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Lifetime of environmental awareness leads Julie Ann Wrigley to action, investment, philanthropy

portrait of Julie Ann Wrigley
May 07, 2014

ASU to honor conservationist with naming of Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability

Julie Ann Wrigley remembers seeing so clearly Santa Catalina Island from her childhood home in Newport Beach, Calif., that she felt she could reach out and touch it. She remembers the smog taking that away from her. She remembers the many abalone on the rocks below that house disappearing as the water grew more polluted. She says she knew about sustainability issues before they became sustainability issues.

“For me, it’s a second career,” says Wrigley, a co-chair on the board of directors at Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability and a longtime conservationist and philanthropist. “I spend as much time working on my world of sustainability as I spend on my other business endeavors. And to me, that’s how people can make a positive impact at every level; everyone is capable of participating.”

Wrigley’s most serious conservation concerns are for human prosperity and well-being and protecting the Earth’s life-support systems. To address them, she has increased her support of research at the ASU institute with an additional $25 million investment, bringing her commitment to the university’s sustainability efforts to more than $50 million. In recognition of her support and leadership, ASU has announced the renaming of the institute to the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability.

She has worked over a lifetime to do something meaningful to turn the tide. Her understanding of environmental issues and her deep-seated passion for philanthropy have led Wrigley to focus on the environmental, economic and social implications encompassed by sustainability.

Wrigley believes the place to start solving the world’s sustainability issues is with those organizations, agencies and institutions willing to become change agents. She says ASU is one of those places that is already developing solutions to environmental challenges. While co-chairing the Wrigley Institute’s board, she also helped found its School of Sustainability, the first comprehensive degree-granting program of its kind in the United States. Her impact has been profound, transforming ASU’s education, discovery, innovation and operations advances:

• Launched in 2007, the School of Sustainability now boasts 550 alumni employed in fields such as government; education; nonprofits and NGOs; business and industry; recycling and waste; energy and environmental design; food and farming; finance and more.

• ASU now offers more than 500 courses that include concepts of sustainability, engaging thousands of students.

• The university’s innovation and use-inspired research through ASU LightWorks have led to the development of new technologies that will make the world more sustainable – high-power, low-cost, rechargeable zinc-air batteries for renewable energy storage; an energy-efficient electrochemical process to capture and store carbon dioxide from power plant emissions; new ultra-thin silicon solar cells designed to increase the amount of electricity that can be produced through direct conversion of sunlight; and developing microbial systems that restore water purity and generate usable energy by capturing waste products from water.

• As a sample of its commitment to operate its four campuses sustainably, ASU invested $52 million in campus sustainability projects in fiscal year 2013, including energy efficiency, dining, transportation, renewable energy and other projects; the university’s waste sent to landfill is down 24 percent from 2007 (when measurements were first taken), despite adding 29 percent in space and 33 percent in enrollment through 2013; greenhouse gas emissions are down 15 percent from 2007; and ASU has 23.5 MWdc of solar generating capacity, which is more than 43 percent of the university’s daytime peak load.

Wrigley’s latest $25 million investment will be used to enhance the institute’s work understanding and teaching students about the “Anthropocene," the current period in history in which human activity is increasingly impacting the Earth’s capacity to sustain populations of all species. From this broad perspective, the Wrigley Institute will accelerate its work on issues such as the water-energy nexus, rapid urbanization, social transitions and many other challenges to sustainability. And, the investment serves to solidify and perpetuate ASU’s commitment to sustainability research, teaching and application.

“I cannot think of a more deserving person than Julie Wrigley to have her name connected with this great Global Institute of Sustainability,” says ASU President Michael M. Crow. “ASU and Julie Wrigley have been dedicated partners in building the nation’s most comprehensive program in sustainability teaching, learning and discovery, and we could not have done it without her generous investment and leadership.

“She recognized and trusted that our university is one of the rare places that can tackle issues of sustainability across disciplines and find real-world solutions. Julie shares our commitment to making the world a better place for future generations and, through her partnership with us, is helping to invent that future.”

In 2004, Wrigley – whose interests in conservation have led her to board and chair positions with the Nature Conservancy, the World Wildlife Fund, Keep America Beautiful and the Peregrine Fund, as well as a state trustee for the conservancy in Nevada and Idaho – made a $15 million contribution to ASU to establish the Global Institute of Sustainability. From that institute grew the School of Sustainability. In the summer of 2007, she made an additional $10 million investment in ASU to recruit four of the world's leading sustainability scholar-researchers to fill professorships focused on renewable energy systems, sustainable business practices, global environmental change and complex systems dynamics.

“Julie’s continued support is an affirmation that we’re going in the right direction, and a challenge to continually strive to do more,” says Rob Melnick, Wrigley Institute COO and executive director. “We have launched the nation’s first School of Sustainability, and we continue to grow enrollment and expand the degrees and programs we offer so we can educate as many future leaders as possible. We have built a foundation for collaborating across academic disciplines and internal and external partnerships – and even institutional and international boundaries – to approach our sustainability research in innovative ways.”

Wrigley relates that her concept of high-impact philanthropy was developed by her grandfather, a successful industrialist who believed in the power of giving.

“I learned about philanthropy as a child,” she says. “My grandfather was someone who understood the world of giving back long before I was born. He set up a family foundation, and even as children we were asked to look at the bigger world and see how we could help make it better. And so my early education was focused on giving back. Over the years it has evolved to not just giving back but investing, participating, following through on your commitment.”

The impact Julie Ann Wrigley has made – and continues to make – at ASU has catapulted the university to a global leadership position in sustainability. She believes others can be just as effective.

“Find your passion, go with your heart and then follow through,” she advises. “Don’t just pay your money and leave. Participate! It becomes a part of your life, and it’s a very, very beneficial, heartwarming part of your life.

“ASU has given me that gift, and I always have found that when I make an investment – and I believe these are investments in the future – part of it, a big part of it, is a gift back to myself.”


Steve Des Georges,
Senior Director, Editorial Services
ASU Foundation for A New American University