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ASU named a Cool School by Sierra Club for campus sustainability.
September 6, 2016

Sierra Club honors ASU for campus sustainability with No. 6 spot in its 2016 report, up from No. 11 in 2015

It's easy to be green — if you're a Sun Devil.

Arizona State University’s sustainability efforts have earned it a top 10 ranking in Sierra magazine’s 10th annual “Cool Schools” ranking of America’s greenest colleges and universities, released today.

ASU came in at No. 6, moving up five spots from its 2015 ranking.

More than 200 schools participated in Sierra’s extensive survey about sustainability practices on their campus. Using an updated, customized scoring system, Sierra’s researchers ranked each university based on its demonstrated commitment to upholding high environmental standards. 

Sustainability efforts aren’t just about the university’s operations, said Mick Dalrymple, director of ASU’s University Sustainability Practices — it’s about changing habits and mind-sets.

“Universities are about opening people’s minds,” Dalrymple said. “If we can get students, staff and faculty to see new opportunities for improving how we treat the environment and each other on campus, we can help them take those innovations out into the world to improve their lives, careers, neighborhoods and society.”

ASU scored high in several categories, including bike facilities, organic gardens, undergraduate programs, student outreach and move-in/out waste reduction. 

Other Arizona universities also made the list: Northern Arizona University was ranked 52nd, and the University of Arizona came in at No. 162. The full rankings can be found at

Read on to learn more about what ASU is doing to help the environment.

Solar panels

ASU has 88 solar energy installations across four campuses and the ASU Research Park, creating more than 24 megawatts of power. In addition to providing power for the university, the solar panels also provide shaded parking, extend the life of roofs that have shade, and act as a living lab for academics and research and sustainability initiatives.

Bike valets

ASU provides free, secure and convenient bike valet services in three locations around the Tempe campus. The stations accommodate up to 200 bicycles and provide supervised bicycle parking on a first-come, first-served basis.


As part of its Zero Waste initiative, ASU supports Blue Bin commingled recycling on all campuses and has services to recycle specialty items. In 2015 the university launched the Blue Bag recycling program to capture traditionally hard-to-recycle items such as batteries and wrappers. More than 500 Blue Bags have been placed around Tempe campus.

Campus harvest

The Tempe campus landscape is a diverse collection of plants from around the world including citrus, olive, pecan, peach and many other harvestable trees and shrubs. Last year, more than 400 volunteers harvested 3,600 pounds of dates on campus for sale, and 5 tons of ASU’s Seville oranges were also harvested for juice at campus dining locations.

Sustainable dining

Sun Devil Dining strives to make the path from field to fork as sustainable as possible through programs such as Engrained Cafe. This restaurant on the Tempe campus is committed to environmentally friendly practices such as using locally grown food, energy-efficient equipment and sustainable building materials.

LEED buildings

Since July 2006, ASU has completed 27 certified LEED projects, comprising 46 buildings including the second floor of the Memorial Union. In the past year, the Sun Devil Fitness Complex on the Tempe campus and College Avenue Commons were the latest to receive certification: platinum and gold, respectively.

Campus shuttles

Last spring, this free intercampus service received a makeover that included a new shuttle fleet of double-decker buses, enhanced Wi-Fi, and charging ports and electrical outlets at every seat. The shuttles help support ASU’s commitment to sustainable transportation, which also includes biking, public transit and carpooling.


This year, ASU launched the first compost station for the Memorial Union on the Tempe campus. Students, faculty and staff may place food scraps and paper food-service items in a green compost bin.

Polytechnic Community Garden

The Community Garden at the Polytechnic campus provides space and programming for students, faculty, staff and K-12 students to grow and enjoy fresh products.

“We are delighted that our actions align with the Sierra Club’s sustainability priorities,” said Nichol Luoma, ASU sustainability operations officer and associate vice president, University Business Services. “As a New American University, ASU is committed to leading by example and continuously innovates to achieve our sustainability goals.”

More Earth-friendly facts about ASU’s sustainability efforts:

  • Renewable-energy use at ASU during fiscal year 2016 avoided approximately 21,700 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent, roughly equal to the annual emissions of 4,500 passenger vehicles.
  • ASU’s Campus Metabolism is an interactive web tool that displays real-time energy use on four campuses and ASU Research Park.
  • During Ditch the Dumpster — when residence hall residents are encouraged to donate or recycle unwanted items instead of throwing them away during move-out — ASU students diverted more than 105,000 pounds of food, clothing, furniture and other reusable items.
  • Zero Waste efforts resulted in a FY 2016 diversion rate of 35.6 percent. Total food waste diverted from landfill: 414.14 tons.
  • ASU placed first in the Pac-12 for diversion rate in the RecycleMania Game Day Basketball Challenge with a diversion rate of 92.4 percent.
  • ASU partners with the non-profit Borderlands to make rescued fresh produce available at low cost to ASU students, faculty and staff and the broader community.
  • A Rescued Food Feast event diverted nearly 600 pounds of food from the landfill.
  • The university offers a range of sustainability-related degrees and is home to the nation’s first School of Sustainability, which celebrated its 10th anniversary this year. In addition, the School of Sustainability Residential Community provides a living and learning opportunity for students to “walk the talk.”

“For more than 10 years, ASU has demonstrated its fundamental commitment to sustainability,” said Christopher Boone, dean and professor of the School of Sustainability. “We are very pleased to be recognized by the Sierra Club for all of our hard work.”

