Dialogue with President Crow - Sustainability@ASU
Arizona State University President Michael Crow paid a special visit to the Global Institute of Sustainability to address future goals and issues, while also answering some questions from the crowd that included Sustainability Scientists, faculty, and staff.
President Crow: We’ll go ahead and get started. I know almost everybody here, but not everybody. My name is Michael Crow and thank you for coming. We had scheduled this some time ago, but there were a few issues that we hadn’t resolved, and we needed to resolve those before we could have this meeting. This is an opportunity for me to first thank all of you that have been a part of our Global Institute of Sustainability effort and our sustainability at ASU effort for all that you do. We are infinitely further along the path than we were just a few years ago in getting all of this going. This is still, in academic timing, this is still a baby. It’s still a new activity.
It’s still evolving. It’s still an enterprise which has not yet even completely gelled in the sense that it still has a long way to go, to take on its own unique intellectual identity, that being GIOS and the School of Sustainability. I wanted to reiterate our objectives as a university. I don’t want these to be taken as any kind of understatement at all, because they are not. We have identified sustainability as a core scientific outcome, that this university will work at with whatever assets we have necessary to drive toward that objective. We consider this outcome, sustainability, to be of such importance that we are willing to designate one initiative that we hope will engage everyone in the university, at all levels of the institution, to help us contribute to this particular outcome, which is called sustainability.
Therefore, the Global Institute of Sustainability is our one and only all university initiative. That means that this initiative is open to all energized individuals in our orbit, the orbit of ASU, interested in advancing in their particular niche or pathway towards these objectives. Now, that is easier said than done, but that means that this is not a disciplinary initiative. This is not a college initiative. This is not department initiative or a school initiative. This is an initiative of the entire institution. The normal dynamic within institutions is to basically devolve to some structure that everybody feels comfortable with.
Everyone doesn’t feel comfortable with the Global Institute of Sustainability structure. Everybody doesn’t feel comfortable with the School of Sustainability structure, because it is differentiated. It is a different path, a different direction, a different trajectory. We are not changing that, we are not altering that. Now, we have gone for about nine years, just coming up on nine years, from the point of conceptualization of this institute, from our meeting in Mexico, all those years ago. That was an event that allowed a number of us who are in this room, and others, to engage in an intellectual thought exercise, involving leaders from other academic institutions, leaders from industry, leaders from foundations, who are all at the table with us, when we sat at the table and said, if you could find an university willing to advance sustainability as a core intellectual objective, and to build sustainability as an objective of the institution, and to build an institute of sustainability, which was not constrained by disciplines, what would it look like?
What would it do, what would it achieve, what would it attempt to achieve? We went through all of those discussions years ago. My own view is that, in idealized sense, and let me back up just on idealization a little bit, the U.S. Constitution is an idealization of what the United States might someday be. We’re not near that idealization yet. It actually says that all people are equal in that Constitution. We’re not quite there yet. We still debate a series of strange things that have to do with people not being equal. It is one of the most bizarre things I have ever seen, because it is obvious that equal means equal and people mean people, and all mean all [laughter].
Somehow, they’re not, at least in how they’re treated. I ‘m trying to make the illustration of the point about idealization. The idealization in our case is that we were going to build, and are on the path to building a Global Institute of Sustainability that would advance a new way of thinking, new tools, new perspectives, new solutions, new ideas. New kinds of students, new kinds of curricula. New ways of doing things, new ways of looking at problems, new philosophies, new economics, new whatever it happens to be, this is what we are ideally working towards. Where are we on that path in nine years? If 100 would be perfect idealization, we are somewhere between a 40 and a 50.
I was hoping we would get to a 30 by this stage, because where we started was a zero. Most other institutions remain at zero, because they don’t conceptualize things in quite the same way. I am happy with our progress, very happy with what we have been able to achieve. We have about 250, 260, 270 faculty members from around the university, who are engaged in this intellectual enterprise, to vary degrees and in varying ways. They have signed up to be engaged. That is a huge intellectual reactor, if you will. We have not yet found out exactly how to catalyze that reactor. We found out how to catalyze individuals in it, groups in it, but not the entire thing. We haven’t figured that out yet, perhaps because it’s actually hard.
Perhaps because it’s not easy, perhaps because individual human beings remain highly individual in their thinking, meaning I don’t really care what you think, why don’t you do what I want to do? That is actually how most people think [laughter]. They don’t say it quite that way, but that’s actually what they mean. Here we are, I think a good distance down the path of actualizing this dream for this Global Institute of Sustainability. We’re a good distance down the path of actualizing our university’s goals of being among the most sustainable institutions in our practices that we could possibly be. We’ve made a lot of progress in both of those. We are, in a sense, and in many different ways, renewing our commitment to these objectives.
We’ve had this opportunity to renew our commitment for these objectives while we have been in the process of searching for team leadership, to advance the institute and the school to its next level. I will talk a little bit about that in a second. Before I talk about some people that are moving on to do other things, and some people that are moving into do new things, I want to see if there’s any comments or questions about what we are trying to achieve with the institute, or what we’re trying to achieve with our broader initiatives that I call “Sustainability at ASU.”
