Sustainability Science Program at Arizona State University

The Christian Science Monitor has an article – Sustainability gains status on US campuses – about Arizona State University’s new School of Sustainability. It is the USA’s first, and it includes quite a few researchers (including archaeologists, anthropologists, economists, and ecologists.) from the Resilience Alliance.

Any new building erected at ASU – a school adding facilities quickly – must be built to exacting environmental standards. Some professors in the university’s labs are concentrating on understanding nature and then using the knowledge to solve problems. For example, a team of professors is growing a strain of bacteria that feast on carbon dioxide. The bacteria could then be used to convert emissions from a power plant into bio-fuels.

By the fall, the university hopes to integrate its work so that students in other schools, such as the law school, can minor in sustainability. Some students will come from China as part of an agreement in August to launch a Joint Center on Urban Sustainability.

In October, ASU hosted 650 academics, administrators, and students from AASHE who took part in a conference on the role of higher education in creating a sustainable world. The university is attracting donors and business people, including heiress Julie Ann Wrigley and Rob Walton, chairman of Wal-Mart, who last month agreed to chair the board of ASU’s Institute of Sustainability.

Behind the university’s efforts is its president, Michael Crow, who arrived at ASU in 2002 after 11 years at Columbia University, where he played a lead role in founding the Earth Institute. (Read an interview with Mr. Crow).

Like many environmentalists, he counts reading Rachel Carson’s book “Silent Spring” as a landmark in his life. However, he says it wasn’t until he matured that he realized “all of these 70,000 chemicals and synthetics that we have put in the atmosphere and water were all derived mostly by universities with no thought given to what the other impacts may be to what they are doing.”

At ASU, Dr. Crow reorganized the life-science departments, and began hiring experts in sustainability. A central goal, he says, “is that we work in concert with the natural systems as opposed to in conflict with the natural systems.”

And Crow goes a step further: He believes that nature, through 4 billion years of genetic change, provides “the pathway to everything we need. Nature has adapted to all kinds of problems: hot climate, cold climate, high carbon dioxide, low carbon dioxide.”

Students seem excited to be part of the university’s effort. One is Thad Miller of Malverne, N.Y., who has been accepted to work on a doctorate at the new School of Sustainability. “What is appealing to me is that these problems of climate change, the urban heat island, urban planning, require a real interdisciplinary way of looking at the world, and they do this more so here than any other school,” says Mr. Miller, who is leaning toward working for a nonprofit or advising decision- makers when he graduates. “It’s fun to be a part of it.”

2 thoughts on “Sustainability Science Program at Arizona State University”

  1. Hey, great post! This was the basis of one of my seven sustainability predictions for 2007! Being a Cicil Engineer, I hope that the whole sustainability thing will flow into all fields of science and engineering pretty soon. You can read my predictions here…
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