ASU is all-in for sustainablity

This fall, another 150 students joined the School of Sustainability as majors and graduate students. In total, 2,000 students are enrolled in sustainability programs at ASU this fall. The School of Sustainability is committed to offering education to students in sustainability no matter what their major. This can range from a single course, such as the ever-popular Introduction to Sustainability, to concentrations, certificates, a minor, and double majors. We have also developed a very robust executive education and training program, one that links the expertise of our world class faculty to growing needs for sustainability training in the private, public, and non-profits sectors.

The reason we can reach all these audiences is because ASU is an “all-in” university when it comes to sustainability. And because ASU is a large, research-intensive organization, we can draw on the talent pool of 415 Sustainability Scientists and Scholars to tackle almost any sustainability question.

Our students benefit hugely from the sustainability expertise that has been fostered at ASU over the last dozen years. Over the next decade we will continue to engage globally by bringing students to ASU from around the world, in person and virtually through our excellent online programs. Last year we launched ASU’s first joint degree program with a foreign institution. With the MS in Global Sustainability Science students earn a degree from ASU and from Leuphana University of Luneburg, Germany. ASU and Leuphana students spend a semester abroad at each other’s university and work together on sustainability projects.

We have also created a global consortium of universities and research institutes focused on sustainability outcomes. The purpose is to work together to scale solutions to have a global impact.

All of these efforts are centered on our most important mission–educating students to develop practical solutions to the most pressing sustainability challenges. As we welcome another fabulous group of students to ASU, I share their excitement about the years ahead, what we will learn together, and how we will build a better future.

Photo from Camp SOS, Prescott AZ, Aug 2016
New School of Sustainability students at orientation camp in the cool pines of Prescott, AZ.

Anytime, anywhere education to tackle sustainability deficit

IMG_1862I have written elsewhere about the sustainability deficit, and what we and our graduates are doing to fill it. Data from our alumni surveys show that the demand for sustainability graduates is strong and growing. At ASU, the university is committed to offering sustainability education in as many formats as possible, from majors and graduate programs, to minors, concentrations, and certificates. At the end of last academic year, more than 1,700 students were enrolled in sustainability programs at ASU. Next year, I expect that enrollment to top 2,000.

Over the last 10 years, ASU and the School of Sustainability have become a world leader in sustainability education, research, and outreach. My goal is to make this expertise available to as many students as possible, regardless of what time zone they occupy or time constraints they face.

This past year, we launched the Master of Sustainability Leadership degree fully online. This was designed by sustainability faculty and practitioners to equip ambitious, dedicated individuals with the knowledge and skills necessary to drive sustainability in a variety of private, public, and non-profit institutions, as well as the military.  We also launched fully online BA and BS degrees in Sustainability, programs that are internationally renowned as the gold standard. In addition to allowing students to take their degrees anytime, anywhere, the other purpose of the online offerings is to engage voices and experiences from around the world. Ultimately, sustainability is a global issue. I want students in the United States to interact with students from around the globe, to learn from one another, create bonds of friendship, and find ways to build a better future together that takes into account the diversity of needs and aspiration of people everywhere.

The world needs more sustainability graduates and we are dedicated to meeting that need. Think about what role you want to play in building a better, more sustainable future.


Sustainability degree at the Polytechnic Campus

asu_poly_campusI am very pleased to announce that the School of Sustainability is now established at the ASU Polytechnic Campus! Located in Mesa, AZ and the fast growing East Valley, the beautiful Polytechnic campus provides a small campus feel with a student-centered mission. Starting this fall, students can pursue the Bachelor of Arts and Bachelor of Science in Sustainability at the Poly campus. Also available is the option to earn two degrees at the same time–the Bachelor of Arts in Sustainability and Bachelor of Science in Supply Chain Management from the WP Carey School of Business–by enrolling in the concurrent degree. The Sustainability minor, the sustainable food systems certificate, the sustainable energy certificate, and the Sustainability concentration in Business are also available to Poly students.

The Polytechnic campus has some unique offerings that will be especially attractive to Sustainability students: a world-class maker space, one of the country’s largest algae test beds and renewable energy labs, an agribusiness school, a degree that educates students for careers in environmental and resource management, and plans to develop a sustainable community near the campus’ international airport. Also in the works is the first integrated food-water-energy certificate at ASU exclusively for the Poly campus.