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ASU prof's projects involve robots, Earth's interior, NASA-designed satellite.
September 6, 2016

Herberger Institute professor Lance Gharavi advances research through performances that explore the wonders of the universe

Arizona State University professor Lance Gharavi is an experimental artist and scholar who has a knack for linking with interdisciplinary teams to explore difficult subjects through multimedia performances.

Gharavi is an actor, director, performance artist, writer, designer and early pioneer in the field of digital performance. Yet he’s most comfortable at the intersection of art, science and technology, where he and others can collaborate on projects that advance ASU research.

His most recent projects have involved research robots and artificial intelligence, planetarium systems, the interior structure of Earth, and currently he’s involved with a research project for a NASA-designed satellite that will measure Phoenix’s urban heat islands — unlikely topics for stage and screen.

Gharavi, associate professor and artistic director in the School of Film, Dance and Theatre in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts, recently discussed his wide-ranging work and the wonders of the universe:

Question: How do you view yourself given that your work cuts across so many disciplines?

Answer: I am absolutely an artist first and foremost. I am by no means a scientist. All of my training is in the arts. I have three advanced degrees, all in the theater. I am, however, an appreciator of science. I am a booster of science. I think science is already interesting. It’s already compelling and fascinating. I just put it through the filter of my own sensibilities, the sensibilities of the other artists I work with and we channel it into the medium of live performance. Scientists and artists are great storytellers, but sometimes we use different language to tell the same story. The most exciting thing is that when artists and scientists come together, we can produce new knowledge and advance the science.

Q: You have a clever way of presenting science in a way that’s entertaining and useful to an outside audience.

A: Maybe, sure. Science is all around us. Science is the best method we’ve found to discover what is actually the case for what we call “the natural world.” I’m interested in stories. Big stories. I’m interested in ideas. Big ideas. Science is one of the few places where we keep our biggest stories, and our biggest, grandest, most useful ideas. When you simply tell those stories, communicate those ideas, it’s not that difficult to make those ideas compelling. It’s already compelling. It’s already wondrous and magical. Sometimes it’s just a matter of being the finger pointing at the moon.

Q: I saw a sneak preview of “Beneath” last year, your multimedia production that explores the Earth’s core. How did that project come to fruition?

A: I had recently completed a project with the School of Earth and Space Exploration based on Stephen Hawking’s book, “A Brief History of Time.” It was a one-man show in the Marston Exploration Theater. I launched it there because I wanted to see what I could do with that space and the set of marvelous technologies it has available. A year later, Edward Garnero, a geophysicist, approached Herberger associate dean Jake Pinholster and me and said, “I’ve got this great idea. I want to bring art and science together to make a show.”

I said, “Great. That’s our shtick. What’s on your mind?”

He said, “Beneath our feet there, thousands of miles below the surface, there are enormous, continent-sized amorphous blobs, and scientists don’t know what they are.”

That’s crazy! We know the mass of the moon and Jupiter, we know what the center of our galaxy smells like, but we don’t know what these blobs are just a couple of thousand miles beneath us? It blows my mind and, frankly, scares the crap out of me. It could be anything.

This project started pretty much how every other project starts — me being astonished, amazed and a little creeped out. We plan on turning “Beneath” into a 60- to 90-minute presentation in 2017. Our hope is to take it to space museums and planetariums around the United States.

Q: You are also involved in NASA’s "Phoenix" CubeSat project, a small satellite about the size of a loaf of bread that will measure Phoenix’s urban heat islands. I’m curious as to how an artist got linked to this.

A: ASU received a $200,000 NASA grant last May to assemble a team of undergraduates to design, build and operate CubeSat, which is a small, functional satellite. The key here is that the 25-member team is entirely composed of undergraduates from engineering, science, journalism, sustainability and the arts. The faculty is strictly in a mentorship role. Jake Pinholster and me recruited students from the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts and from the School of Film, Dance and Theatre who we thought would be interested in a very interdisciplinary project like this and put them on a team. They’ll be creating a website, a social-media site and a series of short videos about the project and the people involved. NASA’s going to cover the launch and flight costs. How cool is that?

Q: Your work with robotics and artificial intelligence is also noted. I saw a recent tweet of yours regarding the Dallas Police Department’s decision to use an armed robot to kill a sniper. It struck me that this bothered you.

A: It’s a big deal. Certain kinds of machines like drones have been used by the military to kill people before. But in this instance with the shooter in Dallas, it was the first time that police have used a robot to kill someone. So “Robocop” is here. It’s no longer science fiction. It’s creepy, right? A robot killing people … isn’t that what the premise of “The Terminator” was all about? Work that advances the science of robots is a little more of an awesome responsibility.

The work we’re doing will never bring about the robot revolution — knock on wood. But one of the things the most serious philosophers and futurists — people like Stephen Hawking, Bill Gates, Nick Bostrom — are really worried about is the impact of increasing automation through robotics and artificial intelligence on basic human life and causing unemployment. We might be facing a future, not too distant from now, where we could have up to 50, 60, 70 percent unemployment because of artificial intelligence, automation and robotics. That would require the radical rethinking of the social contract and likely cause mass disruption and political and social unrest. Beyond that, these very serious thinkers are concerned with artificial intelligence as a possible existential threat to our species or even enslavement.

So if that were the case, what use would we be to creatures like that? What would creatures like that do with us? The answer is, whatever they want. When you’re working with technologies that could someday cause disruption in economies and societies, or species extinction, or can kill people through the police, you take those things seriously. In order to be a responsible artist, you must take those things into account. 


Top photo of Lance Gharavi by Deanna Dent/ASU Now

Reporter , ASU Now