Questions or comments from anybody? These are actually -- that’s actually why I have these meetings. It turns out that I actually am -- for those that work with me on a regular basis, I am mostly a face-to-face person. I work mostly on a face-to-face basis. I’m not a big -- I send emails, but they’re often one letter, “Y” or “N.” [Laughter] and if somebody sends me like really, really, really long complex emails with all kinds of things in the emails, and so forth and so on, I read them, but I don’t respond to them in writing, because it’s -- it takes me a long time to sift through things and write something that’s really, really long. Yes?
Sheldon McGee: I set up the expert search for the GIOS site. I set up an expert search on the GIOS site, the institute’s site. When I set that up, I always wondered if we could do that for the whole university, or if they are working towards putting that to the whole university, because experts and sustainability kind of go university wide, and we are always looking for experts and blah blah blah. What efforts are being put toward that?
President Crow: I use that site, and how many of you used that site, where you look for people and connect with people and so forth? The “they,” in your particular case, the “they,” you said you wonder if “they” are working on that. No, no, it’s not me. Professor Panchanathan, our senior vice president for knowledge enterprise development, he is the “they.” Are we doing that?
Professor Panchanathan: Yes, so the answer is “yes.” You have to understand that we have done—yes, there’s always a but, there’s always a but. What you are trying to do is to do it all automatic, with automated searches. If you have a [inaudible] to which we are able to get concept terms relating to people’s publication proposals and so on, so they’re built up. They’re harvesting all the proposals, we have done that for a few years now, so we are going back in time to get it also done in terms of funded proposals. Proposals that are not funded, because that’s where the nuggets are.
President Crow: [Inaudible]
Professor Panchanathan: Yes, the answer is “yes,” but not having to have too much manual intervention of having to put this expertise base inside, because that gets outdated very quickly, and also, it’s difficult to manage.
President Crow: Other comments or questions about the Sustainability Institute? Yes, over there. Clark, did you have one? I’m going to bring the microphone over. Need us to say who they are though.
Clark Miller: I’m Clark Miller from the Consortium for Science Policy and Outcomes. You said that we are advancing towards our goal of being sustainable. It seems to me that we are primarily focused, at this point, on the material sustainability of the university, our energy use, our material use and so forth. We won’t really be a sustainable university until the people—however, 25,000 students we’re graduating every year, out of professional areas and so forth—are sort of committed to helping transform their own institutions throughout their careers in a sustainable way.
President Crow: Clark is bringing up an important point. We tried some years ago, this has been one of our defeats, to integrate in an ASU 101 class, a sustainability module that all incoming students, transfer students and freshman students, would be a part of. Ninety-six faculty members filed a grievance against the provost, 96 faculty members because of their perception that we, the central administration, although we are faculty members also, have no right or ability to designate the assignment of a course. This is the world we live in, it’s a strange one.
What we did, in response to that, was we devolved, I saw one of our deans here, Paul Johnson, I’m going to ask [laughter] Paul Johnson, the Dean of the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. It devolved eventually back to the deans, to evolve individual classes at the college level that would be the equivalent of ASU 101, and so where are we on that?
Paul Johnson: At least in engineering, every program has a 101 level program.
President Crow: Every school.
Paul Johnson: Every school, and every program within each school in engineering, has a 101 section. They pull in the modules that they mentioned about, and they also have designed their own 101 experiences for their students.
President Crow: Right. I’ll come back, and so some are doing it now, Clark, some are not doing it now. I am still pushing it, and so, we’re trying to find ways to make it happen. I happen to be of the view that we should have a number of ways that we approach it. There should be a program like, and Gary and I have talked about this, and Chris and I have not talked about this yet, but we talked about something like the Origins program, but for sustainability. Which would be this unbelievable event with thousands of people engaged, and all of our students engaged, and driving the ideas of sustainability and the concepts of sustainability, and sustainability science and so forth, as a part of all that,. As well as going back to each of the individual deans, working with the school of sustainability dean, and working to get a module for sustainability into all of the introductory freshman ASU 101 classes at the college level.
I think the mistake that we made earlier was to, in a sense, make a decision that we are going to go that way, and then not—we thought it was sort of obvious. Obviously, it wasn’t obvious, or at least to people that were maybe upset about other things. I’m being very frank here. Yes, it’s still an objective, I agree with that objective. We graduated 18,400 students in 2012. In 2020, we’ll be graduating 23,000, 24,000, 25,000 students. Imagine 25,000 students going out into whatever their career is, whatever path there is, and they all have this nugget of this idea of sustainability in their head. Now, we could have a vote and a debate as to whether or not what I earlier said, that is sustainability is an objective and a value that we are working to.
We’d have a very long debate about that, because there’s a number of people that don’t agree with that. We’re kind of incrementally working our way into this. I think the way to do it is by the School of Sustainability taking a leadership role with the other schools. It’s not that we’re not doing it, as Paul Johnson just suggested. There is a sustainability module in all of the things that are going on in engineering, right? Right. It’s going on, but perhaps not to that same level in all of the units. You’re right, I mean, I agree with that as an ultimate objective. There was another comment over here.