I am very pleased that the School of Sustainability has another home at the ASU Polytechnic campus. I encourage you to reach out to one of our advisors to find out more about the program. I look forward to welcoming sustainability students at Poly this fall!



10 Years On

10_yrsUnless you slept through it, which would have been very difficult given the noise and commotion, you know that we recently celebrated 10 years as a school. Because 10 is the base of the decimal numeral system (likely because we have 10 fingers on our hands), it is a special number in human culture, and one that invites celebration.

In the 10th anniversary logo, you may also have noticed that 1-0 stood for One World. This was meant as a unifying theme—we need to think of ourselves as members of a global community. It was also meant as a limiting theme – we have only one planet and we can’t break it since there are no other Earths to escape to.

The purpose of the 10th anniversary was to celebrate accomplishments and to demonstrate that sustainability is a principle that pervades all that we do at ASU. But I also called for us to think about how to expand our impact – to demonstrate that the principles of hope and agency can drive positive, enduring impact at a global scale. We have One World, but it is a big planet, and there are huge opportunities for all of you to make a difference in shaping its future.

I can’t wait to see what you accomplish over the next decade. I see a bright future for all of you, and with your training and passion for sustainability that means a better future for everyone. Mark your calendars now for spring of 2026 and join us for an even bigger celebration of the nation’s first and best School of Sustainability. Congratulations graduates.

What to celebrate

Next week the School of Sustainability will be awash in celebration as we mark our 10th anniversary. As the nation’s first School of Sustainability, this is a celebration not only for ASU but for sustainability education across the entire country. I have three goals for the 10th anniversary:

  1. Celebrate our accomplishments. As a fast-faced, innovative university, we are continuously working on ways to improve education, research, and practice. This is imperative so that ASU maintains its leadership role in sustainability. But it is also important to pause, take a breath, and recognize what all of us have accomplished. It is important to remember that this is a celebration of sustainability at ASU, not only the School of Sustainability. It is this breadth of engagement that makes us the national leader in sustainability.
  2. Look ahead to the 20th anniversary. A lot will change over the next decade and it is difficult to predict what the school and university will look like in 2026, but (as we teach our students) sustainability is about building the future we want. Nearly every college and a number of other university partners will engage with visitors about their current sustainability efforts and what they intend to accomplish in the next 10 years. We welcome ideas from everyone about what we will celebrate in a decade’s time.
  3. Engage globally. Ultimately the scale that matters for sustainability is global. My hope is that this celebration will invite ways for us to think about ways to scale solutions that will have meaningful impact on planetary systems while improving well being for present and future generations in locations around the world. Clearly, ASU cannot do this alone — we will need to explore partnerships that can extend the reach of ideas and practices well beyond our state and national boundaries.

Most of all, I hope that this celebration invigorates the dedication and commitment to sustainability at ASU, demonstrating leadership in a field that is critical for a prosperous and just future. I look forward to seeing you there!

Convocation address, Executive Master of Sustainability Leadership Class of 2016

convo_emslIt is my great pleasure to be here to celebrate the 2nd graduating class of the EMSL. Many of you know that this degree was created in response to demand from working professionals, like yourselves, and from our partners in industry, government, and NGOs. The message was loud and clear – in the rapidly growing field of sustainability what was needed most urgently was leadership.

Organizations then as now are looking for individuals who can formulate a clear vision, communicate it and share it effectively so that others will follow and support that vision, provide the resources and support to realize the vision, and find ways to balance conflicting priorities and interests of stakeholders in order to achieve goals.

Leadership is hard. It’s even harder when you need to practice it in a new, unfamiliar field that spans and transcends multiple boundaries. You most likely will not be leading the production of widgets. You will be convincing sometimes entrenched stakeholders that an integrated systems approach to how organizations function, that puts into practice key sustainability principles, will add value, enrich the company’s vision and culture, energize employees and clients, and move the world closer to a more desirable future.

This is an enormous challenge, but one that will surely get you out of the bed in the morning. I realize I am talking to a biased sample in this auditorium – you came here in the first place because you want to make a difference, a few simple words that are incredibly inspiring, without limits, but a goal that each of us can realize in our lifetimes.

