School of Sustainability News

Researchers talk science and society at AAAS national meeting

February 21, 2013

From germs in space, to supporting minorities in science and engineering, to communicating the importance of science to the public and developing effective science policy, Arizona State University faculty talked up science at the recent annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS). This year’s meeting took place Feb. 14-18 in Boston.

Researchers today more than ever focus their work on real-world problems, often times making their research relevant to the public locally, regionally and nationally. But engaging the public in their research can be a daunting task for researchers professionally and personally.

Leah Gerber, associate professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences and a senior sustainability scientist in the School of Sustainability, has identified impediments to productive science communication and she shared her recommendations at AAAS.

“We must find a way to make engagement rise to the top of the pile,” Gerber said.

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Source » Intel aims to make matches for wastewater heaven

February 21, 2013

Arizona State University students’ work for Intel’s WaterMatch program is featured in a special Valentine’s Day story on

Intel first started WaterMatch with the aim of connecting wastewater makers with wastewater users in hopes of creating water sustainability. Using an online platform, WaterMatch is a database of water treatment plants and facilities that need wastewater to function. However, progress has been slow, reporter Aaron Tilley writes:

“The biggest problem is that getting data on wastewater treatment plants is incredibly hard. There is no national database for treatment facilities so gathering this kind of information requires laborious searches and calls to each individual plant.”

That’s when ASU student researchers come in. They provide the grunt work of documenting wastewater users and makers in Arizona. Next, the students will be moving on to Mexico with funding from CH2M Hill.

Note: School of Sustainability students Saad Ahmed and Rud Moe are part of the ASU-Intel WaterMatch research team. Moe is a senior majoring in sustainability and geology and Ahmed, also a senior, is studying sustainability and urban planning.

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ScienceNews: Saving phosphorus a salvage job

February 20, 2013

Phosphorus is an essential nutrient for life. It is added to fields to help farmers boost their crops and feed the growing number of humans on Earth.

Yet this critical rock is increasingly scarce. It is commonly overused in agricultural fields, which leads to polluted streams and lakes.  Without a change in attitudes of policy-makers, research ingenuity and sustainable strategies, this essential component to life on Earth may join oil on the “endangered species” list.

In an online article posted on ScienceNews Feb. 7, writer Roberta Kwok takes an in depth look at phosphorus – why we need it, how we waste it, and what we can do to reduce the demand for it, as well as find sustainable policies for our future.

In the article, James Elser, a professor in Arizona State University’s School of Life Sciences and a Sustainability Scientist at the Global Institute of Sustainability, says it’s time to draw attention to the problem.

“I call it the biggest problem you’ve never heard of,” says Elser, an ecologist and co-organizer of the Sustainable Phosphorus Initiative at ASU.

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BioScience report: Public policy can guide pro-environment behavior

February 19, 2013

Many have studied how the climate is changing—melting ice caps, rising sea levels, increased pollution, and higher temperatures. Countless researchers, scientists, and experts have dedicated their work to recording numbers, collecting samples, and writing reports that show evidence of climate change. But has anyone studied how humans are changing their commitment to the environment?

You may recycle because you care for the environment and would hate to see it littered, but did you also know you may do it because your neighbors or colleagues are doing it?  In a recent BioScience article, an interdisciplinary team of researchers led by Arizona State University’s Ann Kinzig explores the impacts of human behavior towards the environment and how policies can promote environmentally friendly behavior.

In the article, “Social Norms and Global Environmental Change: The Complex Interaction of Behaviors, Values, and Policy,” the researchers theorize that advancements in sustainability can come from policy changes that alter public behavior in the short-term, while simultaneously creating public pro-environmental values in the long-term.

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Academics grapple with balancing research, need to communicate it to public

February 18, 2013

Researchers today more than ever focus their work on real-world problems, often times making their research relevant to the public locally, regionally and sometimes nationally. But engaging the public in their research can be a daunting task for researchers both professionally and personally.

Leah Gerber, an associate professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences and a senior sustainability scientist in the School of Sustainability, has identified impediments to productive science communication and she shared her recommendations at the 2013 annual meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

As a researcher, Gerber and her group at ASU develop mathematical approaches that bring together the best available scientific information to make rational, efficient conservation decisions about endangered species recovery, ecosystem management and reserve design for oceans and fisheries. Getting that information to the public is a key component in her work.

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Professor elected to National Academy of Engineering

February 15, 2013

ASU professor Edward Kavazanjian has attained one of the highest professional honors in his field, election to the National Academy of Engineering.

