Students: New School of Sustainability courses

July 18, 2013

In 2012, the United Nations Environment Programme published a report stating that within the next two decades, the world could see up to 60 million new jobs within the sustainability sector. To help students prepare for this change, the School of Sustainability is introducing new courses this fall that cover the social, economic, and environmental aspects of sustainability.

New courses include:

SOS 394: Energy Policy
SOS 394: Greenhouse Gas Emissions Inventory
SOS 494: Sustainability and Social and Family Welfare
SOS 498: Sustainability Short-Form Documentary


Green Living Magazine: Learning about LightWorks

July 17, 2013

In the July issue of Green Living magazine, contributor Cheryl Hurd talks with Gary Dirks, the new director of ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability and of ASU's LightWorks. So-called "light-inspired" research takes place at LightWorks, including solar power, clean fuel, and photosynthesis.

"When we talk about solar in the context of LightWorks, we don’t just mean solar panels," says Dirks. "There are a range of technologies, some for generating electrons and some for generating fuel. LightWorks is very much about solar-based energy but not simply photovoltaics."

Dirks also says Arizona has "fantastic solar energy" and LightWorks plans to implement more outreach and educational programs to promote solar use throughout the state.


Slate: Why don't farmers believe in climate change?

July 16, 2013

In a Future Tense article, David Biello explores the reasoning behind American farmers' climate change disbelief. Most farmers in the U.S. are affected by the changing weather, however, they don't view it as a by-product of climate change, rather something that has been happening since the dawn of time.

It's too bad; farming is the second-largest contributor to climate change, with the increased use of fossil-fueled equipment and nitrous oxide-filled fertilizers. But there has been a shift to more fuel-efficient machinery and low-impact farming techniques not because of climate change, but because of money.

"It's cheaper to farm that way, and you still get the same type of crop, if not a bit better," says Oregon wheat farmer Kevin McCullough.

Future Tense is a collaboration among Arizona State University, the New America Foundation, and Slate.


Wiek: Sustainability science of the future will move beyond descriptions to solutions

July 15, 2013

ArnimWiek_1035School of Sustainability associate professor Arnim Wiek and his international colleagues were recognized by the journal “Sustainability Science” for their paper, From complex systems analysis to transformational change: a comparative appraisal of sustainability science projects, which the journal called its Paper of the Year for 2012.

“Science in general,” says Wiek, “is largely dominated by describing and explaining the world, and only little inspired by transforming the world. The question is then: How do sustainability scientists move from ‘only’ describing and analyzing sustainability problems to actually contributing to sustainable solutions?”

“The article shows that it is not easy to do solution-focused research, and it explores some of the reasons for this,” says Wiek. “We cannot just continue doing research we used to do – describing and explaining the world – and hope that the results will lead to real impact and progress towards sustainability.”


ASU-led algae cooperation to host algae workshop Aug. 19-23

July 12, 2013

The Algae Testbed Public-Private Partnership (ATP3), a project led by Arizona State University and the U.S. Department of Energy, will be part of the second algae training workshop on the University of Texas at Austin’s campus.

"We are excited to spread the wealth of knowledge that ATP3 has as a collaboration," says Gary Dirks, director of ATP3, ASU LightWorks, and the ASU Global Institute of Sustainability.

The informal workshops are open to students, researchers, and faculty interested in algae formation, cultivation, and research. Algae experts will lead modules on culture monitoring, sample collection, chemical composition, and growth measurement. To sign up, visit The program fee is $1,600 and includes training, materials and three lunches.


CNN: Commemorating 100 years since the world's hottest temperature

July 12, 2013

Wednesday, July 10th marked the 100th anniversary of Earth's hottest temperature—recorded in Death Valley, California at 134 degrees Fahrenheit. Senior Sustainability Scientist in the Global Institute of Sustainability Randy Cerveny celebrated with fellow weather experts at the Furnace Creek Visitor Center and Museum in Death Valley.

"I was really happy looking out in that auditorium as we spoke," said Cerveny, also a President's Professor in the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. "There were a lot of weather tourists who are very interested in this."

Cerveny was part of the World Meteorological Organization team that re-certified Death Valley's record after investigating a falsely recorded highest temperature in El Azizia, Libya.


USA Today: Will thirsty Phoenix survive climate change?

July 11, 2013

Phoenix's long battle to supply its growing population with enough water is discussed in an article part of USA Today's "Weathering the Change" series. Phoenix, the fifth-largest city in the U.S., joins other Southwest cities like Los Angeles, Las Vegas and San Diego that are preparing for dwindling water supplies due to climate change.

Arizona state climatologist and Sustainability Scientist Nancy Selover says, "Water is our biggest issue. You can never have enough water." The most recent National Climate Assessment shows that Phoenix's drought has been "unusually severe."

We've sustained ourselves for so long thanks to the Colorado, Salt, and Verde Rivers and underground water. However, increasing temperatures pose health risks, especially for the elderly, homeless, and underprivileged.