David Brooks, the op-ed contributor to the New York Times, reminds us to think about our “eulogy” virtues and not just our “resume” virtues. We spend a great deal of time and effort trying to fill out and strengthen our resumes with job experiences and accomplishments. This is important, but when people gather in a large room like this to celebrate the end of your life, ask yourself how you would want to be remembered, and let that guide the pathways you take, and make. From this kind of reflection on what is most important, we will all benefit – this generation, future generations, and the planetary systems that provide the basis for the beautiful and wondrous thing we call life.

I urge you to make the most of the new lives you embark on today, for yourselves and for the people who will remember and thank you for the differences you make.

Congratulations class of 2016.


David Brooks, “The Moral Bucket List” New York Times, April 11, 2015.


Convocation address: On hope and agency in sustainability (fall 2015)

boone_regaliaA typical pathway for students entering as first time freshmen in the School of Sustainability is taking the Advanced Placement test in Environmental Sciences in high school. When I ask students what draws them to sustainability rather than biology or ecology, they respond that sustainability is not about doom and gloom—rather, it offers hope and invites everyone to do something about creating a desired future for people and the planet. As young people anticipating decades of their own future lives in an era of significant social and environmental challenges, there is a strong vested interest in not accepting the status quo. They recognize the burdens they inherited from present and past generations but are motivated to make change for the better. In short, they are drawn to the principles of hope and agency embedded in sustainability.

A key difference between most environmental science programs and sustainability is a focus on interventions. Similar to public health, sustainability teaches students that integrated, systems-level interventions are appropriate for achieving desired outcomes. Implicit in the notion of interventions is that sticking with the familiar is inadequate for achieving long-term, sustainable outcomes. Despite potential dilemmas of interventions—the potential for lock-in and unintended consequences—students in the program come to recognize that thoughtful, flexible change experiments are necessary given current trajectories, whether it be climate change, biodiversity loss, energy consumption, waste production, income inequality, inadequate nutrition, and other global concerns. 

Another thing to remember is that sustainability transitions are driven by people responding to challenges and opportunities of existing social-ecological-technical systems. Conscious, deliberate design can facilitate transitions to new stable states, and transitions can be accelerated by “bending the curve” of current pathways. With the momentum of the COP21 meetings in Paris, we have an opportunity to accelerate the transition to a low carbon economy and potentially avoid catastrophic consequences projected by the business-as-usual models. 

Although action at the international level, such as the COP21 meeting, is critical, it is important to remember that individual action (agency) to mitigate the grand challenge of climate change can aggregate to have significant impacts. However, the messaging is important because individual action on something as large as climate change could seem futile. I believe we need to turn the idea on its head, and make the argument that individual action, such as reducing one’s own carbon footprint, will have far-reaching impacts, given the global circulation of carbon dioxide, and long-lasting consequences, given the long life span (from decades to hundreds of years) of new carbon dioxide emissions in the atmosphere. From your own little corner of the globe, your individual actions can impact someone or something thousands of miles away for generations. This ability for an individual to have a long-term global impact by decisions made today is a very powerful expression of agency, and if done well, for hope.

The why, how, and what of SOS

At a recent leadership retreat, President Crow handed out copies of Simon Sinek’s Start with why. Mr. Sinek argues that many great efforts fail when we neglect to ask why we are doing what we are doing. From the statement of why should follow the how and the what, and they should align. Below is my initial attempt to outline the why, how, and what for the School of Sustainability:

Why? Because the world needs to accelerate the transition to a sustainable future.

How? By developing and delivering high-quality, solutions-oriented sustainability learning, discovery, and practice.

What? Creating educated, well informed students, alumni, and communities inspired to take positive action.

I think this is a very interesting exercise and one we should engage in more often than we do.

Two of Arizona’s Flinn Scholars choose School of Sustainability

The Flinn Scholarships are one of the most prestigious and generous scholarships offered at Arizona universities. This year, the Flinn Foundation awarded 21 scholarships across the state. Of those, 15 will be offered to students who chose ASU (6 went to students attending the U of Arizona and none to Northern Arizona University). I am extremely proud to report that 2 of the 15 scholarships were awarded to students who chose to be majors in the School of Sustainability. Joining us this fall will be Eric Arellano from Catalina Foothills High School in Tucson and Ben Trumpinski from Cienega High School in Vail. Their commitment demonstrates to me that tradition of excellence continues for the School of Sustainability.



