School of Sustainability News

Sustainable Consumption: Creating Standards to Deliver Better Products

Thought Leader Series

February 27, 2013

A Thought Leader Series Piece

By Kara Hurst

Note: Kara Hurst is the CEO of The Sustainability Consortium (TSC), a joint initiative between Arizona State University and the University of Arkansas that is working to develop science-based tools for measuring and reporting consumer product sustainability.

By almost any measure, global consumption is growing rapidly. Yet many businesses still struggle to produce sustainable products, and most consumers don’t know how to identify and differentiate them. The result is: we continue to waste valuable natural resources, compromise ecosystems, and threaten human health.

Businesses and consumers desperately need a better system for assessing the sustainability of consumer products. To be viable, the system must be one that businesses can trust and consumers can easily apply to make informed decisions.

Such an assessment system must also be rigorously science-based, simple to understand, and fully transparent. And it must earn the buy-in of a vast cross-section of corporations, watchdog organizations, and governments.

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Engaging in science through art

February 27, 2013

A photographer captures a moment. An ecologist collects data over the course of many years. The work of each shapes our understanding.

How might our understanding change if the artist and the scientist studied the same subject together? Researchers with Arizona State University’s Central Arizona – Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research (CAP LTER) project, funded by the National Science Foundation, felt this was a collaboration worth pursuing.

The fruit of this collaboration – and 38 others like it – will be displayed at an upcoming exhibit, “Ecological Reflections,” opening Feb. 28, in Arlington, Va., at the National Science Foundation.

Featured in the exhibit is the work of artist Edgar Cardenas, a doctoral student in ASU’s School of Sustainability.

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National Wildlife Federation names ASU programs to its Best Green Campus Projects of 2012

February 26, 2013

Colleges and communities looking to implement sustainability programs can find inspiration from case studies. Two Arizona State University programs were recently added to the National Wildlife Federation’s searchable Campus Ecology database, which includes case studies of exemplary sustainability programs from across the United States and Canada.

Programs featured in the database provide fresh ideas and best practices for campus sustainability. Among the best ideas for 2012 were ASU’s Farmers Market @ the ASU Tempe campus and its Sustainable Cities Network. The two programs join seven other ASU case studies featured over the past 10 years.

As a 2011-2012 selection in the Farming and Gardening category, the Farmers Market @ the ASU Tempe campus case study provides a shining example for other colleges and universities looking to implement campus farmers markets. The Sustainable Cities Network, an initiative started by ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability, is a 2011-2012 selection for Environmental Education or Outreach.

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Researchers explore sustainable tourism opportunities in Burma

February 26, 2013

A team of researchers from ASU’s School of Community Resources and Development is examining strategies to support Burma in efforts to increase the involvement of local communities in the tourism value chain, contribute to the local economy and impact poverty reduction among local citizens.

Burmese democracy advocate Zin Mar Aung met with Jonathan Koppell, dean of the College of Public Programs, and faculty experts in sustainable tourism Feb. 15 to discuss ways in which university partnerships can build momentum toward eco-tourism in Burma.

“Strategic public-private partnerships that aid in addressing human rights issues and finding solutions for the aging infrastructure and shortage in hotels and guest rooms in the area could provide an important first step toward developing a sustainable and socially responsible tourism sector within the country,” said Kathleen Andereck, director of the School of Community Resources and Development and senior sustainability scientist.

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ASU faculty member named 2013 Leopold Fellow

February 26, 2013

John Sabo, an associate professor in ASU’s School of Life Sciences and director of Research Development at ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability, has been named a 2013 Leopold Leadership Fellow.

Sabo’s research is geared towards understanding the sustainable management of water resources for humans and biodiversity. Most of his work focuses on riparian and river ecology. Sabo also has projects that examine the effects of dams on energy flow through aquatic food webs.

“I’m hoping that the Leopold training will allow me to develop a new repertoire of research that has greater policy relevance including solutions-oriented analyses about how water shortage and scarcity can be alleviated in both developed and developing nations,” Sabo said.

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ASU's newest research building achieves LEED Gold certification

February 25, 2013

The U.S. Green Building Council has awarded Arizona State University’s newest research center, Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV (ISTB 4), with LEED certification at the Gold level – making it ASU’s largest LEED certified research building.

“The entire project team worked together throughout design and construction to make ISTB 4 a high-performance building that met its sustainability goals,” said sustainable designer Matthew Cunha-Rigby. “The building had a complex, energy intensive program; and to be able to reduce expected energy use by almost half is a testament to the work of everyone involved in the project. This reaffirms that we have the ability to make well-designed, energy efficient buildings without significant impacts to the project. ISTB 4 demonstrates ASU’s leadership in campus sustainability and its commitment to a better future.”

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ASU, Australian Solar Institute collaborate on projects to advance solar energy solutions

February 25, 2013

As part of a global cause to bolster solar power technologies, Arizona State University researchers are taking part in three new solar energy projects funded by the Australian and U.S. governments. The investment for these projects includes $68 million for two, eight-year research programs and $15.5 million for 11 collaborative projects.

“ASU is delighted to join Australian and U.S. researchers on the development of solar energy technologies and projects to spur innovation and identify solutions to global energy challenges,” said Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, senior vice president of ASU’s Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development. “This collaborative initiative will accelerate renewable energy research and help reduce solar electricity costs by increasing the speed of development of related technologies.”

Senior Sustainability Scientists Christiana Honsberg and Ellen Stechel are lead investigators on two projects.

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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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