Kavazanjian is a professor in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of ASU’s Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering, and a senior scientist in the university’s Global Institute of Sustainability.

Kavazanjian is widely recognized as a leading authority on the seismic analysis, design and performance evaluation of solid-waste landfills, as well as an expert in landfill containment systems, environmental safety of waste sites and development of waste sites after closure.

“He is absolutely the world expert in his area,” says G. Edward Gibson, director of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment. “His leadership has placed ASU at the forefront of geotechnical engineering, seismic design and biogeotechnical engineering.”

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Social norms, behavior influence environmental policy

February 14, 2013

A research team led by Arizona State University (ASU) senior sustainability scientist Ann Kinzig argues for an novel approach to climate change alleviation: target public values and behavior.

Kinzig, chief research strategist for ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability and a professor at ASU’s School of Life Sciences, urges policymakers to alter laws and regulations, such as recycling mandates and energy restrictions, based on social values and the associated behaviors.

In a recent article in the journal Bioscience, the team shares findings that pro-environmental behaviors (e.g., recycling and water conservation) can influence pro-environmental values, and that the interaction also works in reverse.

“Often we believe that we behave in a certain way because we hold particular values and that is certainly true,” Kinzig says. “But our values may also shift based on our behaviors. We may initially engage in recycling, for instance, because of an economic incentive, but the repeated act of recycling may create a value for recycling.”

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ASU Decision Center for a Desert City students present sustainability solutions

February 12, 2013

The American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting in Boston, Massachusetts will serve as a backdrop for research presentations by representatives of Arizona State University’s Decision Center for a Desert City (DCDC) on February 17.

DCDC Director and Principal Investigator Dave White and anthropologist Margaret Nelson, vice dean of Barrett, The Honors College, will accompany a contingent of faculty, graduate and undergraduate students.

Nelson, who is also co-principal investigator and education program coordinator, remarked, “The students in DCDC’s Community of Graduate Scholars (CGS) represent multiple disciplines, including psychology, anthropology, public policy, sustainability, computer science and geography. Through the seminar, students become familiar with the issues as well as perspectives of DCDC researchers, not to mention challenges that emerge from interdisciplinary collaborations.”

The ASU contingency will present research that employs interdisciplinary social science methods to develop knowledge and tools for water sustainability and climate change adaptation in urban areas.

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ASU commits to zero waste challenge with people power

February 8, 2013

Nick BrownMajor corporations are not that different from large universities when it comes to practices, management, emissions, and costs. Today’s universities operate like well-oiled corporate machines balancing multiple departments, people, buildings, and challenges. Arizona State University—with 72,000 students, 13,000 staff members, and 1,500 acres of campus land—is no small university. But since Michael Crow became the university’s president ten years ago, ASU has transformed into a sustainability-driven university.

In a recent article, author Georges Dyer covers ASU’s zero waste accomplishments. Dyers outlines the university’s process in identifying waste management strategies and the steps taken to implement those practices.

ASU’s University Sustainability Practices Director Nick Brown says a major cultural phenomenon needs to happen in order to eliminate enough waste to really make a difference.

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Grant to fund innovative student capstone course in sustainable manufacturing

February 7, 2013

Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability and College of Technology and Innovation have received a $60,000 grant from the Ray C. Anderson Foundation.

The nonprofit organization seeks to promote a sustainable society by supporting and funding educational and project-based initiatives that advance knowledge and innovation in sustainable production and consumption. It was founded in 2012 as a legacy to the late Ray C. Anderson, founder and chairman of Interface, Inc., and globally recognized “pioneer for the environment.”

The ASU sustainability project proposed by Chell Roberts, executive dean for the College of Technology and Innovation, and Dan O’Neill, general manager in the Walton Sustainability Solutions Extension Service at ASU, combines two existing undergraduate capstone experiences into an integrated approach for solving real sustainable manufacturing challenges for major corporate clients.

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The Sustainability Consortium launches Electronics Delphi Panel

Institute Press Releases

February 6, 2013

TEMPE, Ariz. – February 5, 2013 – The Sustainability Consortium, an independent global organization developing science-based tools that advance the measurement and reporting of consumer product sustainability, is pleased to announce the launch of an Electronics Delphi Panel.

