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Sustainability News

EMSL graduate hired as executive director

View Source | January 27, 2018

Jessica MorrisonJessica Morrison, a School of Sustainability graduate who earned an Executive Master of Sustainability Leadership degree, has been chosen as Resource Conservation Partners's new executive director. 

Resource Conservation Partners is a nonprofit organization that works to protect and restore natural habitats through cross-sector collaboration in Ventura County. In her new position, Morrison hopes to increase stakeholder and community engagement through local restoration and conservation projects.

Pioneering planetary management

ASU Now | January 23, 2018

Image of a GlobeWith the goal of harnessing the innovative capacity of academia and developing options for the sound management of our planet, ASU President Michael Crow announced the launch of the Global Futures Initiative in January 2018.

Global Futures will take the pieces ASU already has and fuse them together more tightly while breaking intellectual ground. It will build new and bigger collaborations; find untapped opportunities that lie between disciplines, schools and existing projects; and amplify ASU’s global impact.

That's according to Peter Schlosser, Vice President and Vice Provost of Global Futures, who was recruited from Columbia University to lead the effort.

“Global Futures is a platform from which to take a broad look at the trajectory of our planet and the role of global society in shaping it," said Schlosser, "to gather and synthesize knowledge from many frameworks and to fundamentally alter how we manage the planet in ways that achieve sustained habitability.”

Glendale Becomes First in Arizona to Replace Streetlights with LED Bulbs

January 18, 2018

Glendale APS

It isn’t every day a city council gets a treat like the one Glendale enjoyed Tuesday night.

The city was honored for its work to change out all of their old energy draining high-pressure sodium arc lights with efficient LED replacements.

The project was achieved with help from Arizona State University’s Sustainable Cities Network. As a founding member of the network, Glendale has worked with the university and other member cities to reduce energy use, carbon footprint, recycling and other efforts.

According to the network’s director Anne Reichman, Glendale and Phoenix worked closely as Phoenix started to negotiate to replace its 92,000 streetlights.

“As part of this LED purchase, Glendale was able to piggyback the city of Phoenix originated for their LED streetlight replacement,” she said.

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Illuminating gender inequality in Mexican aquaculture

View Source | January 12, 2018

Maria Cruz TorresAmid cartel-related chaos, female shrimp traders in Sinaloa, Mexico shed literal blood, sweat and tears to carve their niche in the historically male-dominated industry. Ultimately, these women managed to achieve economic independence and secure hope for future generations.

That’s why Maria Cruz Torres, an anthropologist and senior sustainability scientist at ASU, has worked tirelessly for twenty years to make their efforts visible – even despite the threat of personal violence. She tells the stories of 52 women in her most recent book, “Voices Throughout Time: Testimonies of Women Shrimp Traders in Sinaloa, Mexico.”

Cruz Torres’ work illuminates the interrelations of gender, labor and resource management in aquaculture, as well as the industry’s effects on the political ecology and economy of the U.S.-Mexico transborder region. She was elected to the American Association for the Advancement of Science in 2017.

Getting to the source of poor water management

View Source | January 12, 2018

UNAM Water StudyWe often think of the impacts of extreme events, like the flooding in Houston or the damage from the earthquake this year in Mexico City, as resulting from some anomalous “Act of God” or natural hazard.

Vulnerability researchers, however, know that the damage and loss experienced in any city is also the result of human decision-making and actions. Over years, decades and centuries, these decisions define the built environment and the vulnerability of urban residents to hazards.

A team of ASU sustainability scientists and researchers at the National Autonomous University of Mexico (UNAM) pulled reviewed historians' accounts of 600 years of water-related hazards in Mexico City, from the time of the city’s founding in 1325 to the present. They documented how key decisions made by city leaders to control flooding or address water scarcity for the city’s residents evolved over time into new hazards, or exacerbated the very hazards they were aiming to manage.

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Assessing the value of urban agriculture

View Source | January 10, 2018

Urban GardenThe benefits of urban agriculture may seem local and limited, but – according to a team of researchers led by ASU and Google – the collective environmental impact is significant.

The team – which includes Senior Sustainability Scientist Matei Georgescu – analyzed global population, urban, meteorological, terrain and Food and Agricultural Organization data sets in Google Earth Engine to come to their global scale estimates. They then aggregated them by country.

“Our estimates of ecosystem services show potential for millions of tons of food production, thousands of tons of nitrogen sequestration, billions of kilowatt hours of energy savings and billions of cubic meters of avoided storm runoff from agriculture in urban areas,” Georgescu said.

The team reported its findings in Earth’s Future.

Biodegradable plastics made from bacteria

View Source | January 9, 2018

Taylor WeissBy employing cyanobacteria – a photosynthesis-happy bug – Senior Sustainability Scientist Taylor Weiss is making environmentally-friendly bioplastics that dissolve in a matter of months.