Nick Brown: I’m Nick Brown with Sustainability Practices. Our group has developed modules for ASU 101 for sustainability. Joel and Albert Asky of our team works on the west campus in downtown and has introduced this to a dozen or more faculty, largely in the School of Nutrition, but as widely as we can. We hit some 5 or 700 students, we think, last fall with that.
President Crow: How many of you knew we had a School of Nutrition? How many of you know it has 3,000 undergraduate majors?
Nick Brown: They’ve been working with us on food issues. I’d like to say, though, the sustainability practices team has modules that one of our undergraduate student workers prepared for us last year that are quite excellent. We’re trying to push those through to as many ASU 101 programs as possible.
President Crow: All right. We need to leverage all of that stuff back to Clark’s point, yet.
Nalini Chhetri: Thank you, Dr. Crow. I just wanted to have a quick comment. I wanted you to talk a little bit about the G in GIOS and there’s -- yes, there’s a lot of initiatives, but I was wondering what the strategy was and where we are.
President Crow: The G for “global” means that obviously, we want the institution to be global in its orientation, global in its connectivity, global in its impact, global in its learning modality, sort of all those things together. It’s easier said than done, except at the level of the individual faculty member. If the individual faculty member can work whoever they want to work with, work on whatever problems they want to work on, team with whoever they want to team with and so forth. The university’s strategy is to operate, to find partners. I visited the Global Institute of Sustainability office at the Tech Monterrey Campus in Santa Fe, I don’t know, three weeks ago or something like that, just outside of Mexico City or in metro Mexico City.
While that alignment and that relationship is not at the level that we would like it to be, they are investing $2 and a half million dollars of their own money to build that team, which can then work with us, has an interrelationship with us. I was in Taiwan of Monday of this week. I met with the Minister of Science, the chairman of the Technology Institute, the Minister of Education and the President of the Country. A third of the topic that we talked about was sustainability and linkages with the Global Institute of Sustainability. We’re working faculty across, programs connected, projects connected, and also, institution to institution. There’s a team working right now under Dr. Dirks and Dr. Panchanathan and others.
We have been invited by the Minister of the Environment for -- the actual name of Mexico, by the way, is the United States of Mexico, by the country of Mexico, who Panch and I met with a couple of weeks ago in Mexico City, to prepare a conceptual idea for a bi-national laboratory in renewable energy technology platforms that both countries might invest in, on a very large scale. That is an example. These are just examples, and so, there’s no change in our commitment to being global. The funding that we received from the Walton Family Foundation includes investment dollars for the building of a sustainability solutions service and ideas associated with that, which would be both local, regional, national and global in its orientation, as well as the programs for leadership training on a global basis, bringing in people from around the world, as well as ultimately the building of other relationships with other institutions around the world.
The Sustainability Consortium, which is up and running, is working on a global basis. Rick Shangraw happens to be one of the leaders of the board of that initiative. Rick, maybe you can talk about how that’s working on a global basis.
Rick Shangraw: Yeah, that has -- there are a lot of people here involved in that, but that has offices now in the Netherlands, there’s offices being set up now in China, in Beijing, Nanjing. Then, it’s also being offices set up in Chile, and so it’s global, in terms of its reach. This is now the reach-out to producers, retailers, manufactures of good and having them work towards sustainable product development, and then, putting in place an ecosystem for how you actually bring those products into retailers.
President Crow: Anybody else? Maybe one more question here before I want to recognize a couple of people. Yes, Bruce?
Bruce Rittmann: I’m Bruce Rittmann from engineering and Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology. You began your discussion by talking about the intellectual enterprise of sustainability, crossing the whole university. You also talked about making ASU more sustainable. I am really interested to know how we link those two things together. Not always do universities do that well, you know?
President Crow: Right, and so, we worked to link these things together, because we want to do it. Then, you look for opportunities to do it. We have some successes and some maybe not successes so far. Let me segue way to introduce someone. I’m gonna ask him to actually answer part of that. One person I’d like to recognize right now is Ray Jenson. Ray is the Associate Vice President of the University for Business Services and is the university’s -- been historically our sustainability driver for business practices, for the other things that we’ve been doing within the university.
He’s done tremendous work to advance ASU to a fantastic level of enhanced sustainability. I’m not saying we’re sustainable, but we’re vastly more sustainable than we were, in terms of how we’re organized and where we are. Ray is moving onto do something else outside of the university, and he will continue as an advisor to the university, as a special project that he wants to do outside the university at the end of this semester. I want to recognize Ray for his contributions to sustainability at ASU, and then, ask you to answer Bruce’s question.
Ray Jensen: It was about four or five years ago that President Crow asked if I would get involved in the sustainability operation side of the house. I thought at the time that it was a good selection because I knew nothing, which is a good place to start.
President Crow: That ought to make things [cross talk].
