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December 2006


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Alison Pechenick <[log in to unmask]>
Reply To:
Engineers Without Borders <[log in to unmask]>
Tue, 19 Dec 2006 11:53:28 -0500
text/plain (390 lines)
Hello EWB friends,

Here is an interesting piece from our CS faculty colleague, also part of
the Gund Institute.

Please feel free to share articles and websites like this as you happen
to see them.  The more we educate ourselves, the better we can serve.

Best wishes for the season,


-------- Original Message --------
Subject: sustainability
Date: Tue, 19 Dec 2006 11:47:49 -0500
From: Alexey Voinov <[log in to unmask]>
To: [log in to unmask],        Gund Institute for Ecol Economics
<[log in to unmask]>

Some interesting ideas for our "green" University.

from the December 19, 2006 edition -
'Sustainability' gains status on US campuses
University programs are focusing research and resources on environmental
social responsibility.

By Ron Scherer | Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

Somewhere in the curriculum, most colleges and universities include
Henry David
Thoreau. Now, many of them are trying to emulate him.

Yes, sweeping the academic world is Walden Pond 101: the art of living in a
sustainable manner. Think environmental and social responsibility.

One of the best examples of the ivory tower's effort to tread lightly on
land is at Arizona State University. Next month, ASU will inaugurate the
nation's first School of Sustainability - whose classes will look at
from water scarcity to urban air quality problems.

It is one of many universities putting its intellect and talents to use
in the
name of ecology. These institutions are devoting more research to
solving global
climate problems, and they're redesigning their own campuses to be
examples of
better ways to use and protect Earth's resources. For some schools, the
financial commitment to these issues has started to run into the
millions of
dollars, as they foot salaries for new specialists and pay the costs of
green buildings. At the very least, many universities are creating new
in response to student interest.

"We have always looked to academia to think creatively about the larger
of our day," says Carter Roberts, president of the World Wildlife Fund in
Washington. "There is not a more complicated problem than how to survive
flourish with a growing population and finite resources."

Universities are quickly latching onto the issue as several developments
The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education
(AASHE) has quintupled in size this year, as it went from a West
organization to a national group. Also, an increasing number of schools,
New York University to the University of Central Oklahoma, are getting 100
percent of their energy from renewable sources. And next month, a group of
colleges and universities will launch an effort encouraging 200
universities to
develop a plan that would make their schools "climate neutral," meaning the
schools wouldn't adversely affect the environment.

Many institutions are proud of their innovations. At the University of
in New York, a new optics lab will have stairwells designed to absorb
heat and
radiate into the building to reduce heating costs. At Berea College in
sewage from an "Ecovillage" is treated in a series of tanks filled with
and fish. The University of California at San Diego has identified campus
rooftops where it can install 500 kilowatts of solar panels, which
equals the
power needed for 325 homes.
ASU's green efforts

But ASU has ratcheted up the effort with "a holistic approach" that is
unique in the nation, says Mr. Roberts.

Any new building erected at ASU - a school adding facilities quickly -
must be
built to exacting environmental standards. Some professors in the
labs are concentrating on understanding nature and then using the
knowledge to
solve problems. For example, a team of professors is growing a strain of
bacteria that feast on carbon dioxide. The bacteria could then be used to
convert emissions from a power plant into bio-fuels.

By the fall, the university hopes to integrate its work so that students in
other schools, such as the law school, can minor in sustainability. Some
students will come from China as part of an agreement in August to launch a
Joint Center on Urban Sustainability.

In October, ASU hosted 650 academics, administrators, and students from
who took part in a conference on the role of higher education in creating a
sustainable world. The university is attracting donors and business people,
including heiress Julie Ann Wrigley and Rob Walton, chairman of
Wal-Mart, who
last month agreed to chair the board of ASU's Institute of Sustainability.

Behind the university's efforts is its president, Michael Crow, who
arrived at
ASU in 2002 after 11 years at Columbia University, where he played a
lead role
in founding the Earth Institute.

Like many environmentalists, he counts reading Rachel Carson's book "Silent
Spring" as a landmark in his life. However, he says it wasn't until he
that he realized "all of these 70,000 chemicals and synthetics that we
have put
in the atmosphere and water were all derived mostly by universities with no
thought given to what the other impacts may be to what they are doing."

At ASU, Dr. Crow reorganized the life-science departments, and began hiring
experts in sustainability. A central goal, he says, "is that we work in
with the natural systems as opposed to in conflict with the natural

And Crow goes a step further: He believes that nature, through 4 billion
of genetic change, provides "the pathway to everything we need. Nature has
adapted to all kinds of problems: hot climate, cold climate, high carbon
dioxide, low carbon dioxide."

In May 2004, Crow organized a three-day retreat in the Yucatan, with
experts from around the world, to brainstorm what an institute of
would have to do to succeed. "We asked them, 'If you could design an entire
university to attack sustainability issues, what would you do?' "
recalls Crow.
"What they said is that 'You can do this, and we need you to,' and they
urged us
to move forward."

At the meeting was Ms. Wrigley, who later wrote the university a check
for $15
million as a planning grant.

Crow subsequently allocated the university's resources. He committed to
of new faculty positions, four distinguished chairs, and a new building
would meet exacting environmental standards. Included in the mix: a $6
"Decision Theater" that allows community leaders to see the complexities of
their decisions on the environment - not just now, but also in a virtual
Phoenix: laboratory for sustainability

In some ways, Phoenix makes a good laboratory for studying
sustainability - a
fast-growing metropolis that is in the middle of a desert. "It is a
environment," says Patricia Gober, codirector of the Decision Center for a
Desert City, part of ASU. "But we are also an open system, composed
largely of
migrants, so we are open to innovation, change, new ideas."

