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ASU Initiatives Delivering on Mission to Solve, Educate, Engage on Sustainability

Arizona State University (ASU) has emerged as a leader in sustainability education in part due to its Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, a series of programs designed to solve global sustainability problems, educate future leaders in sustainability strategies, and engage and inform the public around sustainability issues.

Arizona State University (ASU) has emerged as a leader in sustainability education in part due to its Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, a series of programs designed to solve global sustainability problems, educate future leaders in sustainability strategies, and engage and inform the public around sustainability issues.

A number of success stories have arisen from the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, several of which will be celebrated in a series of 8 videos to be released weekly in our Member News & Views, beginning today.

What were some highlight achievements of 2015, in pursuit of ASU’s vision to “Solve, Educate, and Engage”?

Our Global Sustainability Solutions Services – a consulting service that focuses on the “Solve” portion of our three-part goal - has done some terrific work in partnership with corporations and multilateral agencies to solve issues of water and energy efficiency. Examples of this are a 'green' schools project in Albania where our solutions range from repairing existing systems and insulating buildings to installing renewable-energy design elements and expanding indoor/outdoor facilities. In addition, our Walton Fellows are working on agricultural projects in Ethiopia that involve high-intensity, short-duration grazing for carbon sequestration and water retention. Through a partnership with Dell, our researchers found that the innovative use of information and communication technologies at ASU results in a net positive impact on higher education by increasing access and affordability of undergraduate degrees while lowering the environmental footprint required to produce those degrees.

On the “Educate” front, we are tremendously proud of the graduates of our Executive Master of Sustainability Leadership program. Each graduate has a uniquely impressive story to tell about the effect of this degree program on their careers and their lives. The video that is featured here on the Sustainable Brands website showcases Warren Gorowitz, a sustainability executive for Ewing Irrigation and Landscape Supply, who is just one example of the transformative power of sustainability leadership training. We have also had great success with our Global Sustainability Studies Program, where we have seen a 120 percent increase in students who engage in studying sustainability challenges and approaches across the globe. Since 2013, we have organized 13 courses in 11 countries across five continents for 243 students, 228 for whom we were able to provide scholarship assistance.

In terms of engagement, we engaged 132 middle school teachers from around the country in 2015, the first year of our Walton Sustainability Teachers’ Academy program – and there’s an expanded schedule of national and regional workshops in 2016. The goal of the Academy is to equip teachers with the knowledge and tools they need to inspire and educate their students about sustainability issues, through a curriculum that was designed by sustainability researchers in collaboration with education experts. After they complete the program, these teachers are required to go back to their classroom and not only teach sustainability in the classroom, but also share their newfound sustainability educational tools with fellow teachers in their schools and districts. So the reach and scalability of the Academy is infinite, with both teachers and students becoming agents for change.

What are some of the stand-out projects that ASU students and researchers are working on right now?

Our biggest and most fully developed projects are those involving the circular economy. For example, through the Resource Innovation and Solutions Network, a global network of circular economy hubs that began as a partnership between the Walton Initiatives and the C****ity of Phoenix, we are collaborating on an innovation campus designed to pilot new technologies to harvest feedstock from several cities in the region and transform it into new products. Not only does this divert waste from landfill, it also creates jobs and a better quality of life in the Phoenix area.

What do you think is the biggest contribution universities can make related to sustainability?

I think the most important contribution that universities can make to any of the problems or challenges of sustainability is to foster leadership and innovation. There is no single problem with a single solution that can ensure that 10 billion people live well within the constraints of our planet. It’s the role of a public university to motivate and empower students of all ages to solve today’s problems so that they can face a future that may be radically different from the present. In addition, we can build new capacities, such as our Global Sustainability Solutions Services, which can tap into the deep knowledge of our faculty to work on urgent projects that involve multiple disciplines.

Our Executive Master program is specifically designed to enhance leadership and persuasive communication skills. These are the tools we use throughout ASU – and by extension at our corporate and governmental partners – to move from knowledge to action; this concept pervades our university culture, for both faculty and students. Our purpose is to take the knowledge that comes from rigorous research – the traditional purview of the university – and move from that knowledge to action and innovation. This concept is deep in the DNA and culture of ASU, and it’s one of the reasons that we were recently named America’s Most Innovative University by US News & World Report.

What is coming up in 2016?

Our third annual Sustainability Solutions Festival will take place in February 2016, providing a two-week forum for leaders in sustainability from the worlds of business, education, arts and sciences and even families to exchange ideas and gain inspiration. We will launch our Sustainability in Science Museums Initiative in February as well, with 25 Fellows from 12 countries who will gain the skills they need to engage more museum visitors in sustainability issues. And we will continue our international projects on gender and social equity, urban resources and net positive metrics in countries such as Jordan, Egypt, India and Albania.