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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 anthropologist examines immigration through the eyes of children

Working in family’s shop in Mexico helped shape course of ASU prof's career.
September 6, 2016

Personal experience in Mexico and U.S. shaped assistant professor's research into family street-vending businesses

Emir Estrada understands the hardships that come with immigration from personal experience. 

A sociocultural anthropologist in Arizona State University's School of Human Evolution and Social Change, Estrada came to the U.S. from Mexico shortly after finishing high school. Young Estrada would have been surprised to learn that this experience, as well as her time working in her family’s shop in Mexico, would shape the course of her professional research in the years ahead. The assistant professor studies the role that children play in the immigration processes of their families.

A formative youth

During her childhood, Estrada’s father worked in California and sent money home to her family in Zacatecas, Mexico. The money was not enough to meet their needs, however, so her mother saved up to open a small grocery store known as a tienda de abarrotes, where she and her brothers were expected to help out.

“Early on, I learned that all family members had to work in the family business in order to contribute to the family economy,” Estrada said.

A few months before she was to graduate high school, her father decided to return to Mexico and stay there for good. Unfortunately, the family’s joy was cut short when he died unexpectedly just 11 days after he arrived home. With their savings account used up by medical bills and limited opportunities in their town, Estrada and her remaining family chose to move to California after her graduation.

“Once in the U.S, it was difficult to adjust to the culture, the language and the community,” she said.

When an employer ridiculed Estrada in front of customers for not knowing English, she quit her job and enrolled herself in English for Speakers of Other Languages courses at Long Beach City College. After taking many ESOL classes, she gained the confidence to take other college courses, including a sociology class where she wrote a paper on children and work.

In 2002, Estrada transferred to UCLA and majored in sociology with a minor in Chicana/o studies. It was during this time that she read "Domestica" by Pierrette Hondagneu-Sotelo, which resonated with her because it reflected her mother’s experience as a domestic worker and her own immigration experience. When she had the chance to meet the author a few years later, she was inspired to enroll as a graduate student at the University of Southern California and became Hondagneu-Sotelo’s mentee.

Food-stand epiphanies

Oddly, Estrada discovered her area of field research because she had to sell her car to afford graduate school. She was forced to use the bus and metro during her first year, which brought her to new areas of Los Angeles. Near the stops, she found street vendors selling such cultural food as tamales and raspados (similar to snow cones, with fruit and sweet condensed milk) and became a regular customer.

“I began to notice that the children of these vendors were intricately involved in the family street-vending business. They helped with cash transactions, prepared food and ran errands for their parents. I had discovered my research site!” Estrada said.

photo of teen vendor being cited by police

A 13-year-old orange juice vendor is cited by an LA policewoman for having her vending cart on the street. Photo by Emir Estrada


“Street-vending families and street-vending sites gave me the opportunity to explore Latino family and work relations with a specific focus on the labor contribution of children,” she said. 

By taking a child-centered approach, she had the opportunity to fill an important gap in street-vending literature. Street vending is an informal and, in Los Angeles, illegal occupation that is often racialized as an immigrant occupation. Yet, the majority of the children whom Estrada studied were U.S.-born, educated English speakers; they didn’t fit the characteristics of the typical street vendor.

The paradigm shift

Today, Estrada continues to research Latino children’s experiences working alongside their street-vending parents in Los Angeles. She has published several articles based on this work, including one this year in Ethnic and Racial Studies titled “Economic Empathy in Family Entrepreneurship: Mexican-Origin Street Vendor Children and Their Parents,” which discusses her concept of “economic empathy.” She found that street-vending children develop an early maturity because they help the family economy while also witnessing their parents’ position of oppression.

She is working on another article about street vending and gendered expectations.

“The work that girls and boys do as street vendors both perpetuates and challenges gendered expectations among Latino families,” Estrada said. “On the one hand, girls are preparing food, a type of work that has been gendered as feminine; on the other, they are doing this work on the street, a space that has been gendered as masculine and inappropriate for señoritas.”

photo of Estrada making orange juice

ASU assistant professor Emir Estrada helps one of her respondents make freshly squeezed orange juice on the side of the street.


Because street-vending boys often experience more violence from gang members and their peers, she has found that women of all ages have gained the ability to exercise social power in the street, what Estrada terms capital socio-femenino.

“The social, political, economic and cultural context in which street vending takes place creates a paradigm shift where the presence of women in the street-vending markets of LA serves as a protective mechanism for male street vendors of all ages,” she explained.

Recently, Estrada began a new collaboration research project with fellow School of Human Evolution and Social Change professor Alissa Ruth on DREAMers who gained temporary rights under the 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Last summer, they interviewed DACA recipients who traveled to Mexico for the first time after their childhood arrival in the U.S.

“This is an intimidating process for DREAMers and for their families because there is no guarantee that they will be allowed to re-enter the U.S. by Customs and Immigration,” Estrada said. “Moreover, there is much uncertainty about the future of DACA. Thus, while these DREAMers have more rights than ever before, they are still living in a state of limbo.”

The study aims to understand the family decision-making process leading up to a DACA DREAMer’s visit to Mexico and how that decision impacts the whole family unit.

More than baggage

Estrada’s future plans reflect the ambition demonstrated in her past.

“My next goal is to publish my book manuscript. My dream is to see the stories of the young street vendors and the families I interviewed published as a book,” she said.

She is also planning another project focusing on return migration. She wants to study senior Mexicans who, on retiring from their work in the U.S., are deciding to move back to Mexico. Part of this study will also involve interviewing the children and grandchildren of those returning.

“I am interested in seeing how the family and social attachments, as well as the economic resources post-retirement, have an impact on their return migration destination and plans,” she said.

Ultimately, Estrada’s research not only expands our knowledge of how immigrant family units negotiate economic incorporation in the United States, it also validates the immigration experiences of children.

“We can learn a lot about the immigration process through the eyes and experiences of children. As my work shows, children are not merely ‘baggage’ that adult immigrants simply bring along. Children are active contributors to family processes and household resources.”

Mikala Kass

communications assistant , School of Human Evolution and Social Change