Phoenix, like other cities in hot climates, confronts some major
"sustainability" problems. One, the nighttime temperatures here now
average 10
to 12 degrees warmer than 40 to 50 years ago when the area was less
Called the "urban heat island," the higher temperatures mean a greater
for air conditioning, which requires additional power generation.

But in an ASU lab, scientists Jay Golden and Kamil Kaloush are
with ways to cut down on the heat, including using coatings on street
such as rubber that absorb the heat more efficiently, but also release it
faster. "Reducing the urban heat island effect could mean cities like Los
Angeles have fewer days when they are not in compliance with EPA
standards, and that could mean more money for them since the EPA cuts
when a city is not in attainment," says Mr. Golden. Their work is being
watched in China, where Shanghai has the same problem.

ASU has built a $400 million Biodesign Institute on the campus, and
there are trying to implement Crow's vision of emulating natural
systems. One
example: Neal Woodbury and his colleagues are trying to mimic the way
take sunlight and carbon dioxide to split water and produce hydrogen, a
potential fuel for the future. By creating and identifying new catalysts
greatly speed up nature's process, the experiment could be commercially
producing hydrogen in about two years.

Students seem excited to be part of the university's effort. One is Thad
of Malverne, N.Y., who has been accepted to work on a doctorate at the new
School of Sustainability. "What is appealing to me is that these
problems of
climate change, the urban heat island, urban planning, require a real
interdisciplinary way of looking at the world, and they do this more so
than any other school," says Mr. Miller, who is leaning toward working
for a
nonprofit or advising decision- makers when he graduates. "It's fun to
be a part
of it."

Eventually, Crow hopes to see thousands of new students - future Thoreaus -
enrolled in the school. "I think I've read everything Thoreau wrote,"
says Crow.
"And he would have loved this place."
One university president's vision

Michael Crow, president of Arizona State University, is a leader in
environmental issues in higher education. For the adjoining story, the
Ron Scherer talked with him in Tempe. Following are additional excerpts
from the
On how ASU is moving forward with sustainability goals:

We have decided as a university to pick our own low-hanging fruit, so we
build sustainable buildings now. We will be leading an effort to get other
university presidents to sign up for a series of renewable-energy
objectives and
carbon-emission objectives ... as some mayors have done. It's the
climate initiative.

We are going to do that: It's being conceptualized and about to be launched.
On student interest in sustainability:

It's still early but it's high. I would say it's in the hundreds [of ASU
students], now but our goal is to make it into the thousands....

One of our other reasons for doing this is we are failing in finding
ways to
teach science - and one of the reasons is that we are teaching science
the way
scientists think about science, and nine-tenths of the population don't
get it.
When you ask how to get them more interested, they always say, give them
a context.

The teaching of science through sustainability will attract more people
to science.
On what makes ASU's initiatives unusual:

We sat at my house for a couple of days to draw up the design
imperatives for
the university. We knew what we wanted to do: We wanted a new kind of
university. We call it the "new American university."

Part of that means leveraging place: We can't be distant from where we
are. We
are part of this new American city [Phoenix] and participating in societal
transformation. And that means we have some responsibility.

We had Frank Rhodes, a former president of Cornell, out here, and we
just gave
him an honorary PhD. He said we need a new design for universities. He
said they
are essential to the design and the creation of the future of our
It becomes so central.

So we took all those lessons and all those dynamics, and we knew that at
point there was still open-mindedness. The one thing that remains here is

I'm going down to Tucson to meet with the [state] regents. And what they
want is
a differentiated university of great utility and service and of great
On his connections to China:

I was in China in August, and we signed off and launched the Joint
Center on
Urban Sustainability.

We also received the largest Chinese government grant to a US
institution to
help design solutions to the terrible grasslands management problem in

The joint institute is basically here in Phoenix, which is an emerging
city being built. Eventually China is going to build all these brand-new
and eventually they will rework those cities. And everyone realizes the
are the key: If you can get the cities to be sustainable and if you can
carbon emissions, you can reach a mass balance state of equilibrium.

What we are focusing on is this interface between the built environment
and the
natural environment. How do you interface the built environment in ways
that the
natural environment can be sustained?
On tackling extremely complex issues:

Well, for example, we have built this Decision Theater, which cost $6
It's a way to visualize and conceptualize very complex things....

We have too many variables and too many things and too much time. We
have to
think about thousands of years and multiple generations. We can't do
that. We're
not equipped. We can think about our grandparents and our children.

So this Decision Theater helps us take on complex problems. You need
this 3-D
tool. So we are looking to build one of those in China to be linked up
with us,
working with us on simulating cities and simulating sustainability and
with sustainability conceptualization.

When I was in China, you could not see across the street. I go to China
twice a
year. They are not fun trips: It's arduous; the air pollution is so bad.
enough people understand it. It is in their economic interest to tackle
issues. Economic issues are central to the environmental issue.

Our working with the Chinese is that we are interested in allies and
who are interested in what we are, which is understanding how to advance
sustainability models.

Four or five big countries on the planet are driving everything, and we
are one
of those. China and India are among the others.

Full HTML version of this story which may include photos, graphics, and
Alexey Voinov
AAAS Fellow with the Army Corps of Engineers Inst.for Water Resources
TEL: 703 428-6303           7701 Telegraph Road, Alexandria, VA 22315
on leave from the
Gund Institute for Ecological Economics & Computer Science Department
University of Vermont,  617 Main Street,  Burlington,  VT  05405-0088
E-mail:  [log in to unmask]         WWW:    http://giee.uvm.edu/AV

Alison Pechenick, Lecturer
Department of Computer Science
College of Engineering & Mathematical Sciences
351 Votey Building
University of Vermont
Burlington, VT 05405