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Sustainability News

Learning how to share: principles for governing the commons

ASU Wrigley Institute News

October 7, 2016

Sheep grazing in a green meadow with water and mountains in the backgroundWhat makes communities successful in managing their shared resources, such as forests and water?

This was a central question addressed by the late Elinor Ostrom, the founding director of Arizona State University’s Center for Behavior, Institutions and the Environment (CBIE) and the 2009 Nobel Laureate in Economic Sciences.

In her 1990 book “Governing the Commons,” Ostrom – also a distinguished sustainability scientist at ASU – proposed eight principles that contribute to success based on her experience with hundreds of case studies. The principles include, for example, the existence of clearly defined boundaries that delineate who is allowed to use the shared resource, as well as cheap, accessible conflict resolution mechanisms.

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Closing the loop on an essential but finite element

Board Letter ASU Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News

September 21, 2016

Program Manager Matt Scholz wears a white collared shirt and smiles, with green trees visible in the backgroundAccording to Senior Sustainability Scientist Matt Scholz, "Phosphorus is essential to life. It’s in your bones and it’s in your DNA, and it’s the energy currency for the cell."

It follows, then, that agriculture depends on phosphorus too. In fact, a large percentage of the element – typically mined in Morocco – is put into fertilizers used on farms throughout the world. The bad news is that the phosphorus-rich runoff from these farms contaminates waterways and can cause algal blooms, which stifle other forms of life.

The Sustainable Phosphorus Alliance – an ASU initiative that Scholz now manages – strives to collect and recycle phosphorus before it reaches waterways. The hope is to make the phosphorus system cyclical by extracting the element from waste and selling it back to fertilizer companies, eliminating the reliance on a finite supply from other countries.


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.


Externalized environments, bodily natures and everyday exposure

Thought Leader Series ASU Wrigley Institute News

September 12, 2016

A Thought Leader Series Piece

by Stacy Alaimo

Stacy wearing purple tie-dye and standing in front of oceanNote: Stacy Alaimo is Professor of English and Distinguished Teaching Professor at the University of Texas at Arlington, where she served as the Academic Co-chair for the President’s Sustainability Committee and directed a cross-disciplinary minor in Environmental and Sustainability Studies.

She is internationally recognized as a leading scholar in the environmental humanities, ecocultural theory and science studies; has presented plenary talks across the U.S., Canada and Europe; and has served on the prestigious international evaluation panel for Sweden’s major environmental humanities grant competition.

Sustainability plans require data to capture the extent to which universities, businesses, cities and even nation states are minimizing their environmental impacts. Such information is invaluable for tracking the progress of efforts to cut carbon emissions; to reduce the use of energy, water and toxic chemicals; and to reduce waste and pollution.

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

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

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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Pioneering for the planet and parity

Board Letter ASU Wrigley Institute News

September 5, 2016

Julie wearing pink dress and laie, holding a wooden plaque onstage.
Julie Wrigley stands with fellow "Pioneers for the Planet" Dang Yanbao and Sophia Heinonen (who stood in for Kristine Tompkins), and Honorary Chair Prince Albert II.

“Women approach problem solving as an opportunity to share and bring others along on our journeys.”

This is Julie Ann Wrigley, cofounder of ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, giving her take on “the power of parity” to a panel at the August 2016 East-West Sustainability Summit in Honolulu, HI.

Her comments on the ability of women to create solutions were aptly timed.

She delivered them one day before receiving a “Pioneer for the Planet” award, recognized with the likes of Dame Jane Goodall and E.O. Wilson – the “father of biodiversity” – at an event emceed by Pulitzer Prize-winner Thomas Friedman. Called the Sustainability Leaders Luncheon, it was co-hosted by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, whose annual congress was also happening in the Aloha State.  

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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.


Making every day in the neighborhood a happy one

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

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.


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.


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.


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

Board Letter ASU Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News

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.


Seminar provides sunny outlook on solar in Kosovo

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

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.


Thinking inclusively about improvements to slums

Board Letter ASU Wrigley Institute News

July 15, 2016

A wooden walkway winds through a slum built over waterDeveloped economies have historically attributed their growth and productivity to urbanization. But in the developing world, urbanization is often associated with negative outcomes like poverty and environmental degradation, says Senior Sustainability Scientist José Lobo.

In a May 2016 contribution to UGEC Viewpoints – a blog of the Urbanization and Global Environmental Change program, hosted by the ASU Wrigley Institute – Lobo considers how urban planning can be implemented to improve the slums of the developing world. He writes that traditional forms of urban planning can have tragic consequences, like evictions and relocations, and points to data collection and community engagement as means to sustainability.

Lobo, who co-leads the Slums, Neighborhoods and Human Development Cities project, also expressed his hope for slums in this January 2016 article, which appeared in ASU Now.


Hope for the sustainability of American suburbs

Board Letter ASU Wrigley Institute News

July 14, 2016

A massive wall of dust rolls over Phoenix at duskThe average American suburb faces many sustainability challenges, including low-density and auto-centric development. But according to Senior Sustainability Scholar Grady Gammage, Jr., suburban cities are also a source of promise.

In his latest book, "The Future of the Suburban City," Gammage takes a fresh look at what it means to be sustainable. He shows that suburbs have a few advantages in an era of climate change, and provides examples of cities that are already making strides toward increased resilience. With these examples, he demonstrates the power of collective action to address the challenges of geography through public policy.

The book, developed with support from the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, serves as a realistic yet hopeful story of Phoenix and shows what is possible for any suburban city.

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.


A framework for fighting wicked water problems

Board Letter School of Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News

July 13, 2016

Pipes hang into a dried and cracked riverbedIn a Christian Science Monitor contribution titled "Water management is a wicked problem, but not an unsolvable one," School of Sustainability alumnus Christa Brelsford untangles the web of water supply and demand.

Brelsford, a postdoctoral fellow of the Arizona State University-Santa Fe Institute Center for Biosocial Complex Systems, discusses the reality of water in the West, writing "There is no new water to allocate, and so the water management task now is to make the best possible use of the water resources that are available."

She goes on to say that water management – which lies at the intersection of economic, legal, political, hydrological, climatological, ecological, agricultural and engineered systems – can result in solutions when a complex systems perspective is applied.


A modern twist on the age-old concept of commons

Board Letter School of Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News

July 13, 2016

Meadow with yellow flowers below blue sky with cloudsImagine a village that boasts an open meadow with tall grasses accessible to all.

A local farming family has grazed sheep there for years without issue. But when the rest of the town’s sheep farmers discover its lush pastures, it becomes over-grazed and unable to feed anyone’s sheep.

The commons – common-pool resources like the meadow – are no stranger to conflict and debate. But as two sustainability scientists at Arizona State University explain in the latest edition of their book, Sustaining the Commons, they are also not without solutions.

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Pioneers of environmental law to teach ASU course

Board Letter School of Sustainability News ASU Wrigley Institute News

June 29, 2016

Industry-SmokestackThroughout the 1970s, the “Golden Age” of environmental law, Congress developed some of the most influential and enduring legislation still effectual in environmental policy today.

In a two-week course this fall, ASU students will have the opportunity to earn credit while getting first-hand insight from two of the “Golden Age” influencers themselves, Leon G. Billings and Thomas C. Jorling – the two senior staff members who led the Senate environment subcommittee during the 1970s.

Students will review key environmental legislation, such as the Clean Air Act, the Clean Water Act and Superfund. But more than just the laws themselves, students will learn about the behind-the-scenes political inner workings that made consensus possible, and will assess both the formal and multidimensional components of that process.

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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.