Ray Jensen: Yeah, it’s kind of a white board in my brain. We began by trying to put some principles together that would guide us, as we worked on the operational side of the house. One of the things we wanted to hit was what we referred to then as carbon neutrality, it is not climate neutrality, which is an objective that the institution has. A second one is zero waste, a third one is active engagement, that’s to get everybody involved. The fourth one is the bucket we throw everything else in called principle practice. We put together a network of university people, mostly operational folks, and some faculty, some students, to begin to address what a sustainable institution would look like if we could get there. What grew out of that was a strategic plan, first a plan for carbon neutrality to satisfy the requirements of the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment.
Then, following that, a strategic plan to try to actually pull it off. We are engaged in that now. Nick Brown, who was introduced before Nick leads the team that serves as really a catalytic group, working with various units here on campus. We are engaged in all four of those areas. We’ve done a pretty good job with solar. We’ve got about 19.7 kilowatts of -- megawatts, excuse me, of solar energy currently installed. We’ll have about 25 megawatts at this time next year.
President Crow: [off mic].
Ray Jensen: Ours is real [laughter]. They really function, they really are on the campus. The people in the facilities group, Dave Brixton and his team, are really responsible for virtually all of that. We’ve done just about 60 projects on campus. If there’s a flat surface that’s in good condition, we put solar panels on it. We’ve been doing that pretty deliberately. We’re a little stuck in terms of how far we can go with solar, because we’re running out of real estate. We’re looking right now at other things in that area.
One of the things we’ll announce in the next couple of weeks is a relationship with an energy partner, who we hope will be a strategic, and also will help a little bit on the academic side or the research side, to take us to the goal that we really have, which is to be climate neutral by 2025. It’s very aggressive. We believe that with solar, we may be able to get about --
President Crow: (Off mic).
Ray Jensen: In a growing institution, yeah, in the last five years, for example, we have actually reduced our carbon footprint by 20 percent, while increasing our built environment by 20 percent. That’s actually an extraordinary effort. [Applause] A lot of that comes from conservation efforts that we’ve made, as well as the renewable energy that we’ve got. This is a moving target that is going to be extremely difficult for us to hit. We’re partnering with a team that will actually bring together the operational side of the house, with some outside expertise, including an entity who will help us link to the research community here within the institution.
Those connections are going to be managed through LightWorks. LightWorks is an integral part of this team we are putting together. We are going to bring the ASU research community together, a think tank in sustainability, a major sustainable energy, as well as the university operations side, into what we hope is a first of its kind partnership to work in this area. Like other institutions haven’t figured out yet is that they’ve agreed to do, or committed to do, they probably will not do, and that is actually reach a place of climate neutrality. We determined that because of who our boss is, that lip service was not an option . It’s not just a question of whether we’ll get there, but how we’re gonna get there.
On zero waste side, Nick has been leading a project for the last year, which has taken a little longer than we want, but to work on the zero waste program for our solid waste on campus. We’ve already begun a pilot with Arrow Mark on compositing, and we’re gonna be rolling that out in the next probably year, while we’re bustling. Eventually, when you come to ASU, you will not find a waste basket, a garbage can. Our objective is that everything on this campus will either be composted or recycled, and that is our objective in there. When we get there, the objective is, we’re gonna call zero waste if we get to the 90 percent mark, but that’s our goal. On the active engagement, we’ve done some things like include contributing to sustainability in everyone’s performance evaluation.
That helps get people’s attention. We’ve also have a President’s Award for sustainability that is given out to academic units, research units, operational units each year, as part of the President’s -- we call that program the award’s program, whatever those things. Yeah, I’m not very good with names of things. That’s an important thing. We also have a sustainability literacy program online, that I think over 2000 people have now completed satisfactorily. The objective there is to get the folks that work here to simply learn the language, understand what this is all about and why it is important. I could go on for a long time about different things that people are doing right now at ASU, that I think are truly unique.
When we send people out to other universities and other conferences, everyone wants to know ASU is doing. We really are trying to walk the talk and back up our goals with real actions and real progress, and so that’s where we are.
President Crow: Thank you very much, Ray. Ray is a person that, when given an assignment and the task, regardless of its complexity, for instance, this solar -- 25 million solar will be what capital investment level total?
Audience: [Off mic].
President Crow: $170 million. How much of that is the university’s resources?
Audience: Probably five.
President Crow: Five million. That means you have to convince someone else to give you 165 million of capital in some kind of an actual thing called a market-based exchange. It’s [laughter] never easy to pull that off. Now, Bruce I do have a partial answer for you, is that how close is your group to the engineering of a bacteria or a plant, or a bug of some type, that can produce unlimited amounts of hydrogen in a biofilm -- thing biofilm that we can use in lieu of these solar cells, that we could then take the hydrogen and put it right into fuel cells that we would operate a low energy production capacity, for each of our buildings to offload our nighttime energy to man, so we could use solar and biofilm, hydrogen-fueled fuel cells for the rest of our energy, how close are we?
Bruce Rittmann: Well, on a scale of zero to 100 percent, I’ll say we’re around 40 to 60 percent. You know, I want you to think about this. Composting is good, but actually, a lot of that could be turned not energy, and that’s better than compositing.
