ASU Wrigley Institute News

Scientists receive NSF support for sustainability research

September 4, 2014

NSF-Supports-Sustainability-ResearchDemonstrating the caliber of research that the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability supports, four members of its Sustainability Scientists and Scholars program recently received substantial awards from the National Science Foundation. The awards, which total more than $5 million, will support a range of research activities.

Sustainability scientists Hallie Eakin, Charles Perrings, Becky Ball and Thomas Seager each serve as the principle investigator of an awarded project. From reducing vulnerability in urban environments like Mexico city, to analyzing how Antarctic soil communities respond to environmental changes, their projects will yield research significant to sustainability. Several of the projects, like one aimed at improving strategies to decrease the spread of trade-related diseases, will do so using sophisticated modeling tools.

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US Secretary of Agriculture speaks on ‘homegrown energy’

September 4, 2014

Vilsack-EnergyDuring his recent Sustainability Series presentation at ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack discussed the U.S. farming industry’s shift to renewable energy. Vilsack shared that, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, the number of farmers and ranchers transitioning to renewable energy has doubled since 2007. In fact,  solar panels accounted for nearly two-thirds of farms’ energy-producing systems.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture is partnering with the U.S. Departments of Defense and Energy to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and diversify our portfolio of biofuels and other renewable energy sources,” Vilsack said. “We are also engaging with universities like ASU to explore innovative solutions for challenges related to energy, food and sustainability.”

Vilsack also emphasized how developing a deeper understanding of agriculture’s role in the future of energy, innovation and economic growth, particularly in rural areas, will be key to addressing global sustainability challenges.

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ASU students analyze urban sustainability policy in Hong Kong

September 2, 2014

Hong Kong - Sustainability StudentsThrough the Global Sustainability Studies Program, one of the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, 15 ASU students completed an urban sustainability policy course at Hong Kong’s City University. The ASU students, all enrolled in the School of Sustainability, worked alongside Chinese students throughout the rigorous, two-week course co-taught by Professor Rob Melnick.

Students attended lectures every morning and participated in field trips in the afternoons, enabling them to see the city – one of over 7 million people in under 430 square miles. They shared their research and experience at a recent Sustainability Series presentation.

“Hong Kong was fascinating to me because of its density and the fact that it’s facing the sustainability challenges of the future right now,” said Melissa Davidson, a graduate student in the School of Sustainability’s Master’s of Sustainable Solutions. “Hong Kong-like density is going to continue to dominate our world’s major cities. Understanding the problems in a different context is going to help us as future sustainability scientists to be better equipped to deal with the problems we’re all going to face eventually.”

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Corporate sustainability expert joins The Sustainability Consortium

August 27, 2014

tsc_ceo_sheila_bonini_head_shot_webSheila Bonini, an expert in corporate sustainability, has been appointed CEO of The Sustainability Consortium® (TSC). Having served as senior expert consultant and co-leader of McKinsey & Company’s Sustainability Transformation Service for more than 15 years, she brings extensive experience in the field. Bonini also joins the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability community of Sustainability Scientists and Scholars.

TSC, a unit of ASU’s Wrigley Institute, is a signature public-private partnership focused on consumer product sustainability. It was co-founded in 2009 by ASU and the University of Arkansas to develop a new scientific approach to measuring the sustainability of consumer products. This resulted in the development of the Product Sustainability Toolkit, which helps businesses to identify improvement opportunities in design, supply chain and purchasing. Today, the number of TSC member organizations exceeds 90 and includes some of the largest consumer product companies in the world.

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Dirks appointed to State Energy Advisory Board

August 27, 2014

gary_dirks_photo_april_2013Continuing ASU’s tradition of shaping Arizona’s energy future, Gary Dirks – director of LightWorks, the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and the Algae Testbed Public-Private Partnership (ATP3) – has been named a member of Governor Jan Brewer’s State Energy Advisory Board. Established as part of the governor’s 2014 Executive Order adopting the state’s Master Energy Plan, the new board will help to ensure that Arizona’s energy industry remains reliable, secure and affordable in the long-term.

Through Dirks’ leadership, ASU has been involved in a number of projects that shape our energy future both in Arizona and across the globe. This year, along with numerous ASU partners, Dirks was instrumental in the creation of the Renewable Energy Leadership Training Program. The program provides strategic workshops on, and opportunities to assist with, energy transitions in various nations. This allows both ASU and participating nations to gain valuable insight into the complexities of such transitions. The first session included participants from Palestine, with additional projects forthcoming in both Albania and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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Indigenous Peoples and Sustainability Policy: Exploring the Politics and Practice of “Indigenous Sustainability”

Thought Leader Series

August 25, 2014

tsosie_2011A Thought Leader Series Piece

By Rebecca Tsosie

Note: Rebecca Tsosie is a senior sustainability scientist and Regents’ Professor of Law at Arizona State University.