World Bank Group and GIOS partner on climate change workshop

Earlier this week, the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability (GIOS) offered a workshop on sustainability and climate change to more than 30 participants from the World Bank Group (including IFC). The purpose of the workshop was to learn about the latest science of climate change, how climate change may affect the operations and priorities of the World Bank, and to explore how the World Bank could contribute to climate change mitigation, adaptation, and resilience. From ASU, 7 prominent scientists presented their views and research on climate change issues.

Jim Buizer (ASU sustainability scientist and director of the Center for Climate Adaptation Science and Solutions at the U of Arizona) kicked things off with a presentation on latest findings from climate change and drew on some of his own research on climate change adaptation and resilience, including some work in the impoverished Indian state of Bihar. The next session focused on carbon budgets and pricing. ASU professor Klaus Lackner, the Director of the Center of Negative Carbon Emissions, demonstrated that carbon intensity of production would have to increase by more than 7 percent a year to remain within a target of 450 ppm for atmospheric carbon dioxide concentrations—a very tall order that would likely necessitate the use of carbon capture and storage technologies. Professor Michael Hanemann outlined some of the failed attempts at carbon pricing schemes, including cap and trade, and the limitations of the integrated assessment models that couple economic with damage models. He saw a role for the World Bank to improve the integrated models and to incorporate social cost estimates of climate change. James Close, Director of Climate Change for the World Bank, announced to the group that the World Bank has arrived at a social cost figure of $30/ton of carbon.

Dan Bodansky, Foundation Professor in the ASU Law School, gave a lunchtime address on the lead up to the Conference of Parties (COP) meeting in Paris this December. His remarks included some predictions on the outcome of the meeting and some of the political obstacles to achieving binding agreements. One of the key differences from the Kyoto Protocol is the bottom-up approach of allowing countries to set their own goals for emissions, or Intended Nationally Determined Contributions. The question of equity and climate change was the focus of the next session led by Sonja Klinsky, faculty in the School of Sustainability. Dr. Klinsky pressed the important point that equity needs to be incorporated into all aspects of climate change, from examining drivers to impacts, whether discussing mitigation or adaptation. Failure to incorporate equity, she demonstrated, would increase vulnerabilities and undermine efforts to reduce climate change drivers and negative repercussions. Alan Miller, retired from IFC, concluded the day’s sessions with a discussion of climate finance, including innovative financial instruments, investment needs, and potential priority interventions to support changing demand. He also offered an excellent retrospective on IFC and WB efforts in climate finance and climate change research. The day wrapped up with a closed-door session for WB/IFC staff to assess the day’s discussions in relation to their needs and priorities and those of their clients.

The second day began with a session on the climate impacts in key sectors. ASU faculty Netra Chhetri focus on agricultural impacts with a special emphasis on adaptation in response to climate change, particularly in Nepal. GIOS Director Gary Dirks discussed the implications of climate change policy on the energy sector, threats of stranded assets, the role of renewables in climate change adaptation, and the politics of new utility models. Founding Director of GIOS and the School of Sustainability Chuck Redman focused on the risks to infrastructure from climate extremes and the need to build safe-to-fail resilient systems in anticipation of climate change, especially in critical urban environments.

The final session of the day was moderated by James Close (WB) and included Jennifer Hodbod, post-doctoral fellow at the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiative, and Todd Brady, Global Environmental Director at Intel, as presenters and panelists. Jennifer focused on agricultural practices that can be undertaken immediately at little to no cost while Todd illustrated the power and innovation of private industry to mitigate and adapt to climate change. James led a rich discussion on how participants could incorporate what they learned during the two-day workshop into their everyday activities. Monali Ranade, Senior Environment Specialist at the World Bank, closed the session with a review of the objectives and key findings of the workshop.

From my perspective this was an excellent workshop. It was a wonderful opportunity to engage with an organization that is working on the ground on a daily basis and with significant resources to mitigate and adapt to climate change. I was very proud of the expertise ASU and GIOS faculty brought to the workshop. If the ideas generated from the workshop can be matched effectively to resources and practices, I see great potential for the World Bank and ASU to strategically align to address the grand challenges of climate change and sustainability.