News

Scientist studies environmental pros and cons of biofuels

September 29, 2014

landis-biofuelsWith the help of two National Science Foundation (NSF) grants, ASU engineer and sustainability scientist Amy Landis has led biofuel research for the past five years. Her findings indicate that – though a promising way to replace nonrenewable fossil fuels, reduce greenhouse gas emissions and restore degraded soil – biofuel production has its drawbacks.

According to Landis, lands damaged by industrial waste and other pollutants can be sufficiently restored to support the growth of bioenergy crops. As a result, biofuels agriculture could become a significant contributor to soil remediation, land reclamation and natural storm water management. The downside is that many biofuel crops require fertilizers that cause water degradation. Runoff water could then transport these fertilizers to areas where they could do environmental harm.

“However, it’s not all doom and gloom," says Landis. "Our NSF-funded research also developed some creative solutions to utilize abandoned lands and waste materials to produce biofuels.”

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UGEC to advance urban sustainability with new award

September 25, 2014

urban-environmental-sustainabilitySignaling a new chapter in its study of urban systems, the Urbanization and Global Environmental Change (UGEC) project – hosted by ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability – has received a significant award from the Future Earth initiative. The award, supported by a National Science Foundation grant, represents a chance to expand UGEC’s efforts to address urban environmental challenges with sustainable solutions.

UGEC recognizes that urban environments can serve as an excellent source of innovative, sustainable solutions and has dedicated over eight years to uncovering them, primarily by fostering promising research collaborations in the social sciences. The Future Earth award will broaden the initiative to include more of the natural sciences – areas like ecology, climatology and urban health management. This is expected to result in the comprehensive approach required to adequately address urban sustainability challenges.

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Rittmann recognized for leadership in interdisciplinary research

September 25, 2014

In recognition of his outstanding leadership in promoting interdisciplinary research between the microbial ecology and water/wastewater treatment fields, ASU Regents' Professor Bruce Rittmann receives the 2014 ISME/IWA Bio Cluster Award.

Rittman flew across the Atlantic this week to accept the award, of which he is the first winner. The recognition comes jointly from the International Water Association and the International Society of Microbial Ecology.

 

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Study shows cooling potential of urban forests in Phoenix

September 23, 2014

urban-forests-coolASU researchers from the Center for Integrated Solutions to Climate Challenges and Decision Center for a Desert City, in partnership with the City of Phoenix, released a report this summer evaluating the city’s Cool Urban Spaces work. The report, Urban forestry and cool roofs: Assessment of heat mitigation strategies in Phoenix, evaluated two initiatives to reduce temperatures in Phoenix: the Phoenix Cool Roofs project and the Tree and Shade Master Plan.

The urban heat island, or increased temperatures in cities relative to surrounding areas, is a significant problem in Phoenix and a priority for scientists and city officials alike. According to the study, increasing tree canopy is an effective way to cool city infrastructure, thereby mitigating the urban heat island effect. In fact, the study found that increasing tree canopy cover from the current level of about 10 percent to 25 percent could reduce the temperature of a typical Phoenix neighborhood by 4.3 degrees Fahrenheit.

Though cool roofs alone had limited impact, researchers found that they added to the cooling effect when combined with trees. City officials will use these findings to guide future urban heat mitigation efforts.

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World’s largest product sustainability initiatives join forces in Berlin

September 19, 2014

summits2014Product sustainability is a complex issue with wide-reaching implications for businesses, consumers, society and the planet. Both The Sustainability Consortium® (TSC®) and the Product Environmental Footprint (PEF) World Forum have been working within their spheres of influence to assess, improve and communicate the sustainability of products. Now, the two organizations are joining forces at a combined summit meeting to address supply chain hotspots.

The meeting - taking place in the heart of Berlin later this month - will attract attendees from corporations, NGOs, governments and civil society organizations. Representatives from companies like Hewlett-Packard, Procter & Gamble and Walmart will collaborate on shared solutions to the issues of product sustainability. They will explore topics such as the identification and management of environmental and social hotspots in supply chains, making biodiversity relevant to business, and the trade implications of environmental footprinting.

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ASU sustainability scientist receives national solar energy award

September 17, 2014

Reddy-Solar-Energy-AwardArizona State University professor and sustainability scientist T. Agami Reddy has been named the 2014 Yellott Award recipient by the Solar Energy Division of the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME). According to ASME, Reddy was selected for “his dedicated and productive research career in solar thermal energy and energy efficiency in buildings, for his dedication to train(ing) students in energy sustainability, and for his extensive service and leadership to the ASME Solar Energy Division." Reddy is also a founding chair of ASME’s Conference on Energy Sustainability.

The highest of the Solar Energy Division, the Yellott Award honors the division’s first chair, professor John Yellott. It serves to recognize significant contributions to solar energy engineering through research, publication and education. The award was presented to Reddy -  its 11th recipient to date - during the 8th International Conference on Energy Sustainability, held in Boston.