There are two ways to view the relationship between Indigenous peoples and sustainability policy. One approach places them at the center of sustainability studies, and one relegates them to the periphery. The latter approach became the subject of a recent controversy between experts commenting on the latest draft of the United Nations’ new sustainable development policy.

Significance of the term “Indigenous peoples”
Several weeks ago, a panel of experts from the United Nations expressed concern that the latest draft of Sustainable Development Goals had deleted all references to “Indigenous peoples,” substituting instead the phrase “Indigenous and local communities.” The shift might seem harmless to the uninformed reader. However, as the U.N. experts noted, the effect of the change was to undermine the success that Indigenous peoples have had in claiming their rightful identity as “peoples” with a right to “self-determination,” equivalent to that of all other peoples under international law.

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Study co-authored by sustainability scientist quantifies rangeland loss

August 18, 2014

rangelandA study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences quantifies the loss of rangeland, such as grasslands and savannas, in the United States and Argentina. Using census data and remote sensors, the research team – which included Distinguished Sustainability Scientist Osvaldo Sala – found that encroaching woody plants like shrubs and trees diminish livestock production.

“While the phenomenon of woody plant invasion has been occurring for decades, for the first time, we have quantified the losses in ecosystem services,” said Sala. “We found that an increase in tree and shrub cover of 1 percent leads to a 2 percent loss in livestock production.”

Because, according to the study’s findings, woody plant cover in North America increases at a rate of between .5 and 2 percent each year, rangelands are likely to experience a continued decrease in meat production.

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Study examines affluence, amenities and social vulnerability

August 16, 2014

fault-zoningA study published in the journal Earth’s Future, authored in part by former Urban Ecology IGERT fellow Nate Toké and School of Sustainability Dean Christopher Boone, was cited in several recent news articles. Both Popular Science and KQED Science covered the team’s findings, which demonstrate that the population living near fault zones in the Los Angeles area is predominantly wealthy.

This is significant because close proximity to environmental hazards typically dictates lower property values, meaning poor populations are commonly the most socially vulnerable. In examining why wealthy individuals would choose to live in high-risk locations, the team found that a 1971 zoning act forbidding construction on fault lines inadvertently encouraged green belts to flourish. The attractive vegetation outweighed the dangers posed by potential earthquakes, and wealthy individuals began to build homes near these areas.

According to Toké, “One of the most important observations from this study is that the distribution of high social vulnerability is more strongly tied to the absence of the amenity of parks and greenspace than to natural hazards.”

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Article highlights Julie Wrigley’s commitment to sustainability at ASU

August 13, 2014

julie-wrigley-sustainability-asuAn article recently published in the Idaho Mountain Express examines resident Julie Ann Wrigley’s interest in sustainability. The article, titled “Julie Wrigley puts her money where the green is,” places special emphasis on the $50 million contribution that the philanthropist and environmentalist has made to ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, a department named in her honor.

According to the article, Wrigley’s donation was inspired by the vision of Michael Crow, president of ASU and author of the “New American University Reader.” She  cites ASU’s willingness to work across disciplines and form partnerships as its defining characteristics, making it the model of a university capable of solving 21st century problems.

“Under the old model, one part of the university has no reason to work with another part,” Wrigley said. “At ASU, sustainability is a value system campus-wide, not just a single field of study.”

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Study explores environmental effects of antibacterial compounds

August 8, 2014

rolf-haldenRolf Halden, a senior sustainability scientist and director of ASU’s Center for Environmental Security, is the lead investigator of a study that examined the exposure of pregnant women and their fetuses to certain antibacterial compounds. The study, recently published in the journal Environmental Science and Technology, found common germ-killers in both the urine and umbilical cords of the women that were screened.

In addition to a concern that antibacterial compounds may contribute to growing antibiotic resistance, there is evidence that materials like triclosan and triclocarban are linked to developmental and reproductive problems. Information of this nature has prompted both the Food and Drug Administration and Environmental Protection Agency to consider the safety of these compounds.

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New course to imagine and implement smart tech for sustainable cities

August 7, 2014

ipad-green-city 2In anticipation of Changemaker Central’s Innovation Challenge, an ASU seed-funding campaign that encourages every academic unit to create its own theme, the School of Sustainability has teamed up with The Verizon Foundation. Given the foundation’s interest in innovative change, the School of Sustainability’s theme was born: “How can we accelerate the adoption and deployment of smart technologies to make our cities more sustainable?”