Weiss achieves this by creating a symbiotic partnership between two bacteria, each specializing in a specific task. He recently joined ASU’s Polytechnic campus, where he is scaling up the process at the Arizona Center for Algae Technology and Innovation.

"Bringing all these elements together and in real-world conditions at large scales needs to be done," Weiss said. "Fortunately, we have a one-of-a-kind academic test bed facility here at AzCATI that is uniquely suited to answer the remaining production questions and push development of the technology."

Linked food systems affect global governance

View Source | January 4, 2018

Orange TreeSchool of Sustainability Associate Professor Hallie Eakin is the lead author of a new article in the Ecology and Society journal. The article, titled "Transforming governance in telecoupled food systems," uses case studies to analyze how the linking of food systems around the world affects their governance and the actors within them.

The authors conclude that telecoupling has the potential to positively change the governance of food systems. This may alleviate the conflict generated among actors within food systems who have opposing values and interests.

Water management in Brazil

December 31, 2017

Members of DCDC meeting with scientists, managers, policymakers and other stakeholders in Pernambuco, BrazilOne of the most pressing global challenges for sustainable development in the era of the Anthropocene is freshwater management. Water is a fundamental human necessity and essential to improve social equity, promote broad economic development and protect the functioning of the earth system.

That’s why ASU’s Decision Center for a Desert City collaborated with scientists, managers, policymakers and other stakeholders in Pernambuco, Brazil – to build local capacity to manage existing and future water resources efficiently, sustainably and equitably. Together, the team developed modeling tools and a decision support system that prepares users for whatever water scenarios come their way.

British diplomat examines US stance on climate change

View Source | December 12, 2017

Sir Crispin TickellIn December 2017, two years after the Paris climate agreement was signed, the One Planet summit explored ways to meet climate goals without the support of the United States government.

On that note,  Distinguished Sustainability Fellow Sir Crispin Tickell – an ASU Wrigley Institute board member – gave ASU Now his prescription for the denial of climate change science in the U.S.

"We need a bit of political leadership. We had it originally in Britain from Margaret Thatcher, with whom I used to work quite closely," Tickell said. "I think politicians should take a grip and explain clearly to people in language they can understand what is happening and what has to be done about it, and what it will be necessary to do if nothing is done sooner rather than later."

Supporting science to sustain our planet

View Source | December 11, 2017

Robert LittermanIn a December 2017 interview with Juli Staiano, Chief Philanthropy Officer for the American Association for the Advancement of Science, ASU Wrigley Institute board member Robert Litterman gave his reasons for giving back to the field.

"To me, science has always been the sort of North Star. It’s the facts in which we ground our behavior," Litterman told Staiano. "And so, when I see it come under attack and see the damage that that does – particularly in the context of climate – to rational decision making, I feel like I need to support the institution that represents the scientific community. It’s pretty simple."

Coming from a risk management background, Litterman is passionate about the topic of climate risk.

"I think this problem – with respect to climate – is clearly driven by economic interests of those who would be negatively impacted by an appropriate response," Litterman said. "It’s a risk management problem. Everyone understands what we need to do is to price the risk appropriately."

ASU Announces New Center in Sustainable Food Systems

View Source | December 7, 2017

Kelly and Brian SwetteWith the aim of finding better solutions to today's food-related challenges, Kelly and Brian Swette have made a major gift to establish the Swette Center for Sustainable Food Systems at Arizona State University.

The new center, housed within the School of Sustainability, will tackle food systems from a holistic standpoint, taking into consideration water and energy use, carbon footprint and nutrition – all with an emphasis on efficiency across the global supply chain. It will also offer the nation’s first degree in Sustainable Food Systems.

Explaining that the new center will accelerate and expand current efforts, Dean Christopher Boone said, "By combining ASU’s assets as a research powerhouse with the entrepreneurial spirit of our students and the expertise from external partners, these sustainable food systems solutions will have profound and positive implications for livelihoods, human health and ecosystem integrity."

Brian is a member of the Board of Directors of the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability at ASU, as well as an alumnus of the university. In 2012, he and Kelly launched Sweet Earth Natural Foods – a company that sells plant-based, natural and organic fare.

A savvy solution to Mekong River's hydropower dilemma

View Source | December 7, 2017

Person in a fishing-boatNearly 100 hydropower dams are planned for construction along the Mekong River in Southeast Asia. While they are expected to provide clean energy to countries in the region, the dams may also offset natural river patterns if not managed properly.

In a December 2017 issue of Science magazine, Senior Sustainability Scientist John Sabo and his collaborators propose a solution.