President Crow: Yeah, we had made a lot of progress on a plan like that, and then, we had this sticky little thing called economics that sort of got in the way and costs. What I will say is that if researchers or scientists or teams come up with ideas that people think we should be implementing in the business practices of the university, I mean, the doors are wide open for ideas and for tools and for technologies and so forth. The next person I would like to just introduce is Sander van der Leeuw. If Sander could come up, please. Sander van der Leeuw came to ASU, what, eight or nine years ago, right, nine years ago, almost ten. Sander came from an distinguished academic career in Europe, which culminated with him running and managing all the social science research activities in France, which I think more meaningfully invests in social science research than the United States.
We have problems with people thinking that all social scientists are communist. [Laughter] and so, there’s a lot of debate about -- in fact, we were involved with some debates about social sciences in Washington, even in my own discipline, which is political science. There’s like political science was going to be wiped from funding at NSF within the last couple of weeks. We got that defined in other strange ways. Sander came to ASU, to not only pursue his own academic interests, which are eclectic and trans disciplinary and conceptual at the highest possible level, but also, we asked him to help us to launch new trans disciplinary enterprises, that were academic in nature.
He has done that with two, our school for human evolution and social change is the product of Sander’s design, which when I read it, I said, “I don’t know who this guy is, but he needs to work here.” It was an unbelievable brilliant idea about how to evolve anthropology as a discipline to a more trans disciplinary perspective and a broader intellectual perspective. Then, upon completion of that, Sander began working on two assignments that we gave him at the same time, in addition to his own academic work. One was to work, to take the School of Sustainability to the next intellectual level, and the second was to help us to launch complex adaptive systems at ASU as a university initiative.
He’s been involved with both of those. After this semester, he’ll be concentrating his energy only on complex adaptive systems at ASU, which is basically an internal think tank that we have organized around social scientists, life scientists, information scientists and health scientists, that we’ve brought in to be a part of this think tank. Sander is going to devote his energy to that, and I’ll tell you a little bit about where we’re going with the role as dean and so forth. He has made a fantastic contribution to the university with the intellectual design that he has contributed to the School of Human Evolution and Social Change, which is a significant contributor to the Global Institute of Sustainability and to the School of Sustainability itself.
Sander, I want to thank you for that and just see if you have a couple of minutes of comments on what you’re going to be doing in complex adaptive systems at ASU and also as it relates to climate-related things.
Sander van der Leeuw: I’m not going to -- the one thing I am not going to do right now is to explain what complex adaptive systems are, okay? We’ll do that some other day and I’m happy to do it, and there’s a number of people who can do it very well in this university. The basic idea, if I take it from sustainability, is to look at the core of what we define sustainability and to take many, many outer rings of the onion, and add them into how we think about it. That goes from the environment to society to the earth system to the atmosphere and what have you. All those parts of things that, for me, are sort of part of society. What we are going to be doing in the complex adaptive systems relates in many ways, and particularly after I talked to Gary about where sustainability might be moving, into getting that much wider, into both the sustainability curriculum and sustainability research, but also in other domains of recommendation.
In particular, I am very much interested in, and going to take a personal role in, looking at innovation in biology and society from a complex adaptive system, and looking at urbanization and urban systems as a complex adaptive system. We are having, I think it’s on the 20th of this month, a short forum that will be the result of a workshop with what are the top people in the country about that particular domain actually. That will be announced, we are in the process of getting that all organized. We will also be working quite extensively, led by Anna Barker and George Post, on the whole idea of, well, what is health? What is a cancer?
How does a cancer evolve with a body, rather than be separate from a body? There’s a whole range of issues there. Evolutionary medicine is going to be one of the things that we are going to be accentuating, led by Mumford Lowbitor, a number of those domains. The one domain that I want to particularly emphasize, because I think it is one that we haven’t really thought about enough, is that of decision making as a complex system. Decision making, all the way from our cumulative aspects of decision making, to actually how it is handled in politics. That is another domain that we will try and evolve over the next few years.
That is coming a little bit later than these very first ones. I don’t want to end without thanking all of you for all the stimulus, all the interest and all the energy that you have put with me into doing a number of the things that we’ve talked about in sustainability. Thank you very much.
President Crow: There will be another event where we will recognize Sander for his role as Dean, but I wanted people to get a sense of his contribution in nine years here, in the designing of these new intellectual enterprises, as well as sort of where we are contextually and how we are advancing. Now, we have appointed also two new leaders for the Global Institute of Sustainability and the School of Sustainability. I’d like both of them to come up at the same time, Gary Dirks and Chris Boone, and I’ll talk about each of them. I would imagine that [applause] I would imagine that people were beginning to wonder whether or not I was still at work, whether or not, relative to the appointment of the Director for the Global Institute of Sustainability, since we have gone for some time in a mode of management by committee, and management through individuals helping to keep the ball running forward.
I’ll bring Rob up here in a second and talk about where we’re headed in the future. We did take a very long time to make a determination about where we were headed with the director of the institute. The director of the institute, because it’s a university initiative, is a position that reports directly to me, as president of the university. That’s a very unusual assignment in any institution. It’s a role in which, as director, Gary, as director, also has the president, the provost, the senior vice president for Knowledge Enterprise Development and the CEO of the ASU Foundation, that’s Rick Shangraw, as a management support group working to solve all of the problems that are in the way of advancing the institute, and there are always problems and challenges in advancing anything.