This is a question that SOS 498: “Smart City and Technology Innovation Challenge” will address in depth – a noble endeavor in light of our rapidly urbanizing and “plugged in” population of 7 billion. And given the host of smart technologies that already exist, but whose potential for a greener good is not fully realized, answers are needed.

Under the guidance of experts, students’ seedling ideas will flower into feasible, sustainable solutions. The top innovations may win up to $4,000 toward the ASU Bookstore, courtesy of The Verizon Foundation. All proposals will also be submitted to the Innovation Challenge for a chance to receive thousands more in seed funding.

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Student combats global vulnerabilities through sustainable technology

August 5, 2014

akane-ota-sustainability-studentBangladesh. One of the world’s most populous countries, and one of its poorest.

Akane Ota was living in a village far from Dhaka, the country’s capital. Her assignment with Grameen Bank, a Nobel Peace Prize-winning microfinance organization, asked that she survey villagers to assess their living conditions, then create a business plan to improve them.

Unfazed by the difficulty of this task, Ota made her way through the village, diligently collecting data. As she did so, two things become increasingly apparent: the connection between unreliable energy and inaccessible social services, and the environmental injury caused by non-renewable technology.

As Ota explains, “I was amazed by the beautiful untouched nature of Bangladesh. But I also saw highly polluted air and water, which was depressing.”

Around this time, Ota’s native Japan was shaken by a major earthquake that, in turn, triggered a tsunami reaching 133 feet in height. The wave disabled the power supply and nullified the cooling mechanisms for three reactors at Fukushima’s nuclear plant. The consequences of the subsequent meltdown left a lasting impression on Ota and heightened her passion for stable and sustainable energy.

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Malcolm Fox and Susan Arnot Heaney join The Sustainability Consortium

July 31, 2014

TSCTo position itself for future growth and furthered impact, The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) has created two leadership positions. The new roles – Chief Operating Officer and Director of Marketing, Development and Communications – are effective July 2014 and will enhance the strength of the leadership team.

The individuals filling these roles are experienced leaders in the field of sustainability. Chief Operating Officer Malcolm Fox began his career as a consultant to the US Environmental Protection Agency, and worked most recently as COO/CFO of Equitable Origin. Susan Arnot Heaney – Director of Marketing, Development and Communications – has extensive experience in the area of corporate responsibility, working with companies like Avon Products, Inc. to implement programs, policies and communications platforms for a myriad of issues.

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Business magazine highlights ASU’s progress toward carbon neutrality

July 30, 2014

nacuboA recent article published by the National Association of College and University Business Officers explored the trend of higher education institutions toward alternative, renewable energy options. Titled “Going for Zero,” the article presented a brief rundown of ASU’s impressive stats, demonstrating that the university is being noticed for its commitment to carbon neutrality.

In the article, Morgan Olsen – university executive vice president, treasurer and chief financial officer – shares that an important factor in maintaining carbon neutrality is ensuring its future success: “On the research front, one of the things we can contribute is the training of millions of people we educate every year to become leaders of tomorrow. While in some respects higher education has a small physical footprint compared to the rest of world, from an environmental standpoint we have an outsized ability to have positive impact through our education mission.”

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Aid agencies in unique position to integrate sustainable solutions

July 29, 2014

fnahziFron Nahzi, Global Business Development Director for Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, authored a recent article in The World Post titled “When Donor Driven Programs Work.” In the article, Nahzi discusses the importance of incorporating sustainability practices into government aid programs like the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). Nahzi posits that finding sustainable solutions to energy, water, transportation and livelihood quandaries ensures a better investment by the American taxpayer.

USAID is in a particularly favorable position to assume a sustainable approach to international development, according to Nahzi. Not only would doing so support changes called for by climate reports generated by both the United States and United Nations, but the organization already utilizes what Nahzi calls a system of “cross-cutting issues.” Additionally, the first Africa Leaders’ Summit is being held at the White House next week, presenting a great opportunity for USAID to incorporate sustainable solutions into its foreign aid programs.

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Program brings environmental education to disadvantaged children

July 24, 2014

alexis_lauren_homeward_bound1Ecology Explorers is a K-12 program run by Central Arizona – Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research (CAPLTER) that focuses on environmental education outreach. By working with Homeward Bound, a residential community for families fleeing domestic abuse, Ecology Explorers provides educational enrichment to children that are not well-served by typical science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) programs.

