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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."

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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.

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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."

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Water Environment Federation recognizes sustainability scientist as 2013 Fellow

June 20, 2013

Bruce_Rittmann_smallBruce Rittman, a distinguished sustainability scientist in the Global Institute of Sustainability and the director of ASU's Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology, is a 2013 Water Environment Federation Fellow. He joins 15 other recipients who have made impactful contributions to the water industry and water quality research.

"WEF is very pleased to recognize these truly outstanding water quality professionals," said WEF Executive Director Jeff Eger. "The 2013 Fellows are among the worlds finest in service to water quality, the environment and public health."

Dr. Rittman is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and is well known as developing biofilms used to clean contaminated drinking water. He is a leader in the Membrane Biofilm Reactor project that uses bacteria to get rid of water pollution. As director of the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology, Rittman leads teams investigating renewable bioenergy, biofuels, and human health.

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Solar projects to detour pedestrian traffic on Tempe campus

June 18, 2013

This summer, two PowerParasol solar systems will be installed near the Memorial Union and on the Gammage Parkway medians. The PowerParasol systems are designed by Strategic Solar Energy, the same company who developed the PowerParasol structure over Sun Devil Stadium's parking lot. There will be some pedestrian restrictions near the Memorial Union and at Gammage Parkway, but both projects aim to be completed by November.

“These projects are the first deployment of the PowerParasols over pedestrian space,” said David Brixen, associate vice president for ASU Facilities Development and Management. “They are designed to create the most dramatic pedestrian experience of any campus solar array.”

In all, the projects will consist of 3,096 panels to generate an estimated 1,477,611 kilowatt hours (kWh) of electricity per year.

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Phoenix Business Journal: The greener the business, the more profit

June 17, 2013

George Basile, a senior sustainability scientist in the Global Institute of Sustainability and a professor in the School of Sustainability, recently commented on a study on 1,305 national small businesses that shows a positive correlation between sustainability and profit.

"Businesses are finding that consumers want businesses that are about building a better future," Basile says. "Businesses that have strong sustainability plans tend to do better."

The study found that those businesses who strongly added sustainable practices had higher sales than those who only incorporated some sustainable methods. "Green businesses" are those that are aware of the impact of their decisions and find the environment and local economy very important.

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ASU professor, sustainability scientist named Ecological Society of America fellow

June 17, 2013

Osvaldo Sala, Arizona State University's Julie A. Wrigley Professor of Life Sciences and Sustainability and a Distinguished Sustainability Scientist, joins 17 scientists as an Ecological Society of America 2013 Fellow. The Society's fellows program aims to recognize and support scientists who conduct research in a wide variety of sciences and who serve our society.

"I was surprised and honored when I learned that I had been elected Fellow of the Ecological Society of America," Sala says. "This is the largest ecological society of the world and an organization that groups the brightest and most influential ecologists."

Sala is the third Sustainability Scientist and School of Life Sciences professor elected as a fellow, following Nancy Grimm and Stuart G. Fisher. Sala's research spans ecosystem ecology, biofuels, biodiversity scenarios, and natural resource management.

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Regulation Magazine: What is the Right Price for Carbon Emissions?

June 17, 2013

Bob Litterman, member of The Board of Directors for Sustainability at ASU, investigates pricing carbon emissions in the current edition of "Regulation," an expertise-based magazine published by the Cato Institute.

Litterman explores the idiosyncrasies and probabilities of an unknown future that will face huge impacts of today's energy choices. As a solution, many scientists and economists suggest pricing carbon outputs; essentially, the more carbon you put in the atmosphere, the more you get charged.

However, with the uncertainties surrounding climate change and its impacts shrouding proper tax pricing, no one can really predict how much we should spend today to insure tomorrow's future.

"I believe that given that uncertainty, a cautious approach that weighs the cost of catastrophic outcomes above the potential benefits of hedging future economic growth is justified," Litterman writes. "It would be best to get started immediately by pricing carbon emissions no lower, and perhaps well above, a reasonable estimate of the present value of expected future damages, and allow the price to respond appropriately to new information as it becomes known."

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New York Times: How Phoenix uses water according to ASU scientists

June 17, 2013

Arizona State University scientists and policymakers share their ideas and opinions regarding Arizona's largest city's water conservation and consumption in a recent New York Times article. The article, written by Fernanda Santos, tells a positive story about how a metropolitan region can survive, in fact flourish, in a desert landscape that only gets an average of eight inches of rain per year.

The fact that golf courses are irrigated with graywater, treated wastewater is used in power plants and urban wetlands, and efficient, water-saving technologies used in buildings may be helping Phoenix consume less water than large cities like Los Angeles.

"We’re often maligned as being an unsustainable place simply for existing in an arid climate," said Colin Tetreault, senior policy adviser for sustainability for Mayor Greg Stanton and an ASU School of Sustainability alum. "But that’s just myopic."

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Scholarships aid sustainability students exploring policy and diversity

June 14, 2013

Clean Air Cab, a local sustainable taxi cab company, has awarded two School of Sustainability students with scholarships to fund their education in the upcoming year. Incoming freshman Maria Eller plans to study diversity and sustainability while senior Sean Martin plans to explore sustainable consulting.

"We designed our scholarships to reward individuals who share our same values in conserving our ecology and creating sustainability within their thinking as it pertains to their actions, community projects, and future business structures," says Steve Lopez, founder and owner of Clean Air Cab.

Both Eller and Martin say the scholarship will take some pressure off and allow them to focus more on their studies.

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GreenBiz Group, The Sustainability Consortium, and ASU Global Institute of Sustainability partner on weeklong Sustainability Solutions Festival

Institute Press Releases

June 12, 2013

OAKLAND, Calif. and PHOENIX, Ariz. – June 12, 2013 – GreenBiz Group, The Sustainability Consortium, and the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, a program of the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University, will be coming together for the Sustainability Solutions Festival, a unique and powerful partnership among three leadership institutions.

The three entities have agreed to align interests and audiences as part of the weeklong series of events to be held in Phoenix, February 15-22, 2014. The week will include the 2014 GreenBiz Forum, sustainability-focused innovation fairs, a green "Un-gala" and meetings and workshops for the board and network of The Sustainability Consortium and other events.

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Sustainability Scientist earns environmental education award for water research

June 11, 2013

The AZ Water Association recently awarded Sustainability Scientist and Professor Peter Fox the Nathan Burbank Environmental Educator Award for teaching and mentoring students on the water industry in AZ. Fox is a professor of environmental engineering in the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment, one of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering at Arizona State University.

"Both his work mentoring students and his research on drinking water have greatly benefited the state of Arizona," says Edd Gibson, director of the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment. "He is a great colleague and contributor to our school and the community."

Fox's research interests lie in sustainable water systems, water reuse, and desalination.

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