Gary and I got to know each other years ago before he came to ASU, and we were very interested, even at that time, in thinking about Gary to be the director of the Global Institute of Sustainability, as you’ll remember. He was coming off of decades of service in the private sector, wherein he also demonstrated an uncanny ability to drive sustainability forward in a very complex and not sustainable place at the moment, called the People’s Republic of China, by helping to form in China sustainability councils and new ways of thinking about the environment and new ways to conceptualize things in China.
If you imagine that all of the suffering that’s going on in China right now, environmentally, which is dramatic, that’s not the end state, that’s the present state. The end state is, they’re making dramatically more investments than we are in renewable energy. They’re making dramatically more investments of scales that we can’t even imagine in solar-driven systems and wind-driven systems and other kinds of new ways of thinking about things. Gary was a part of helping to conceptualize all of that. Gary, when he first came, was really interested in taking on this unique project that we outlines, which was this idea of LightWorks, which was this conceptualization of a photon-driven economy.
Right now, we have a fossil fuel-driven economy in the United States, and he’d had enough of that from his days with BP, right [laughter]? He saw all of the stresses and the strains, and all the complexities associated with that. In our discussions, many discussions and many interactions, I learned of his deep personal commitment to the objectives of sustainability, to moving beyond fossil-based economy, and moving to a new way to think about energy systems, and a new way to think about sustainability. Gary, although he is a chemist by training, and an engineer, in some ways, by practice, right, and an economist by calculation in many ways, he is deeply, if you don’t know Gary, a philosopher.
He is one of the most philosophically-oriented individuals that I have ever met, in terms of the deepness of his thinking about where we are and where we’re going and how we might get to a new end state, how we might actually create industrial models and city models and economic models that are actually sustainable or have some capacity to be sustainable. After searching around the country and not finding exactly the person that we would like to have, I went back to Gary and said, “Gary, remember what we talked about all those years ago? Director of the Global Institute of Sustainability? This time, you don’t actually have a choice [laughter].” Right?
Gary Dirks: More or less true.
President Crow: No, he of course had a choice, but I’m very happy that we were able to get Gary to agree to become the permanent director of the Global Institute of Sustainability. Each of you will get to know him and get to interact with him. I’m going to have him speak in a second, after I introduce Chris. With Sander going back now to focus on the complex adaptive systems think tank at ASU, which will heavily influence sustainability and other schools and other programs around the university through initiatives, and what we call super projects or A double prime projects, we call these, which are the biggest projects that we can imagine.
There is one of these being conceptualized now out of that group, related to biomarkers which is intended to change the trajectory of health care. With Sander leaving, we turn to Chris, who happens to be on leave this semester, and I appreciate Chris very much being here today from his appointment at Georgetown University, after his very successful role as associate dean. We are promoting Chris to interim dean for the School of Sustainability. What that means is Chris is not just going to hold the fort. He is going to run with the ball. Now, I’m an old football player and an old wrestler, so I use athletic analogues from time to time, so I apologize.
Here is what “run with the ball” means. It means Sander is coming off the field, Chris is going onto the field, here’s the ball. Don’t drop the ball, make first downs and we don’t like to punt, ever. Chris brings a fantastic academic background in the geographical sciences, and a deep commitment and an understanding to what we are doing here. He is going to be on the field, advancing the School of Sustainability. We’re very excited about his willingness to take on this role, to help us to continue to make progress as we’re moving forward. I’ll just turn to Gary, just for a couple of comments and then to Chris, and after that, I want Rob to come up.
Gary Dirks: I hadn’t actually thought about our conversations from before I came. Well, I remembered them, I hadn’t thought about them for a very long time. We would schedule these calls, and invariably, the second question, it was never the first question, the first question that Michael would always ask is, “Well, how is Beijing?” knowing full well that the air was no less unbreathable. It was either cold or hot. The second question is always, “Have you decided when you are going to retire yet?” I actually appreciated that, because it got me to thinking about what it meant, the project that Michael has been undertaking called the “New Mark in University.”
What the possibilities were and how we might be able to think about different ways to approach sustainability, and in my case, particularly sustainability in the system. It really contributed significantly to me deciding to retire at the first good opportunity, and come here to be a part of something that I found extremely exciting. I am very excited to be taking on the directorship of the Global Institute of Sustainability. I am excited about it for a lot of different reasons. One of which is, this is a great leadership team to be working with. Much like my conversations with Michael before I came, I was speaking to Rob about sustainability long before I came here.
I haven’t know Chris quite as long, but I’ve known Chris for quite some time. These guys are excellent and I’m truly looking forward to working with them. Equally important, and you saw that in just the very brief conversation we have had so far today, sustainability is in embedded in this university, in a way that when you step back and think about it, it is truly extraordinary. We’ve heard from facilities management, in fact, two different people from facilities management. We’ve heard from engineering and life sciences, we heard from Paul Johnson, we heard from the policy. All of you -- many of you from very different fields can speak powerfully about your commitment to sustainability and the possibilities that exist inside of this university.