Fast Company: Tracking emissions with the Ventus Project

July 11, 2013

In a Co.EXIST article by Stan Alcorn, Arizona State University researcher Kevin Gurney discusses his tool, the Ventus Project, an online portal that allows everyday citizens to record nearby carbon-emitting power plants.

People around the globe can identify power plants and then input data like location and name into Ventus. About 90 percent of carbon emissions from power plants is recorded, but that other 10 percent is what Gurney's team is after.

"We try to do this ourselves in Google Earth and it can be done," says Gurney. "It’s just so unbelievably labor intensive; it’s like looking for a needle in a haystack."


Sustainability students experience cultural, corporate contexts from leaders in Dubai

July 8, 2013

As one of four study abroad experiences offered by the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives’ Global Sustainability Studies Program this summer, School of Sustainability students joined several professors in Dubai to meet His Excellency Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansouri, the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) Minister of Economy.

There, the students discussed tourism, governance, economics, and other local issues with His Excellency and several regional industry and business leaders.

"The students learned how to behave in a different culture and in the presence of high-ranking officials," says David Manuel-Navarrete, a senior sustainability scholar in the Global Institute of Sustainability and a professor in the School of Sustainability. "The Emiratis we encountered provided a lot of insight and personal experience for the students."


Juggling solutions, experts is all in a day's work for sustainability grad

July 8, 2013

Rajesh Buch, a practice lead with Sustainability Solutions Extension Service under the  Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, graduated from the School of Sustainability last year. He is now applying his background in mechanical engineering, energy systems, and business in the Extension Service, a unique consulting group that pairs student analysts with faculty members who guide sustainability projects.

As a practice lead, Buch organizes the student groups and collaborates with the faculty to implement projects such as greenhouse gas inventories, waste recycling programs, and biofuel evaluations.

"Sustainability is a way to correct our way of developing," he says. "We can start by taking baby steps. I contribute by assisting those private and public organizations that are willing to recognize the importance of sustainability."


The Guardian: How can sustainability leaders be successful?

July 2, 2013

"Our world is on a collision course with environmental realities and we're quickly running out of runway to take meaningful corrective action," writes Bruno Sarda in an article published in the Guardian's Sustainable Business section. Plenty of leaders have told us how to alleviate climate change, but yet we still go day by day making no change. So what do we need? Sarda says leadership.

Sarda, the director of Global Sustainability Operations at Dell and a consultant for the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, says true sustainability leaders can enact change if their plans are long-term; aligned with the strategy of a company or organization. Deliberate action will come from set goals co-administered by leaders and participants.

"Our world needs a 'shock and awe' campaign executed by highly trained sustainability warriors who can effectively lead change, set strategy and execute on goals, be awesome communicators and keep up with a rapidly evolving global context," writes Sarda.


AZ Central: Sustainability scientist says AZ can replace coal with solar

July 1, 2013

smoke-stack-pollutionIn an AZ Central opinion article, Senior Sustainability Scientist and School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning professor Mike Pasqualetti reflects how the Navajo Generating Station is a larger symbol for our growing dislike of coal. The Navajo Generating Station, located near Page, has been a heated topic since its future has been up for discussion with tribal nations, energy providers, and the Environmental Protection Agency. Will it close or be retrofitted?

"Coal is also losing momentum nationally," writes Pasqualetti. "It dropped from 50 percent in 2005 to 35 percent in 2012, driven by cheap natural gas. Fifty-two gigawatts (about 16 percent of the existing coal fleet) has been announced for retirement by 2025."

If Arizona is to keep coal, the state has to find a way to severely cut emissions and compete with growing renewable and natural gas markets.


Researchers discover global warming may affect microbe survival

June 27, 2013

Arizona State University researchers will be featured on the cover of the June 28 edition of Science for their work in studying what most people ignore: dirt.

The international team funded by the National Science Foundation and led by School of Life Sciences professor Ferran Garcia-Pichel found that temperature determines where soil microbes can live and form crusts that prevent erosion and provide energy for surrounding vegetation. Unfortunately, the scientist say that in 50 years, higher temperatures due to climate change may change the abundance of different microbes in colder U.S. deserts with unknown consequences.

"Our study is relevant beyond desert ecology," says Garcia-Pichel. "It exemplifies that microbial distributions and the partitioning of their habitats can be affected by global change, something we’ve long known for plants and animals. This study tells us clearly that we can no longer neglect microbes in our considerations."


The breathing ocean: Reducing the effects of climate change

June 27, 2013

Normally, the Earth maintains a balance of carbon outputs and inputs. However, since the Industrial Revolution, we've been putting more carbon into the atmosphere than Earth can handle.

Luckily, the ocean absorbs a quarter to a third of our carbon outputs. Part of that comes from really small algae called phytoplankton that turn carbon dioxide into oxygen. When ocean animals eat phytoplankton, they eventually pass fecal pellets, some of which sink to the deep ocean and may even get buried in the sea floor, effectively removing CO2 from the atmosphere.

This is "the only mechanism that can actually permanently bury organic carbon," says Susanne Neuer, a plankton ecologist in ASU ‘s School of Life Sciences and a senior sustainability scientist at the Global Institute of Sustainability. "The carbon is buried on geological time scales, so that’s gone for a very long time."

