Humans have long affected the landscapes in which they live, sometimes with disastrous consequences. ASU researchers are currently studying past and present impacts of humanity to develop sustainable strategies for the future. While some multidisciplinary teams are examining past societies to understand key lessons about the nature and possible outcomes of interactions among human and natural systems, others teams are pioneering the new field of urban ecology to understand modern human effects on biodiversity and habitat.
World economic prosperity is ultimately tied to the quality of Earth's natural resources and the wellbeing of human communities. To sustain these systems, the business practices of corporations, institutions, and individuals must reflect and support their workings. ASU conducts multidisciplinary research that improves understanding of bio-social interactions and applies that knowledge toward developing more sustainable products, making better decisions, managing resources efficiently, improving social equity, and adapting to future change.
Climate instability affects all living things, particularly in an extreme environment such as the desert Southwest. Challenges for urban dwellers in arid regions include long-term drought, crop failures, and the growing impacts of urban heat island effect. ASU's climate researchers currently address issues of how human activities and changing climate affect each other, policies and actions needed to ameliorate unfavorable climatic conditions, and strategies to ensure that human needs are met in conditions of uncertainty.
The fuels of the future will be clean, renewable, and secure. ASU has long been a leader in renewable energy, particularly in developing of solar energy in a variety of useful forms. Current projects include cutting-edge and applied research in photovoltaic materials and systems, photosynthetic biofuels, and algae-based fuels, as well as research on policy and decision-making related to renewable energy.
Food systems include all the processes and infrastructure involved in feeding a population from growing, harvesting, processing, packaging, and transportation to marketing, consumption, and disposal of food and food-related items. These systems are influenced by culture, economics, politics, and the environment. ASU researchers are studying the sensitivity of food systems to global change.
Future and systems thinking is understanding how things influence each other as part of an entire system. ASU researchers are examining future and systems thinking topics like how ecosystems work based on their makeup or how the decisions we make now will influence our lives in the future.
Solving world problems requires a comprehensive approach. ASU partners with other institutions around the globe to address problems common to rapidly growing cities. Faculty also conduct comparative studies of diverse world regions to understand patterns and processes of human-environment interactions and to develop best-practice models that can be replicated.
Industries and institutions around the world are searching for better strategies to eliminate wasteful, non-sustainable practices. New materials and technologies will provide an important part of the solution. ASU research teams are tackling many of the grand challenges of the 21st century by developing advanced eco-friendly materials and new technologies for analyzing the vulnerabilities of complex adaptive systems and the impacts of emerging military devices.
Sustainability can only be realized if it is recognized as a social priority, society focuses its resources on discovering the characteristics that make human activities sustainable, and public policies explicitly encourage sustainable practices. ASU develops innovative ways to connect government leaders, policymakers, and management practitioners with researchers and cutting-edge information and tools. These help make sustainability a real-world practice rather than a theoretical goal.
Global sustainability requires a collective shift in social consciousness in which individuals, organizations, and societies reinvent themselves with new aspirations and purpose. ASU's extensive portfolio of research in this area includes understanding sustainability lessons from the past and present, disseminating proven "best practices" in sustainability, developing effective social-conservation strategies for multiple diverse cultures around the world, and targeting special areas of concern such as public health, social equity, policy making, and consumer education.
Urban activities greatly impact natural systems. Water, air, nutrient cycling, climate, land-use, and flora and fauna are all affected -- and, in turn, urban systems are affected by nature. ASU's urbanization research examines the complex patterns and dynamics created by interactions between urban and natural systems and the responses at scales ranging from local to global.
The Phoenix metropolitan area provides a model urban laboratory for developing solutions applicable to hot, arid, rapidly growing desert cities around the world. As in many rapidly developing areas, water is the most limited resource. Long-term ASU research has centered on analyzing and testing practical strategies for managing quality water supplies under conditions of uncertainty and future growth. Results will benefit many other urban areas globally.