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Sustainability News

Wicked Problems: How Systems Thinking, Technology, and New Partnerships Can Tackle Sustainability’s Challenges

November 27, 2012

A Thought Leader Series Piece

Bruno SardaBy Bruno Sarda

Note: Bruno Sarda is the director of global sustainability operations at Dell, a consultant for the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives, and a faculty member at the School of Sustainability.

Our world faces ‘wicked’ problems.

Wicked problems, as explained by Ann Kinzig, chief research strategist at ASU’s Global Institute of Sustainability, are challenges that are complex “all the way down.” They resist simple solutions.

Wicked problems include how to deal with a rapidly changing and unstable climate. How to feed a projected 9 billion people on this planet while enabling many to rise out of poverty. And how to do all of the above while respecting the physical boundaries and finite resources of our planet. These problems are the key challenge of sustainability.

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Business + University: Tomorrow's Jobs Require Sustainability

September 27, 2012

A Thought Leader Series PieceHunter Lovins

By Hunter Lovins

Note: Hunter Lovins is a past Wrigley Lecture Series speaker at ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability and was a keynote speaker at the inaugural conference of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education held at ASU in 2006.

Business is probably the only institution on the planet that is nimble and well-managed enough to respond to the global sustainability crises facing humanity. Such challenges as the impacts of climate change, soaring resource prices, poverty, and loss of biodiversity are threats, but are also opportunities. The businesses that successfully respond will be big winners in the marketplace.

Business sustainability leaders already outperform their less sustainable peers. Over 40 studies from all the major management consulting houses, as well as from academic journals such as Harvard Business Review and MIT Sloan Review, show that the companies that are sustainability leaders have higher and faster growing stock value, better financial results, lower risks, and more engaged workforces than other companies.

Despite all this, we’re losing. The international Convention on Biological Diversity report, Global Biodiversity Outlook 3, highlights a sobering loss of species and habitats among the world’s ecosystems. Threats like the acidification of the oceans could, worst case, end life as we know it on earth. This has happened several times before on our planet with up to 90 percent of species going extinct. Meanwhile, both the International Energy Agency and the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development warn that unless global leaders implement more sustainable practices immediately we will, perhaps as early as 2017, lock in an unsurvivable amount of global warming.

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Living Like the Future Matters: Inspiring Urban Sustainability

July 31, 2012

A Thought Leader Series Piece

By Greg Stanton

Greg StantionNote: ASU and Phoenix have collaborated on numerous big projects through the years, including development of the ASU campus in the heart of downtown. More recently, ASU's Global Institute of Sustainability and Phoenix teamed up to win a $25 million federal grant from the U.S. Department of Energy to launch Energize Phoenix, a sustainable energy efficiency program that creates green jobs and reduces carbon emissions while transforming energy use in diverse neighborhoods along a 10-mile stretch of the Metro light rail.

Sustainability is what turns big cities into great cities. It’s a transformation that starts with good leadership and collaboration, then takes off with visionary thinking and long-term planning. Great cities thrive when sustainability permeates decisions, strategies, and operations.

Phoenix has long benefited from visionary leaders with long-term outlooks. These leaders provided the ideas and groundwork that made it possible to create a major city in a vast desert. They secured a multidimensional water supply that is one of the most reliable in the country. They established strong economic foundations for us in information technology, biotechnology, and other high-value industries that are at the core of a sustainable economy. And they set aside vast natural wonders as preserves for future generations.

Thus, Phoenix has paved the way and has become the sixth most populous city in the nation with 1.4 million people across almost 520square miles. More than that, Phoenix is the beating heart of a vibrant metropolitan region that encompasses more than 4 million people. It is also the capital of a huge and diverse state that is home to 6 million residents.

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Corporate Sustainability: The Challenge of Achieving More with Less

June 27, 2012

A Thought Leader Series Piece

Kasper Rorsted

By Kasper Rorsted

Note: ASU and Henkel have a long relationship on issues of sustainability, beginning with ASU’s collaboration with the Dial Corporation, now a Henkel company. More recently, Rob Melnick, executive dean of the Global Institute of Sustainability and the School of Sustainability, was an advisor to Henkel in the development of the company’s current sustainability strategy.

The Earth’s resources are finite – the faster we expand, the faster we use them up. This idea was central to the prescient 1972 study, “Limits to Growth,” commissioned by the Club of Rome.

