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Arizona State University excels as sustainable campus

Sparky mascot with solar panel
October 14, 2011

At Arizona State, the bar is sky-high when it comes to how the university runs its daily sustainable campus operations. It continues to be recognized as a model for sustainability; Arizona State University was recently named on The Princeton Review’s 2012 Honor Roll of the nation’s “greenest” universities. For the fourth consecutive year, The Princeton Review has recognized ASU for obtaining the highest possible score (99) in its Green Rating tallies. ASU was one of only 16 universities to achieve a perfect score.

ASU was also in the top 25 on Sierra magazine’s Coolest Schools list – a survey that ranks the greenest college campuses across the nation. A publication of The Sierra Club, Sierra magazine’s "Coolest Schools" ranking is an index that provides comparative information about the most important elements of campus sustainability.

In addition, ASU earned a STARS Gold rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). ASU was one of only 22 institutions out of 117 to receive a gold rating. STARS, the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System, is a transparent, self-assessment framework for colleges and universities to gauge relative progress toward sustainability.

“For us, sustainability is a value and it permeates all that we do,” says ASU President Michael Crow. “You can’t just teach it – you have to do it. We are working to instill the objective of sustainability in everything we do. It isn’t one thing, it’s everything. Our approach must be transformative, not incremental.”

Since Crow joined ASU in 2002, sustainability has been a significant aspect of his vision for evolving the New American University. Sustainability is part of the curriculum for virtually every student; sustainability research takes place across all academic disciplines; and, in its everyday operations, ASU walks the talk. Crow’s vision spans beyond ASU though – he is a founding member and co-chair of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, which calls for colleges and universities nationwide to exercise leadership in minimizing global warming emissions. The effort has attracted more than 650 signatory schools to date.

Select actions that showcase ASU’s leadership in sustainability include:

• By September 2011, ASU installed more than 10 megawatts dc (MWdc) of solar-generating equipment; an additional five MWdc is in process. ASU currently holds the distinction of having the largest solar collection of any single U.S. university campus. At 10 MWdc, this represents roughly 20 percent of ASU’s peak load. See for more about ASU’s solar installations.

• Since 2005, every newly constructed ASU building has been certified LEED Silver or higher. ASU currently has 36 LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) Silver or better certified buildings, including the Biodesign Institute building B on the Tempe campus, the first LEED Platinum-certified building in Arizona. This encompasses nearly 3 million gross square feet or almost 13 percent of all ASU facilities. Two additional projects are pending LEED certification.

• Even in the simpler things, like recycling and waste reduction, ASU excels. The university boasts a range of accomplishments, from a recycling program so comprehensive that recycling receptacles are emptied more frequently than trash, to a composting program that turns tons of landscaping waste into nutrient-rich mulch each month, to things like trayless dining and purchasing policies that favor reduced-packaging and recycled or recyclable products. Since 2007, in partnership with Waste Management, ASU has increased diversion rates by 25 percent annually toward a goal of zero-waste by 2015; implemented 10 solar-powered compactors, thus reducing collection-related emissions and costs; partnered with a local farm to create compost for food and organic material; and saved 32 percent in overall waste-service costs.

• To encourage sustainability in the everyday operations of individual offices and departments, ASU launched certification programs for green offices and green laboratories, and will soon have a step-by-step process to certify green events.

• Launched earlier this year, the Sustainability Literacy Education interactive online program is available to everyone in ASU’s community of more than 80,000 potential agents of change. It provides examples of sustainable practices underway at ASU, the university’s sustainability goals, and how to engage in large and small ways to support ASU’s commitment to become more sustainable. The program also arms employees with the necessary facts to fulfill the sustainability requirement of their yearly work-performance evaluations. To date, 243 employees have been awarded completion certificates.

• Sustainability is part of the curriculum for virtually every ASU student, as well. The university is also home to the School of Sustainability – the first of its kind in the nation – where students can earn bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees and apply their learning to real-world problems. A minor in sustainability is also offered now that can be added to any undergraduate degree program.

“I looked forward to going to ASU since the first time I visited the campus 10 years ago. I always knew it was the school for me,” says Sarah Mertins, a junior sustainability major focusing on urban dynamics. “My interests in building ‘green’ communities steered me towards ASU's sustainability program and its overall accomplishments and impacts in sustainability, and I'm extremely happy with my decision.”

ASU has an ambitious agenda to be a world leader among universities in finding and collaborating on sustainable solutions for a rapidly urbanizing planet. In 2004, it established its Global Institute of Sustainability as a hub for sustainability research, education, and practice.