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Fink will lead ASU's sustainability efforts

May 01, 2007
As ASU positions itself to make a major move forward as the academic leader in sustainability, Jonathan Fink has been named Julie A. Wrigley director of the Global Institute of Sustainability (GIOS), and chief sustainability officer, a newly created position within the Office of the President.

Both appointments are effective July 1.

Fink, ASU’s vice president for research and economic affairs for the past 10 years, will split his faculty appointment between the School of Sustainability and the School of Earth and Space Exploration.

Rick Shangraw, associate vice president for strategic research and director of ASU’s Decision Theater, will take on the role of vice president for research and economic affairs. Charles Redman, the first Wrigley director of GIOS, will continue as director of the new School of Sustainability.

“ASU has two major world-class initiatives: one in biodesign, applying nature’s principles to the solution of problems of human well-being, and one in sustainability, the development of technologies and practices that promote and protect the health of our world,” says ASU President Michael Crow. “While the Biodesign Institute is off to an excellent start, the Global Institute of Sustainability has reached a new stage of its evolution. I am delighted that Jon Fink, who has done an outstanding job in building the university’s research enterprise for the last decade, has agreed to take on the duties of leading GIOS through its critical maturation process.”

“I have long been committed to research and policies that will help sustain environmental quality,” Fink says. “Working to achieve a more balanced approach to the growth of cities, one that simultaneously takes into account the needs of society, the economy and the surrounding ecosystem, is one of the most exciting challenges I can imagine pursuing.”

Fink will oversee and coordinate four components of ASU’s sustainability efforts – the research of GIOS, the educational programs of the School of Sustainability, the integration of the wider set of sustainability activities across all of ASU and making sure that “ASU practices what it preaches through sustainable business operations,” he says.

A major emphasis, he adds, “will be to promote ASU’s sustainability interests with federal agencies in Washington, private foundations around the world and regional, national and global NGOs. I also hope to greatly expand partnerships between ASU and those multinational corporations that are committed to building a new kind of economy that is less environmentally damaging in the long term. These corporate linkages are an outgrowth of the initiatives led by our Office of Economic Affairs, which has become highly successful at connecting ASU’s research enterprise with the business community.”

ASU has a 30-year history in advanced environmental studies, and during the last five years has become a leader in sustainability, first by establishing the Global Institute of Sustainability in 2004 and then the world’s first School of Sustainability in January. Creation of the institute and school were made possible by generous donations from philanthropist Julie A. Wrigley.

“Julie Wrigley’s far-sighted investments in ASU’s sustainability programs have allowed us to think more boldly about the scale of accomplishments we can aspire to achieve in this critical field,” Fink says.

“In sustainability, we’ve gone through an incubation phase, and then a planning phase,” Crow adds. “Now we know what we have to do and are ready to take that next giant step.”

Fink will seek to increase the participation of academic departments that have had only limited engagement in sustainability so far. This expansion builds upon the groundwork of James Buizer, who as executive director of sustainability initiatives worked closely with Crow and the ASU Foundation to promote ASU’s sustainability agenda. Buizer will be shifting most of his attention to other presidential priorities, but he will continue to assist with selected aspects of ASU’s sustainability portfolio.

“We want to integrate these ideas with the ongoing research and teaching programs in GIOS and the School of Sustainability,” Fink says. “Under the leadership of President Crow and professor Charles Redman, ASU faculty members have created a research and education program in sustainability that is already a national showcase of interdisciplinary innovation. My goal is to expand upon this foundation through the addition of new faculty members, new funded research programs and greater participation in international and corporate networks, so that we are recognized not only for our creativity, but also for effective global leadership.”

Fink came to ASU in 1979 from Stanford as a post-doctoral researcher in geology, where he moved through the academic ranks to become department chair. His administrative experience includes a stint as director of the geochemistry program at the National Science Foundation before taking over ASU’s research office in 1997. Most of Fink’s research has focused on the study of volcanoes on Earth and other planets, but over the past several years he has begun to address questions of urban sustainability and resilience. He is a fellow of the Geological Society of America and of the American Association for the Advancement of Science.

As vice president of research and economic affairs, Fink oversees the research portfolio of all four of ASU’s campuses, including responsibility for research administration, strategic research initiatives, research publications, research space allocation and economic development activities. His office also coordinates an internal strategic investment fund of more than $25 million per year.

During Fink’s time as vice president, ASU faculty members have nearly tripled their expenditures for grants and contracts. This growth has been facilitated by an unprecedented expansion of ASU’s research infrastructure, with the addition of more than 1 million square feet of new space. A key ingredient in this research build-up has been the recruitment of top scholars from around the world to join ASU’s faculty and staff. Fink has helped attract 12 National Academy of Sciences and National Academy of Engineering members to ASU.

Fink also has played an integral role in shaping Arizona’s burgeoning high-tech economy, through helping to design and launch the Biodesign Institute at ASU, the Translational Genomics Research Institute (TGen), and the Flexible Display Center; by overseeing ASU’s technology transfer operations (including the establishment of Arizona Technology Enterprises); and by serving on Gov. Janet Napolitano’s Council on Innovation and Technology.