Arizona State University models world-class practices for sustainable higher ed institutions

– Written by Amanda Sawit, U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC)

This blog was originally posted on September 13, 2016 on the U.S. Green Building Council’s website. It is republished here with their permission. 

The Center for Green Schools and Second Nature recently announced the winners of the 2016 Climate Leadership Awards, which recognize innovative and advanced leadership in sustainability, climate change mitigation and resilience at signatory campuses of Second Nature’s Climate Leadership Commitments.

This year’s recipients show leadership through practices, partnerships and initiatives designed to tackle some of the greatest modern challenges. Examples of their commitments include the ongoing pursuit of green building practices; the development of a campus culture that embraces local sourcing; alternative transportation methods; innovative partnerships with their surrounding communities; and cultivation of a sense of individual responsibility among students, faculty and staff.

Arizona State University

Arizona State University (ASU) won in the Four-Year Institution category and was commended for its commitment to sustainable building design, proactively cutting emissions and energy use while investing in green energy and its efforts to engage and partner with students and the surrounding community.

For ASU’s community, which is spread over 25 million gross square feet of buildings, purposeful and sustainable design is central to the university’s success. In the 10 years since it signed on to Second Nature’s American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment, the campus grew 33 percent in size, and its student population swelled 37 percent. All the while, ASU has reduced its emissions by 18 percent by becoming a more efficient place to learn, work and live.

The university boasts more than 4 million gross square feet of LEED-certified space, a total that puts ASU among the top universities in the country using LEED®. In 2007, ASU’s Biodesign B building became the first LEED Platinum building in the state. Currently, LEED projects encompass nearly 17 percent of all gross square footage. And although ASU’s baseline for certification is Silver, oftentimes projects reach higher feats—the last five projects certified attained Gold or Platinum status.

ASU has also made huge strides in harnessing its idyllic location and broadening its solar capacity, as well as in reducing energy consumption and emissions related to campus activities. There are 88 solar installations across ASU campuses, making up one of the largest on-campus portfolios in the nation with a capacity of 24 MWdc. ASU multiplies its solar capacity through innovative parking-lot “parasols,” solar tracking systems and solar arrays that shade campus.

Additionally, in an effort to address emissions outside university control, ASU and PayPal partnered with local utility APS to build a solar plant that will increase ASU’s renewable energy portfolio 150 percent by the end of 2016. These efforts have helped ASU surpass national climate neutrality trends, with university energy use down 19.6 percent (compared to the national average of 2 percent) and emissions down 11 percent (compared to the national average of 5 percent.)

In addition to greening its physical space and optimizing campus operations, ASU believes it is equally important to educate and prepare the next generation of sustainability leaders. Offering some of the most comprehensive, transdisciplinary, solutions-focused sustainability education and research offerings in the U.S., ASU’s School of Sustainability offers a range of sustainability-related degrees, concentrations and dual-degrees in business, design, engineering, humanities, journalism, law, life sciences, public affairs, and social sciences, among others. Through ASU’s $15 million sustainability fund, students learn to apply for funding and execute their plans, while providing practical solutions to on-campus sustainability needs.

To augment ASU’s sustainability-focused curriculum, more than $306 million has been dedicated to research for 870 faculty covering themes of change and adaptation, business and economics, biodiversity and conservation, urban dynamics, society, policy and governance, international development, food systems, energy, materials and technology.

Other recent ASU initiatives range from investigating opportunities to naturally treat and repurpose wastewater on campus to setting up task forces to conduct a resilience assessment and update a climate action plan. The university also plays host to hundreds of sustainability lectures and other events for the ASU and broader community.

The Climate Leadership Award is a testament to these and many other efforts ASU has pursued to become a sustainable institution at the highest level.

Photo, top: Winner of the 2016 Climate Leadership Award for Four-Year Institution, Arizona State University shows a broad commitment to sustainable building, working and living.