The Ideal Electronics Product Takeback Program Definition Delphi Panel has been initiated to develop a definition for an ideal electronics takeback program, which does not currently exist. This is the first step in developing a set of Electronics Product Takeback Program Metrics. The panel consists of invited experts including: government, non-government, manufacturers (OEMs), electronics recyclers and refurbishers, and retailers all with extensive experience in this area. This panel is part of the larger End of Life (EOL) Innovation Project, the first of its kind at TSC. The vision of this innovation project is to develop a standard assessment for the effectiveness of product takeback programs. The panel launched yesterday and will run through four phases over the next three months. The final definition and project report is scheduled to be released to TSC members in May. The panel will be directed by the Electronics Sector Working Group Research Manager, Carole Mars.

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Innovation, patenting fuels economy

Institute Press Releases

February 1, 2013

Brookings Institution Report lists Phoenix among top 20 for patenting; ties Tucson patents to lower unemployment rate

TEMPE, Ariz. – February 1, 2013 – Despite economic unease, the U.S. patenting rate is higher than ever since the Industrial Revolution, according to a new report issued by the Brookings Institution Metropolitan Policy Program, in collaboration with Arizona State University (ASU).

According to a previous Brookings Institution report, Phoenix, the sixth largest city in the U.S., ranks 18th out of 358 surveyed metro areas for patenting from 2007 to 2011. In the new report, Tucson placed in the top ten cities with high patent growth and low unemployment rates. The report suggests patent rates are higher in metropolitan areas because they offer knowledge sharing, employment, and research-based universities—prime environments for inventors.

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Discovering how cities can be smarter, safer, and more sustainable


January 30, 2013

Q&A with José Lobo

Jose-Lobo-8458-croppedNote: José Lobo is a Senior Sustainability Scientist at the Global Institute of Sustainability, associate professor of research at the School of Sustainability, and faculty associate in economics at the W.P. Carey School of Business. His research applies statistics and data mining to understand metropolitan economic performance, particularly how urban size and social networks influence innovation. He has been a visiting researcher at the Santa Fe Institute and Italy’s Università di Modena e Reggio Emilia.

When did sustainability become part of your research focus?

Since my days as a graduate student, my main research interest has been invention and innovation in cities. Now that urbanization has come to dominate our planet, it is impossible to think about the future of cities without considering their sustainability challenges. The trickiest part is clearly articulating who will bear the costs and reap the benefits from policy changes. There is no free lunch, even when it comes to sustainability.

What is your most important sustainability-related research question?

Aerial view of Dubai.

Growing cities create wealth and boost innovation.

I am working with colleagues to identify and understand the complex behavior of cities. This is crucial because the 21st century will see more urbanization than in all of human history to date. By the end of this century, an additional 3 billion to 5 billion people will reside in cities, and nearly all of the increase will occur in the developing world. This new urbanization has the potential to reduce poverty and enhance human development, but the key issue is how best to accommodate urban expansion. Should we expand existing cities or build new ones? How can we make them more hospitable for all? Never before have our urban policy choices been more critical to human progress.

To address these issues and bring scientific understanding of urbanization to the decision-making process, my colleagues and I are investigating the systems involved in the urbanization process. We’re looking at what determines population size, how population size affects socio-economic activity, whether larger cities are more energy efficient, and whether the productivity advantages of larger cities are enough to offset the negatives associated with growing size. These are critical considerations. One thing we’ve learned so far: as cities grow larger they create more wealth and innovate at a faster rate than they did previously. Larger is smarter.

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ASU partners with the Netherlands on new center to solve sustainability challenges

Institute Press Releases

January 22, 2013

TEMPE, Ariz. – January 22, 2013 – Arizona State University’s (ASU) Global Institute of Sustainability (GIOS) and the Municipality of Haarlemmermeer, The Netherlands, have created an innovative collaboration to solve challenges of sustainability.

The partnership and the establishment of an ASU Global Sustainability Solutions Center (GSSC) in Haarlemmermeer will serve as an international platform for engagement with organizations and people who want to live and do business in Haarlemmermeer and the region. It will bring together the diverse and powerful resources of universities, businesses, NGOs, communities, and government organizations to tackle tough sustainability problems and ultimately find solution sets.

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Faculty Spotlight: Nicole Darnall

January 22, 2013

Before joining Arizona State University, Nicole Darnall was an associate professor of management and public policy at George Mason University and an assistant professor of public administration at North Carolina State University. For almost two decades, Dr. Darnall has been examining firms’ responses to sustainability in regulatory and social settings. Her research investigates the reasons why companies follow sustainability strategies, whether these strategies improve the environment, and whether companies that improve the natural environment also derive business value. More recently, she assesses consumer demand for corporate green strategies and how this demand might be influenced through public policy or business initiatives. To find out more about Dr. Darnall, you can read her commentary on the 2012 Greendex survey findings that assert Americans are the least green and feel the least guilt about it.

