation.

Ohrt likes that the courses keep students on track and are self-directed, so she could work in between caring for her granddaughter. She expects to graduate in December 2017 and is considering working for a government agency or a nonprofit focusing on environmental justice.

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Modeling a way toward sustainable urban development

Board Letter ASU Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News

January 5, 2017

A crate of ripe red tomatoes Seeking sustainable solutions to unfettered development, a team of ASU researchers has been working to create an innovative, physics-based model that can predict how gardens and farms can most efficiently be integrated into cities.

The model will look at what would happen if vacant land in a city were turned into urban farms, which could produce food for the neighbors and help mitigate the urban heat-island effect. UHI occurs when concrete and asphalt stay warmer overnight, raising temperatures. Conversely, plants and trees allow desert land to cool at night.

Led by sustainability scientist Alex Mahalov, the team is part of a collaborative five-year national project funded with $4 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the National Science Foundation. The work crosses several disciplines, with mathematician Mahalov joined by experts in agribusiness, geography and sustainability.

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O Christmas tree: Greening your holiday

ASU Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News

December 24, 2016

A Christmas tree with a mom and a child in the backgroundNatural vs. artificial – which Christmas tree is better for the environment, and can consumer choice really make a difference?

Carole Mars, senior research lead at The Sustainability Consortium at ASU, delves into what makes a Christmas tree "green," and whether other considerations come into play for consumers decorating for the holidays.

So, which tree is really more environmentally-friendly?

It depends on how consumers use it. Mars explains that there are several options for environmentally-conscious shoppers seeking to lower their environmental footprint. Locally-sourced natural trees that are composted or recycled will have a ‘break-even point’ of approximately four years, after which their environmental impact will be mitigated. On the other hand, artificial trees must be used for at least eight years to have a lower environmental impact than their natural counterparts, but can easily be re-used and re-purposed year after year.

Thus, it is crucial for holiday consumers to plan ahead when selecting their Christmas trees to find the perfect  compromise between tradition and conservation.

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A windy path toward preserving Arctic ice

Board Letter ASU Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News

December 22, 2016

Researchers walk on melting iceThe rapid melting of Arctic ice is among the most dramatic effects of climate change. This is because the thawing of permafrost is likely to drive temperatures even higher throughout our planet and cause a number of cascading effects.

Recognizing that human habits are unlikely to change enough for this melting trend to be reversed, Steve Desch – a School of Earth and Space Exploration professor – decided to explore other options.

Desch formed an interdisciplinary research team, including sustainability scientist Hilairy Hartnett. The team created an innovative ASU class called "Geodesigning the Arctic" that focused on one solution in particular: using a windmill pump, buoy and hose to artificially increase the thickness of Arctic ice.

The next steps for the team are working with colleagues internationally to promote the idea of Arctic ice management and applying these ideas to saving – and perhaps creating – more Arctic ice.

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A goodbye to giraffes? The decline of Earth's gentle giants

ASU Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News Biodiversity News

December 16, 2016

Two giraffes standing in tall grass, their necks intertwinedWith giraffe populations diminishing 40 percent over the last 30 years, and numerous other species facing grave population declines, humans must re-evaluate and adapt our behavior to safeguard the planet's biodiversity.

In a recent interview with ASU Now, Senior Sustainability Scientist Leah Gerber indicates that humans will not only have to act swiftly to halt threatened species' declines, but will also have to choose which species to preserve. She adds that how we make those decisions – whether we base them on charisma, cost-effectiveness or ecosystem significance – is up to us.

Gerber, who is also the founding director of the Center for Biodiversity Outcomes, is working to find ways to address these biodiversity challenges at ASU.

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