We have come a long way, as Michael has suggested. I think it’s important that we recognize that we have come a very long ways, in a very short period of time. We have a long ways to go, but I am reminded of a Chinese poem that has a couple of lines it in that says, “What is the path to Cold Mountain? I don’t know the path to Cold Mountain.” Then, the author goes on to describe a destination where there is no path. Well, there is no path to the sustainable future, either inside of ASU or outside, we must create it. We have a tremendous base to work from.
We have a great leadership group coming in. I see it now as our role, Chris, mine and Rob, to live up to the potential of you and of this university, by being a partner with you, by being a leader, by being a catalyst, most of all, being a friend and colleague in trying to achieve great things. As most good new management groups do, we’re doing a lot of listening and talking right now. I know many of you in this room, but I hope that I will get the chance to meet all of you over the next few months. I want to know what you think, I want to know how we can find our way to Cold Mountain, even faster than we have been going. I will be, as we go on, talking more concretely about some of the ideas that we have, although, Sander has given you a little bit of a hint about the importance of systems and my belief in that.
What I can guarantee you is we really want to be engaged in this enterprise with you, and we’re going to be looking for every opportunity we can to make that an important collaboration in your portions of your university life.
President Crow: Chris?
Chris Boone: I’m going to move from poetry back to football, if I may. That’s right, I know, and I wanted to say that in Canadian football, there’s a lot of punting, ‘cuz you only get three downs to go to 10 yards [laughter]. If anything fails, I’m gonna pull the Canadian card and play that one. I just want to say that I’m deeply honored and deeply humbled to have been selected to serve as your next interim dean for the School of Sustainability. I wanna let you know that I have a great belief in the amazing talent that exists, not just in this room, but the faculty staff and students across all four campuses. I’ve had a chance to get to know some of them, but I see my role in the next few months as trying to reach out to even more of you, to make sure that we tap into that talent, to make sure that not only do we continue to train the next leaders in sustainability and sustainability science, I think that’s important.
We also find a way to make sure that we also educated sustainability at ASU. That is a two-pronged approach, but I don’t think it necessarily has to pull us in different directions. I think the two can really mutually reinforce one another. That’s going to be my primary goal. I obviously can’t do it alone. I can’t do it just with you here in this room. I’m really going to be relying on everyone that I can have a conversation with, and I assume that there’s going to be many conversations in the next few months. I look forward to getting to know all of you much, much better. Thank you.
President Crow: Very quickly, I know we’re approaching our end of designated time. Rob Melnick, Professor Melnick is the chief operating officer and the executive director of the Global Institute of Sustainability. He has been the person through all of our complex transitions that we have gone through, has been keeping everything stuck together and helping it all to work, and making it all happen, and delivering programs and service and outcomes and success. I wanted to recognize Rob for his work, but also indicate that his work is continuing now as a part of the Global Institute of Sustainability directorate. With all of you here, and even though I do this, people will somehow still wonder what we are talking about. I am going to explain what this directorate means and how it works, and what each person’s role is.
First, let me articulate why we’re doing it this way. This is an all university initiative. We want all assets of the university that we can identify plugged into our effort to advance sustainability. This is not the School of Life Sciences, this is not the School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning. This is not the Ira A. Fulton Schools of Engineering. This institute is an all university initiative. It is not a one-person thing. It is not a one-person thing to be managed. It has too many moving pieces, too many parts. Gary, as the director of the institute, chairs the directorate, and is responsible, on behalf of the directorate, but with the directorate to me for advancing the institute to its objectives.
Its objectives are to be the leading center for new ideas and new solutions related to sustainability in the United States, if not the world, period. Now, we’re a long ways from that objective, but that’s our objective. If you can’t take the entire asset base of a major public research university in the United States, and put a serious dent into this no-path to sustainability, then there’s something wrong with us and there’s something wrong with academia, and we’re gonna suffer a lot while we experience the outcome of no path to sustainability. We’re going to suffer a lot, both in the United States and around the world.
Maybe not this generation, maybe not the next generation, but within the next three generations, it’s going to be very, very complex for us to be able to continue on the path that we have been on. I believe that wholeheartedly. I believe that no university has been willing yet to mount up and take all of their assets. By the way, it’s not something that one university can do by itself. Imagine if most of the research universities in the country were working on this set of problems and this set of undertakings. That would be a powerful tool. Then, the universities around the world, not just focusing only on the issues of individual disciplines, or not just focusing only on the health outcomes for individual human beings, how about the health outcome for all of the human beings that are on the planet, and the health outcome for the planet itself. Gary is our leader of this directorate.
Now, Chris, you have to have some sympathy for Chris in what I’m about to tell you. Chris has a complex assignment, as he knows. Chris, as a dean at ASU, sits with the other deans, Paul Johnson, Rob Page, Dough Sylvester of the law school, Kwang-Wu Kim of the Herberger Institute for Design in the Arts, and is responsible to the chief academic officer of the university as he must be for the delivery of the program, the content and the success of the students that are pursuing their majors, minors or graduate degrees in the school of sustainability. We can only operate the university this way. Now, we have this school embedded inside this institute, so that when the institute is flying in whatever arena it’s flying in, it has a school as an asset, connected to the other schools of the university.