“We have figured out the relationship between river flows and fish catch, and we have developed an algorithm for dam operators to use that will increase fish harvests and still generate power,” Sabo says. “Dams are going to be built no matter how much fuss we make; our research shows how we can be more strategic about the buildout and operations of these dams in the Mekong.”

ASU’s Project Cities wraps up a successful first semester

December 6, 2017

first semester-end project showcaseASU Project Cities held its first semester-end project showcase with the city of Apache Junction at the university's Memorial Union on November 29, 2017.

Professors and students from multiple campuses presented on the findings of seven courses, during which extensive time was spent researching and creating recommendations for the city that straddles Maricopa and Pinal counties. Roughly 150 people attended the showcase, including members of the Apache Junction government and community, ASU faculty, and graduate and undergraduate students.

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Smithsonian exhibit to bring new understanding of water to Arizona

View Source | December 6, 2017

Image of a RiverASU's Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives is among the groups working to expand research and resources for an exhibit called Water/Ways.

The exhibit is part of the Smithsonian’s Think Water Initiative, which raises awareness of water as a critical resource for life through exhibitions, educational resources and public programs. Through the Smithsonian's Museum on Main Street program, Water/Ways will be transported to 12 rural communities around Arizona starting in 2018.

“This is another opportunity to educate the public about the challenges we face, of the importance of water and to try and help make us more intelligent managers of the resources in our world that support our lives,” says Senior Sustainability Scholar Paul Hirt, state scholar for the project. “Just explaining to people that there is an imbalance between the supply and demand is an important first step in solving it.”

Meeting purchasing needs the sustainable way

ASU Now | December 5, 2017

Nicole DarnallTo help organizations interested in eco-friendly purchasing, ASU's Sustainable Purchasing Research Initiative is partnering with the Environmental Protection Agency on

The website features a searchable database of research articles related to the concept of “servicizing,” which promotes a more environmentally responsible way for businesses, nonprofits, governments and individuals to meet their purchasing needs.

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Colbert, live from COP 23

November 30, 2017

Julia ColbertThe 23rd Conference of the Parties – a U.N. climate conference in Bonn, Germany – attracted dignitaries from around the world. Luckily, those at home had School of Sustainability student Julia Colbert to fill them in.

Colbert, a student worker with the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, shared her video coverage of COP23 on YouTube. On top of that, she connected with fourth-to-twelfth-grade classrooms throughout the country via Facetime or Skype, teaching conference-related lessons like “how to negotiate.”

"It was inspiring to see how much they really wanted to learn,” said Colbert. “It made me hopeful that this next generation will be the change-makers that truly make a difference in the fight against climate change."

Sharing is not only caring, it's how we thrive

View Source | November 27, 2017

Amber WutichSmall acts of kindness – something as simple as lending a neighbor a cup of sugar – not only bind us together, but are critical to our survival as a species. That's according to Senior Sustainability Scientist Amber Wutich, an anthropology professor and director of ASU's Center for Global Health.

"Sharing is so important, that in most cultures it has its own special vocabulary and rituals," Wutich explains in a November 2017 KEDtalk. "Sharing helps families survive, and it's a core part of people's identity that defines their place in their communities. That's why anthropologists like me have studied how humans share in cultures in every part of the world."

Johnson appointed to GRI stakeholder council

View Source | November 22, 2017

Ryan JohnsonRyan Johnson, Executive Director of Sustainability Education and Training for ASU's School of Sustainability, has been appointed as a member of the Global Reporting Initiative Stakeholder Council for a term beginning January 2018. Johnson is also a student in the Master of Sustainability Leadership program at ASU.

GRI is an independent international organization that has pioneered sustainability reporting since 1997. The initiative helps businesses and governments worldwide understand and communicate their impact on critical sustainability issues such as climate change, human rights, governance and social well-being.

The GRI Stakeholder Council is the formal stakeholder policy forum within the GRI governance structure. The council's key governance functions include appointing Board members and deliberating on issues of strategic importance to GRI.

Shrinking ozone hole a beacon of hope for climate change reversal

View Source | November 20, 2017

OzoneThe risk of things like skin cancer, extinction of sensitive amphibians and degradation of outdoor buildings is now lower, thanks to the fact that the hole in our ozone layer – which protects Earth from the Sun’s ultraviolet radiation – has shrunk.

Satellite measurements indicate that the ozone hole is about 1 million miles smaller than when measured a year ago, a positive trend that NASA says can be explained by an unstable and warmer Antarctic vortex. Senior Sustainability Scientist Kevin Gurney is heartened by this news, which suggests that other negative trends can also be reversed.

With regard to influencing the direction of climate change, Gurney says, "It suggests more than a possibility — it suggests that we can achieve the solution to a large global environmental problem."