As the largest public university in the country (with more than 70,000 students) and with its location in an arid environment, associating Arizona State University (ASU) with a successful sustainability program seems as unlikely as growing a successful business selling ice in the arctic circle.
Bonny Bentzin, ASU's Director of Sustainable Business Practices at the Global Institute of Sustainability
With its four different campuses, ASU is a complex system; in fact, its operations reflect that of a small city. Given the struggles that cities and towns are having in encouraging and developing sustainable living programs, it isn’t surprising that ASU has come up against problems of its own. But, thanks to its learning environment and its dynamic president, Michael Crow, ASU has willingly chosen to pursue a course rooted in sustainability. ASU is known as one of the first universities to develop an integrated effort to achieve sustainability. The Global Institute of Sustainability, ASU’s organizational hub for sustainability, has four cornerstones: education, research, operations and global connections (outreach, solutions and community engagement efforts). On the operations side, we have four main goals:
  • carbon neutrality or reaching zero on our carbon footprint in areas such as our energy consumption, transportation waste footprints and liquid fuel consumption;
  • zero waste — both solid and water waste;
  • active engagement — essentially that we have more than 82,000 potential change agents in our faculty, staff and students (not counting vendor and stakeholder partners), and everyone has a role to play in our success in sustainability, and last but not least;
  • principled practice — encompasses how we express our value system of sustainability in the way we operate the university and the way individuals engage with the university, including such things as the products we purchase, how we clean our buildings, the food we serve and the quality of our living, learning and work environments.
One of ASU’s signature efforts includes a wide-scale commitment to integrating on-site generation into its power grid. Solar technology is being installed on the Tempe (main) and West campuses that will total over 10 MWs by March 2011. Two years ago, another effort was launched to reduce energy consumption through human behavior in the form of an interactive website called Campus Metabolism that provides a public portal to understand campus energy consumption; solid waste and water information will eventually be added.
Arizona State University's photovoltaic installations are one of the largest commitments to solar energy by a university in the United States. Photo by Vince Palermo.
The zero solid waste and engagement goals are supported through a number of programs such as campus harvest and SunSET. Campus Harvest provides an opportunity for members of the ASU community to volunteer to pick fruit from the campus arboretum that is then used in the dining halls, saving the university money from reduced landfill fees and reducing shipping miles on food. SunSET reduces waste handling costs and reduces expenditures by allowing departments an online portal to trade unwanted office supplies. The above is a brief overview of ASU’s sustainability program with some examples of its signature efforts. Despite a desert environment and its size and complexity, ASU is carving a path that will not only transform its own operations, but also make a wider impact worldwide by training future leaders and demonstrating best practices to other institutions (and cities). Bonny Bentzin is the Director of Sustainable Business Practices at the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University. About the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University The Global Institute of Sustainability is the hub of ASU’s sustainability initiatives. The institute advances research, education and business practices for an urbanizing world. Its School of Sustainability, the first of its kind in the U.S., offers transdisciplinary degree programs to create practical solutions for environmental, economic and social challenges. For more information visit the Global Institute of Sustainability at