Oceanographer Neuer is studying this process and phytoplankton's role in climate change mitigation in her lab with undergraduate and graduate student researchers.


Top 10 new species list turns into book of top 100

June 26, 2013

On average, 18,000 new species are discovered each year. Senior Sustainability Scientist Quentin Wheeler and his colleague Sara Pennak recognize the top 10 of these species each year in their Top 10 New Species List. In the past, these new organisms have included night-blooming orchids, glow-in-the-dark cockroaches, kite-shaped jellyfish, and sneezing monkeys.

These lists are now compiled in a new book, "What On Earth? 100 of Our Planet’s Most Amazing New Species" by Wheeler and Pennak.

"One thing that makes us human is our innate curiosity about ourselves, our origins, and our place in the universe," says Wheeler. "A critically important part of the answer lies in the complex story of evolution. As we piece together the history of Earth’s species, we begin to appreciate our status as a species within evolutionary history."


Planetizen: Second edition of 'New Urbanism' outlines city, environmental restoration

June 25, 2013

Looking over green treetops toward downtown PhoenixMcGraw-Hill Professional introduces the second edition of "Charter of the New Urbanism," a seminal book originally published in 1999 that covered the urban sprawl issue. Senior Sustainability Scientist and School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning professor Emily Talen edited the second edition.

Urban and suburban landscapes have certainly changed since 1999, and the new edition boasts up-to-date case studies, plans, and examples for design professionals, architects, developers, planners, officials, and community members. The book aims to educate on how we can "conserve environmental assets and preserve our built legacy."

Emily Talen is also a professor in the School of Sustainability. She is the director of the Phoenix Urban Research Lab (PURL) at ASU and co-editor of the Journal of Urbanism.


Diagnosing the Impact of Sustainable Solutions

Thought Leader Series

June 25, 2013

A Thought Leader Series Piece

patti-reiterBy Patricia Reiter

Note: As the Director of the newly established Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, Patricia Reiter is responsible for overseeing the success and impact of eight programs that use evidence-based knowledge to deliver solutions to today's complex sustainability issues.

On occasion, Arizona State University (ASU) President Michael M. Crow draws similarities between the fields of medicine and sustainability. ASU Senior Sustainability Scientist and United Nations Champion of the Earth Sander van der Leeuw developed the idea further in a diagram (see below) that describes the domain of medicine as the health of the individual in relationship to their environment and the domain of sustainability as the health of societies interacting with their environment. This analogy between medicine and sustainability is useful in explaining the intent of the ASU Global Institute of Sustainability's Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives.

Continue Reading »

Real-life research applications enhance ASU sustainability education

June 24, 2013

Katja Brundiers, ASU's School of Sustainability community-university liaison, led educational sessions at Portland State University's Institute for Sustainable Solutions Living Learning Lab workshop. Teams of university administration, facilities, and education members developed their own ideas of a Living Learning Lab on their campus—a place where research turns into campus and community projects that improve sustainability.

"We took a very outcome-oriented approach and facilitated conversations among the three key groups that were represented in the room—faculty, operations and students," Brundiers said. "Some universities were small, some were big, and all were at different levels of developing their Living Learning Labs."

The workshop was presented by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) and drew attendees from national universities including Penn State and University of California, Santa Cruz.


The Guardian: 97% of climate science papers agree global warming is man-made

June 21, 2013

A team of citizen science volunteers from Skeptical Science surveyed over 12,000 peer-reviewed climate science papers finding that over 97% of those papers agreed that humans were the cause of climate change.

The survey expanded on climate scientist Naomi Oreskes' survey of 928 peer-reviewed climate papers published between 1993 and 2003 that also showed the same majority ruling. Naomi Oreskes visited the Global Institute of Sustainability in April to speak at the Institute's Wrigley Lecture Series on the spread of climate change denial.

The survey by Skeptical Science also showed that consensus has grown slowly over time between 1991 and 2011. Surveys like the ones from Oreskes and Skeptical Science can help alleviate the misconceptions behind climate change and lead to more informed decisions and behavior.


National Science Foundation: Our impact on urban heat islands

June 21, 2013

Photo courtesy of NSF Central-Arizona Phoenix LTER site

A recent article part of the National Science Foundation's Science, Engineering and Education for Sustainability (SEES) investment highlights urban heat island research by ASU's Central Arizona-Phoenix Long-Term Ecological Research (CAP LTER) and several sustainability scientists.

With triple-digit summers, Phoenix is well known for its urban heat island effect—when temperatures in urban cities are significantly higher than rural communities due to the increased use of materials like asphalt and concrete that re-radiate heat.

"It's all due to the effects of humans," says Sharon Harlan, a senior sustainability scientist in the Global Institute of Sustainability, an assistant professor in the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, and a researcher in NSF's Coupled Natural and Human Systems grant. "We've modified the surface of the land in ways that retain heat."

CAP LTER scientists found that temperatures were significantly lower under tree canopies in green parks—what they call a "microclimate ecosystem service," or what we call shade. This could be a way to counteract the urban heat island effect in cities.