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Researchers examine urban heat and human vulnerability

January 15, 2013

A transdisciplinary team of scientists is using the hot and populous Phoenix metropolitan area to explore how different segments of the region are being affected by increasingly oppressive heat.

ASU sociologist and Sustainability Scientist Sharon Harlan is a leading investigator on the project, which is designed to look at patterns in the past and present and apply them to potential climate scenarios of the future. The project is featured in the January issue of International Innovation.

“Our research in this desert metropolis examines how climate, plants and people create a dynamic and complex social-ecological system that requires careful stewardship in order to sustain vital natural resources and human health,” said Harlan.

An associate professor in ASU’s School of Human Evolution and Social Change in the College of Liberal Arts and Sciences, Harlan emphasizes that outreach and education are built into the project in an effort to help policymakers, as well as residents, deal with the rising challenges of urban heat.

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Origins Project Great Debate to focus on climate change

January 15, 2013

Climate change is one of the most important, and perhaps thorniest, issues confronting world leaders today. A lot is at stake. Issues in climate variability, loss of living space, extended drought, amplified weather cycles, growing season variability and even national security all link back to climate change. Sea levels are rising and last year was the hottest year on record for the United States. It’s clear that for climate change, the future is now.

The Origins Project at Arizona State University will hold a panel discussion on climate change, 7 p.m., Feb. 2, that will feature some of the world’s leading experts and policy analysts in the field, including School of Sustainability Dean Sander van der Leeuw and visiting scientist Wallace Broecker.

Tickets are now on sale for “The Great Debate: Climate Change, Surviving the Future,” which will take place in Gammage Auditorium on ASU’s Tempe campus.

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ASU, Arizona Science Center host event on future of energy

January 15, 2013

January 24, 2013
5 p.m. – 8 p.m.

Can our energy future be reliable, affordable, and low-impact? Fossil fuels come with environmental, economic, and social pitfalls, but renewable energy sources have their downsides as well. Perhaps our future will be shaped by a combination of both.

ASU and the Arizona Science Center are hosting a public event on the future of energy, from 5-8 p.m., Jan. 24, at the Arizona Science Center IMAX Theater. During this panel discussion, American Public Media reporter Eve Troeh will moderate a former Shell Oil president, a climate scientist, and an environmental filmmaker as we all contemplate and envision sustainable energy options.

This event is hosted through a partnership between Arizona Science Center and Arizona State University. Arizona State University President Michael Crow and Arizona Science Center President and CEO Chevy Humphrey will provide opening remarks.

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The Sustainability Consortium announces new board of directors

Institute Press Releases

January 8, 2013

ARIZONA, USA – January 8, 2012 – The membership of The Sustainability Consortium (TSC) has recently elected new corporate members to our Board of Directors.

During the inaugural board meeting in late January, The Consortium will welcome four new board members representing the corporate members of TSC: Charlene Wall-Warren of BASF, Karen Hamilton of Unilever, Kim Marotta of Miller Coors, and Kevin Rabinovitch of Mars whose organizations have all been members of TSC for over three years. Andrea Thomas, Senior Vice President of Sustainability at Walmart was re-elected for another term.

Kim Marotta, Director of Sustainability for MillerCoors, is responsible for driving and implementing MillerCoors’ sustainability strategy and managing MillerCoors’ responsibility initiatives.

“I am thrilled with the opportunity to collaborate with and learn from the other corporations, researchers, academics, and retailers. The Consortium pulls together some of the best minds in the business and I feel honored to be a member of the board,” said Marotta.

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ASU students to help Mesa create a town square

January 7, 2013

The Jan. 1 issue of the Arizona Republic featured a cooperative project between the City of Mesa and ASU’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning.

Mesa’s mayor Scott Smith envisioned a centrally located, public gathering place in the heart of the city, comparable to the town squares or plazas that exist in many other cities. When a bond election in November provided start-up funding to design the plaza, the city turned to ASU’s planning program for help.

The outcome is a spring 2013 course offering, “Place-making in Mesa,” in which graduate students will work at producing a viable concept for the town square. The course is taught by Senior Sustainability Scientist and School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning Professor David Pijawka.

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Established in 2006, the School of Sustainability’s mission is to educate a new generation of scholars and practitioners and create innovative modes of scholarship by bringing together leaders, stakeholders, and people from multiple disciplines to develop practical solutions to the most pressing sustainability challenges.


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