ASU launches world’s first School of Sustainability
Fourteen years after the United Nation’s Earth Summit brought together 172 governments to focus world attention on global environmental issues such as the greenhouse effect, the growing scarcity of water and the need for alternative sources of energy, the world’s first School of Sustainability has been established at ASU.
The university, located in Arizona’s Sonoran Desert, one of the most complex natural environments in the world, is mounting an unprecedented comprehensive sustainability effort aimed at finding solutions to the most pressing sustainability issues the planet faces. This university program, with the newly established School of Sustainability at its core, encompasses such diverse fields as science, technology, public policy, economics, education and urban planning. Researchers believe that all of these fields, and others, can contribute to guiding humanity from its present course of environmental destruction.
ASU’s School of Sustainability, which begins enrolling students in January, will offer bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees in sustainability. Within five years, the school expects to have 450 undergraduate students and 50 students each in its master’s and doctoral degree programs. This innovative curriculum builds upon an existing base at ASU that includes 300 courses, 80 degree programs and 170 research projects that involve sustainability.
This moment marks a milestone in the evolution of ASU’s sustainability initiative referred to as the Global Institute of Sustainability, initiated just two years ago with help from a $15 million planning investment from philanthropist Julie A. Wrigley.
Among the areas ASU research teams are investigating:
• Water use, conservation, and banking.
• Sustainable construction techniques and sustainable materials.
• Rapid urbanization including housing growth and planned communities.
• Transportation and alternative fuels.
• Greenhouse effect and urban heat islands.
• Environmental health issues, including ozone pollution and “brown clouds.”
• Economics and politics of ecology – how new technologies move (or fail to move) into the market, how consumers and political leaders make decisions that affect sustainability.
According to United Nations statistics, about 3.2 billion people live in urban areas. That number will increase to 3.8 billion by 2015, and to 4.9 billion by 2030. This unprecedented urbanization and its associated environmental problems will take place in industrialized and underdeveloped countries and regions. ASU’s leaders say that many of the environmental challenges that Phoenix faces today are ones that other cities in America and the rest of the world will confront in the next decade.
“Phoenix has doubled its population in the last 20 years to become the fifth-largest city in the United States. Our population – and our urban infrastructure – will double again in the next 20 years,” says ASU President Michael M. Crow. “Because this is the region doing so much building, we are the ones who have to figure out how to do it properly, and ASU has committed itself to being at the forefront of that effort.”
If metropolitan Phoenix fails environmentally in the next few decades, it may be only the first casualty. But if metropolitan Phoenix can grow in an environmentally sustainable way, it will provide valuable lessons for other areas going through both expanding urbanization and urban renewal.