Forty years later, it is now obvious that human consumption is exceeding these limits. Our population of more than seven billion people devours many resources more quickly than they can be renewed.

What will happen in another 40 years when the world’s population expands to a predicted nine billion people? Consumption and resource demand could grow faster than ever before. Will the people on this planet willingly forego a higher quality of life and the level of consumption that goes with it? Not likely.

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Practicing Sustainability: From Measurement to Progress

May 30, 2012

A Thought Leader Series PieceRalf Wilde

By Ralf Wilde

Note: ASU and TÜV Rheinland in 2009 established a commercial joint venture in Tempe, Arizona – the TÜV Rheinland Photovoltaic Testing Laboratory. It is currently the world’s leading provider for PV technology testing.

Our modern definitions of sustainable development have come a long way from the earliest 18th century German paper about sustainable forestry. Over the last 25 years, however, the concept of sustainability has been stretched considerably to encompass a growing number of issues, ideas, and processes.

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Sustainable Army: Creating a Net Zero Bootprint

May 1, 2012

Richard KiddA Thought Leader Series Piece

By Richard Kidd

Note: ASU was selected by the Army National Guard to partner in the development and delivery of an online Graduate Certificate in Sustainability Leadership designed exclusively for Soldiers and Army-related civilians. Classes are offered through the School of Sustainability.

Imagine the U.S. Army called to war with no fuel, no supplies, and no training.

You can’t. To safeguard against such a scenario, the Army embraces sustainability as a foundation of its global mission, operations, and strategic management. As a matter of preparedness, sustainability is integrated across the Army’s four lines of operation – material, military training, personnel, and services and infrastructure.

This is not a fad, but serious business. Army leaders have been working since 2000 to embed sustainability into the Army’s culture. Through collaborations with academia, federal agencies, and other organizations, and by emphasizing the key role sustainability plays in enabling operations at home and overseas, the Army has shifted its behavior. A strong culture of sustainability now ensures that the Army of tomorrow has the same access to energy, water, land, and other natural resources as it does today.

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Sustainability Waits: Doomsday Clock Ticks Forward

March 29, 2012

Lawrence M. KraussA Thought Leader Series Piece

By Lawrence M. Krauss

Shortly after the end of World War II, Albert Einstein uttered his now famous warning about the new global danger of nuclear weapons: “Everything has changed, save the way we think.”

In the intervening sixty-odd years, the world has continued to change and become even more dangerous. And still, there is no great evidence that our way of thinking about global catastrophes has evolved to meet the challenges.

I am currently honored to be co-chair of the Board of Sponsors of the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists – a body created by Albert Einstein and Robert Oppenheimer in 1946 to help warn the public about the dangers of nuclear war.

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Sustain What? Exploring Species for a Sustainable Future

January 31, 2012

A Thought Leader Series Piece

Quentin Wheeler

By Quentin Wheeler

Several centuries of species exploration have taught us that a vast number of Earth’s plants and animals are extremely limited in their ecological associations and geographic distributions. When these species lose their specific habitats, it usually means extinction. Yet, because we don’t know what or how many species actually exist or where they live, we are unable to detect or measure these quiet changes in biodiversity.

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Rating Phoenix Sustainability: What Matters Most?

November 3, 2011

A Thought Leader Series Piece

Grady Gammage, Jr.By Grady Gammage, Jr.

In early October, Andrew Ross issued the latest indictment of Phoenix: Bird on Fire: Lessons from the World’s Least Sustainable City. Ross’s book represents the latest, longest, and most articulate examination of Arizona’s capital – the nation’s sixth largest city – as a kind of colossal demographic mistake. But he’s not the first to go down this path.


In a 2006 radio interview, author Simon Winchester said that Phoenix “should never have been built” because “there’s no water there.” In 2008, rated Phoenix among the least sustainable cities in the U.S. for water supply, primarily because of the distance water must travel to reach the city. In 2010, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) found that Maricopa County, home to the Phoenix Metro area, was among the “most challenged” places in the U.S. for climate change – this conclusion based on the difference between rainfall and water use within the county. And in 2011, the Stockholm Environment Institute (SEI) found current patterns of Arizona water use to be “unsustainable,” due to the large amount of water going to agriculture.


These views highlight the huge problems inherent in measuring urban sustainability. In large part, Phoenix seems to be everyone’s favorite whipping boy essentially because it’s hot in Arizona and doesn’t rain very much. This view is too simplistic. 


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