“This ASME award is especially precious to me,” Reddy says, “since professor Yellott was a faculty member in The Design School and co-founded the Master of Science in the Built Environment program. I feel deeply honored to be the recipient of this award.”

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Sustainability alum is geared for a greater good

September 15, 2014

brelsford-sustainability-alumLast week, School of Sustainability alumna Christa Brelsford represented her country at the Paraclimbing World Championships in Spain where she dominated her division. Recognizing that participating in the competition is a privilege, Brelsford tied her international appearance to an online fundraiser for the less fortunate called Christa Climbs for Haiti.

If you spend any time with Brelsford, who graduated this summer with a doctoral degree from the School of Sustainability, you'll get the sense that this is a supremely practical person who is guided by a strong sense of self and innate desire to do good in the world. That's what Matt Lauer found when he interviewed Brelsford the TODAY show after she was badly injured during the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, where she had been working on an adult literacy project.

The newly crowned climbing world champion returns home following her competition abroad, but her mission remains unchanged.

"My biggest goal in life is to use careful thought to do good in the world," says Brelsford. "I was in Haiti to learn how to help, and I research and study sustainability for the same reason."

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Sustainability education is increasingly desired in business world

September 15, 2014

Sustainability-Education-BusinessA recent article published in Environmental Leader discusses the importance of a graduate degree in sustainability. Citing experts from both the business and higher education worlds, the article shows that environmental management has become synonymous with economic benefit. As a result, businesses are increasingly tasking employees with sustainability-related projects, making those with a sustainability education more competitive in today's job market.

The article illustrates this point with several quotes from Arizona State University President Michael Crow.

"Those who haven’t been trained (in sustainability) become overwhelmed by the demand to merge new and emerging needs and ideas with traditional systems and strategies," says Crow. "Often they have trouble stating the sustainability business case to decision-makers. Sustainability leaders know how to take this new reality and use it to inform overall strategy, innovation, investment, engagement and, ultimately, company success."

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New study maps global greenhouse gas emissions

September 11, 2014

Carbon MapsAn international research team, led by sustainability scientist Kevin Gurney, has developed a new approach to estimating CO2 emissions from burning fossil fuels. Called the “Fossil Fuel Data Assimilation System,” or FFDAS, this new system was used to quantify 15 years of CO2 emissions, every hour, for the entire planet – down to the city scale. Until now, scientists have estimated greenhouse gas emissions using less reliable techniques.

The FFDAS uses information from satellite feeds, national fuel accounts and a new global database on power plants to create high-resolution planetary maps. These maps provide a scientific, independent assessment of the planet’s greenhouse gas emissions. They represent an approach that the public can understand and that policymakers - who face multiple barriers in their efforts to address greenhouse gas emissions - can use.

“With this system, we are taking a big step toward creating a global monitoring system for greenhouse gases, something that is needed as the world considers how best to meet greenhouse gas reductions,” said Gurney. “Now we can provide all countries with detailed information about their CO2 emissions and show that independent, scientific monitoring of greenhouse gases is possible.”

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2015 Sustainability Solutions Festival aims to reimagine world

September 10, 2014

Sustainability-Solutions-FestivalFollowing the success of the inaugural festival last February, GreenBiz Group, The Sustainability Consortium and Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives are collaborating again. The three leading sustainability organizations will pool their networks, expertise and audiences at the 2015 Sustainability Solutions Festival - a series of events taking place in Phoenix, Feb. 16-22. The festival is anchored by the annual GreenBiz Forum, Feb. 17-19, which attracts more than 600 sustainable business executives from around the world.

This year’s theme, “(re)imagine,” challenges attendees to envision a better future through a deeper understanding of how each person, community and organization can drive change at a global scale. It will feature activities for audiences of all ages, including a film festival.

“The Sustainability Solutions Festival provides an opportunity for students, professionals and community members to participate in innovative and inspiring programs that show how to align the interests of business, society and the environment,” said Joel Makower, chairman and executive editor of GreenBiz Group, and host of the GreenBiz Forum. “It is rapidly becoming one of nation’s most important gathering of ideas and talent showing the way to a prosperous, secure and sustainable world.”

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Ecologist explains groundbreaking research on river ecosystems

September 9, 2014

Sabo-Fish-ConservationCommentary from John Sabo, sustainability scientist and director of research development at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, was recently featured in the Proceedings of the National Academies of Sciences. In the commentary, Sabo - whose work often investigates the effects of climate change on water ecosystems - breaks down research from Ohio State University scientist Kristen Jaeger and her colleagues.

By incorporating knowledge on how fish move, Jaegar's team determined that - as sections of rivers diminish - it is increasingly likely that fish will be isolated by the dry patches and unable to move beyond them.

"This approach to measuring habitat fragmentation in intermittent rivers is the first of its kind and will be immediately relevant and extendable to rivers across the U.S. Sun Belt and in parts of the Corn Belt, where drought prevails regularly," notes Sabo in his commentary. "This paper is groundbreaking, not just because it achieves a great synthesis of climate, surface water hydrology and ecology, but also because it opens up possibilities for further innovation."

