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Making the world a better place, one city at a time

headshot of male Daniel Culotta wearing green t-shirt with brown hair and eyes
August 07, 2013

Located in the western outskirts of Phoenix, Avondale is quickly becoming an urban destination with over 78,000 residents. How can a growing population sustain the city’s resources into the future?

For the first time, Avondale is developing its very own sustainability plan, and Arizona State University School of Sustainability alum Daniel Culotta is at the helm.

Culotta graduated from the school last year with a master of arts in sustainability. He is now the environmental program manager for the City of Avondale.

In addition to securing compliance for environmental regulations, Culotta is working with a team of officials to create an organization-wide municipal plan that focuses on a wide variety of areas, including community engagement, energy, ecosystems, health and well-being, land use and the economy.

“We’re creating the sustainability plan using an up-to-date, participatory and evidence-based approach,” Culotta says. “This plan will serve as the foundation for action going forward.”

A native of Jacksonville, Texas, Culotta was an anthropology undergraduate at the University of Texas-Austin before he settled in the environmental consulting field. He advised on human-environment interactions and systems, which led to his epiphany: sustainability is not just about the environment.

“It’s really our relationship with the environment that is the crux of our current challenges,” he says. “The natural resource and endangered species projects I worked on as a consultant often affected more than a single area; they went into the social, cultural and economic sectors of a region, not to mention a broader system of environmental issues.”

Culotta wanted to investigate these systems and interactions further, and the school’s all-encompassing approach to sustainability appealed to him.

“I was also considering the sustainable design program at University of Texas-Austin, but these other programs only focused on a few specific aspects of sustainability,” he says. “ASU on the other hand, has a huge number of well-known scholars and core sustainability faculty. The range of topics for graduate students is also broader.”

Culotta learned about the Avondale position from the school’s Career Services. He says the school prepared him for a fast-paced government position that requires time management, creativity, cooperation and action.

“The School of Sustainability really focuses on sustainability solutions,” he says. “Students are not just gathering information, but actually creating outcomes, which is also a requirement in the workforce.”

Culotta hopes his experience as the Environmental Program Manager for Avondale will help him show that sustainability is not a “nice to have,” but a “need to have.”

“To me, there’s nothing more important than tackling sustainability challenges because they involve all aspects of our society,” he says. “How we deal with them has profound implications for the future of our society and the planet. I hope everything I do in my career helps make the world a better place.”