Over the past year, Ecology Explorers interns, student workers and graduate fellows designed and delivered lessons to groups of 10-15 children four times a semester. Fall lessons focused on urban ecology and microclimates, while the spring lessons ranged from understanding the water cycle to considering the effects of pollution on the environment. The lessons are intended to provide a foundation for future learning, as well as to help the children understand and appreciate the environment around them.

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Sustainability board member to chair international economic council

July 22, 2014

Bill McDWilliam McDonough, a world-renowned architect, educator and author as well as a member of the Board of Directors for Sustainability at ASU, has been appointed chair of the World Economic Forum’s Meta-Council on the Circular Economy. The meta-council represents the forum’s multi-sector initiative to accelerate business-driven innovation in order to scale the circular economy. Rooted in restorative principles, a circular economy is achieved using thoughtful design to implement renewable energy while minimizing both toxic chemicals and waste.

McDonough is known internationally for his revolutionary Cradle to Cradle framework, which relies on the sustainable design of products and systems. As chair of the meta-council, he will oversee the forum’s effort to demonstrate the real-world application of a circular economy’s economic, social and environmental benefits. This will be done through targeted programs that aim to elevate the discussion to a global audience. With McDonough’s guidance and strategic insights, the Meta-Council on the Circular Economy will convene top-tier international companies, stakeholders, policymakers and other business influencers to identify systemic changes necessary for shifting to a sustainable global economy.

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Trail Magic: Why Trails Are Good for You, Your Economy, and Things that Matter

Thought Leader Series

July 20, 2014

Rick Heffernon Arizona Trail SustainabilityA Thought Leader Series Piece

By Rick Heffernon

Note: July is Park and Recreation Month, created in 1985 to celebrate and encourage parks, recreation, and conservation efforts that enhance quality of life for all people. In this essay, Rick Heffernon discusses the quality-of-life benefits of trails like the Arizona Trail, for which he has served as a trail steward for more than 15 years.

People need trails. Seriously.

Work, home, kids, plans, commitments, life — they’re all stressful. Even happy events, like vacations, promotions, marriage, graduation, and success can provide a potent lump of stress. Trails, however, offer a cure.

Healthy Benefits of Trails
Take a quiet energizing walk down a rambling trail lined by majestic trees and nodding flowers and you immediately feel a therapeutic break from the everyday. Trail walks soothe our bodies from head to toe, both physically and mentally. They can pull us back from the brink and reinvigorate our spirits. Plus, trails make us smarter. Stuck on a difficult problem? Just take a long walk and you’ll likely find a solution.

Trails also provide a litany of other happy benefits. Among these are improved fitness, access to clean air, reduced traffic congestion, preservation of open space, protection of natural resources, and the simple joy of self-propulsion.

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Weighing the benefits and costs of gene-modifying technology

July 17, 2014

jimcollinsJames Collins, a senior sustainability scientist and evolutionary ecologist at ASU, leads an interdisciplinary team of researchers studying the role of host-pathogen interactions in species decline and extinction.  Through a paper published in the journal Science, the team aims to initiate a conversation about the scientific, ethical and regulatory issues that could arise from the use of a genetic engineering technology called gene drives.

Using a new genome-editing tool, scientists can, in principle, accurately insert, replace, delete or regulate genes in many different bisexual species. The technology could be used to eliminate insect-borne diseases like malaria, eradicate invasive species and reverse pesticide and herbicide resistance. Nonetheless, there are concerns regarding unexpected and possibly harmful side effects.

Collins’ paper proposes instituting safety measures to control these possible effects. It suggests that gene drives be evaluated on a case-by-case basis, taking into account the trait, species and ecosystem in question. Controlled testing in laboratories located in areas where target species can’t survive and reproduce, or development of an alteration-reversing version for every single gene drive are additional examples of precautionary actions.

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Scientist discusses wearable sensors at sustainable health forum

July 11, 2014

lee hartwellLee Hartwell, distinguished sustainability scientist and chief scientist for the Center for Sustainable Health, was among the speakers at the Forum for Sustainable Health, an annual event hosted by ASU’s Center for Sustainable Health. This year, the forum served as a formal kick-off the Center’s new “Project HoneyBee,” an endeavor to develop wearable sensors that improve patient outcomes while reducing costs.

According to Hartwell, who underscored the current technological challenges of the wearable sensors market, the task of will not be easy. “Within 10 years, every patient will be monitored by devices,” he says. “While there are lots of new discoveries, the translation into the clinic for utility is nearly zero. We need to create a process to make this technology reliable and useful, with new capabilities, to find out the best application that will have the greatest impact on medicine, and give patients control of their own health.”

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