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Scientists receive NSF support for sustainability research

September 4, 2014

NSF-Supports-Sustainability-ResearchDemonstrating the caliber of research that the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability supports, four members of its Sustainability Scientists and Scholars program recently received substantial awards from the National Science Foundation. The awards, which total more than $5 million, will support a range of research activities.

Sustainability scientists Hallie Eakin, Charles Perrings, Becky Ball and Thomas Seager each serve as the principle investigator of an awarded project. From reducing vulnerability in urban environments like Mexico city, to analyzing how Antarctic soil communities respond to environmental changes, their projects will yield research significant to sustainability. Several of the projects, like one aimed at improving strategies to decrease the spread of trade-related diseases, will do so using sophisticated modeling tools.

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US Secretary of Agriculture speaks on 'homegrown energy'

September 4, 2014

Vilsack-EnergyDuring his recent Sustainability Series presentation at ASU's Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack discussed the U.S. farming industry's shift to renewable energy. Vilsack shared that, according to the 2012 Census of Agriculture, the number of farmers and ranchers transitioning to renewable energy has doubled since 2007. In fact,  solar panels accounted for nearly two-thirds of farms' energy-producing systems.

“The U.S. Department of Agriculture is partnering with the U.S. Departments of Defense and Energy to reduce our reliance on fossil fuels and diversify our portfolio of biofuels and other renewable energy sources,” Vilsack said. “We are also engaging with universities like ASU to explore innovative solutions for challenges related to energy, food and sustainability.”

Vilsack also emphasized how developing a deeper understanding of agriculture's role in the future of energy, innovation and economic growth, particularly in rural areas, will be key to addressing global sustainability challenges.

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ASU students analyze urban sustainability policy in Hong Kong

September 2, 2014

Hong Kong - Sustainability StudentsThrough the Global Sustainability Studies Program, one of the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, 15 ASU students completed an urban sustainability policy course at Hong Kong's City University. The ASU students, all enrolled in the School of Sustainability, worked alongside Chinese students throughout the rigorous, two-week course co-taught by Professor Rob Melnick.

Students attended lectures every morning and participated in field trips in the afternoons, enabling them to see the city - one of over 7 million people in under 430 square miles. They shared their research and experience at a recent Sustainability Series presentation.

“Hong Kong was fascinating to me because of its density and the fact that it’s facing the sustainability challenges of the future right now,” said Melissa Davidson, a graduate student in the School of Sustainability’s Master’s of Sustainable Solutions. “Hong Kong-like density is going to continue to dominate our world’s major cities. Understanding the problems in a different context is going to help us as future sustainability scientists to be better equipped to deal with the problems we’re all going to face eventually.”

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Corporate sustainability expert joins The Sustainability Consortium

August 27, 2014

tsc_ceo_sheila_bonini_head_shot_webSheila Bonini, an expert in corporate sustainability, has been appointed CEO of The Sustainability Consortium® (TSC). Having served as senior expert consultant and co-leader of McKinsey & Company's Sustainability Transformation Service for more than 15 years, she brings extensive experience in the field. Bonini also joins the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability community of Sustainability Scientists and Scholars.

TSC, a unit of ASU's Wrigley Institute, is a signature public-private partnership focused on consumer product sustainability. It was co-founded in 2009 by ASU and the University of Arkansas to develop a new scientific approach to measuring the sustainability of consumer products. This resulted in the development of the Product Sustainability Toolkit, which helps businesses to identify improvement opportunities in design, supply chain and purchasing. Today, the number of TSC member organizations exceeds 90 and includes some of the largest consumer product companies in the world.

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Dirks appointed to State Energy Advisory Board

August 27, 2014

gary_dirks_photo_april_2013Continuing ASU's tradition of shaping Arizona’s energy future, Gary Dirks - director of LightWorks, the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability and the Algae Testbed Public-Private Partnership (ATP3) - has been named a member of Governor Jan Brewer’s State Energy Advisory Board. Established as part of the governor’s 2014 Executive Order adopting the state’s Master Energy Plan, the new board will help to ensure that Arizona's energy industry remains reliable, secure and affordable in the long-term.

Through Dirks' leadership, ASU has been involved in a number of projects that shape our energy future both in Arizona and across the globe. This year, along with numerous ASU partners, Dirks was instrumental in the creation of the Renewable Energy Leadership Training Program. The program provides strategic workshops on, and opportunities to assist with, energy transitions in various nations. This allows both ASU and participating nations to gain valuable insight into the complexities of such transitions. The first session included participants from Palestine, with additional projects forthcoming in both Albania and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

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Rebecca Tsosie: Thought Leader Series

August 25, 2014

tsosie_2011Rebecca Tsosie is a senior sustainability scientist and Regents' Professor of Law at Arizona State University. In this essay, she examines sustainability policies and practices as they relate to Indigenous peoples, and illustrates why placing Indigenous peoples at the center of sustainability studies is a valuable approach.