Chris is both the dean of the school, working with the other deans as part of the dean’s council, and working with the provost, I met with the dean’s council yesterday, to advance the academic objectives of the school of sustainability. The provost and the dean proposed to me what the size of the school will be, what the budget of the school will be, what the program thrusts of the school will be, how many majors there will be, how many minors there will be, what the program growth will be, the funding, the number of faculty lines, the relationship with the other schools, the relationship with the other deans, all those kinds of things. Chris has that assignment, and he is also a member of this directorate, and therefore responsible as one of the leaders of one of the institute. Everybody got that?
Audience: Yeah, I got it [laughter].
President Crow: Chris says he’s got it. No wonder the criticisms that come to me sometimes is that you make things too hard, meaning me. I don’t know which of you have got the path of how you would build a Global Institute of Sustainability, a School of Sustainability and advance an entire university initiative. If you have got a better idea about how to do this, you let me know, ‘cuz this is the idea we’re still stuck with, that we’re still trying. Now, Rob is the integrator and the developer of the programs and the support necessary for all of these enterprises to be successful. He brings a wealth of, not only that kind of experience, but also a deep understanding of culture change, policy change, policy dynamics and so forth.
Now, before I ask Rob to say 30 seconds that everything is good [laughter], for those of you that are members of the ASU faculty, in any unit, in any unit that has anything to do with sustainability or if you have anything to do with sustainability, you need to understand that the provost, myself, the dean and the directorate are working on what we consider to be a not-fully resolved set of issues, relative to faculty appointments and relative to faulty allocation of time and energy and talent. We are going to be working on, as one of our major projects, an improvement on our present structure. That is going to go to a definition of the faculty of the School of Sustainability, different than the present definition that is more expansive than the present definition of the School of Sustainability faculty. That is not worked out yet, but it is in the works. Rob, anything from you before we close?
Rob Melnick: Everything’s good [laughter]. [Applause] let me say one thing, seriously. Everyone here has spoken about the progress that we’ve made in slightly different terms. We really have made a lot of progress. Let me tell you a quick story. We have somebody, a very prominent person in the field of sustainability, Tony Cartasi, former dean of environmental studies at Tufts, I believe, public health, also the state of Massachusetts commissioner for the environment and founder of Second Nature, a really widely recognized scholar, looking at the past and advising us on the future of GIOS and sustainability at ASU, more importantly.
As part of his assignment, which he’ll soon share with us, he was asked by President Crow to look at the so-called competition, other universities are working in the area of sustainability. What he found very clearly was what they knew --
President Crow: He went and visited.
Rob Melnick: He visited them, yeah, he visited them, very prominent schools, the Bren School and places all across the country. To make a long story short, what he found was every one of them knew quite a lot about what we were doing, thought of it as a remarkable and bold experiment, acknowledged how important it was that we were doing this, and said, “We’re sure glad you’re doing this, [laughter] because it scares the hell out of us if we would have to do this. We couldn’t pull it off.” He heard that, I believe, Michael, almost uniformly across the board. They’re routing for us, they’re looking for us, and you should all take a great deal of pride in that 40 to 50 percent that we’ve come up to, and the next 40 to 50 percent that we’re going to come up to.
President Crow: Thank you. We have used up our allocated time for today, but I think we’ve accomplished what I wanted to accomplish, which was to let you know where we’re headed as a university, to recognize some of the individuals that have brought us forward, to recognize the institute and school’s leadership team as we’re moving forward. We will meet again, but the next time we meet, we’ll be listening to Gary and others talk about where we’re headed and what we’re going to achieve and where we are. It turns out that the amount of activity going on by many of you is dramatic. We’re already one of the most heavily funded successful environmentally-oriented research enterprises of any American research university.
It’s quite remarkable everything that everybody is working on. We see that we have a long way to go. The exercise that we’re going through with Dr. Cortese is also somewhat -- well, he doesn’t hold anything back, which we asked him not to. It’s also humbling. He was a little bit nervous to ask me where [laughter] I thought we were. He thought I was going to say, “Well, this is the greatest thing that ever happened and we’re just achieving so much,” and so forth and so on. When I said I thought we were 40 percent of the way on the path, he said, “That’s about where I thought you were, also.” I said, “Well, that’s because you’re actually taking a look at what we’re doing. You actually have some ability to assess where we are. That’s about where I think that we are.”
It’s not a grade, it’s a progress report of how far we have come toward our objective. As I said to them, I said, “That’s a little better than I thought that we could’ve done by this point.” In the previous institution I was at, I worked a lot longer to achieve less in terms of goals or objectives in advancing that institution and the things that we were doing there, because of the leave of resistance, which was unbelievable. Here, we haven’t met resistance. What we have encountered is the reality of, “Well, how do you do it? How do you actually make it happen?” We’ll be getting together again, and I want to thank everybody for being here, and thank our leadership team, so thank you very much.