ASU alum helps millennials build a more sustainable future

June 5, 2014

An Arizona State University alumnus is putting his education to work through a product that helps people discover, adopt and share ideas for a more sustainable lifestyle. The eEcosphere app, now available for iOS, works by matching millennials with personally tailored ideas and quality local resources to improve their everyday decisions.

“Sixty-two percent of millennials believe they can make a difference at the local level, but when it comes down to finding specific opportunities to act, the experience breaks down,” explains eEcosphere co-founder Andrew Krause, who received a master’s degree from the School of Sustainability in 2012. “We use technology to help people develop a more sustainable lifestyle that is personalized to their needs, using a fun and collaborative experience.” eEcosphere Challenges screen Download Full Image

Krause was recently named a delegate to the United Nations Foundation Global Accelerator 2014. The accelerator brings together 100 of the world’s top entrepreneurs to work together with policy leaders on global issues. This group acts as delegates of the entrepreneur community to discover and deploy innovative solutions to drive progress on key Millennium Development Goals.

While a student at ASU, Krause recognized the importance of connecting people with personalized opportunities to improve their everyday decisions, using sustainability as a guide. He won support for his idea from ASU’s Edson Student Entrepreneurship Initiative, which provides funding, office space and training for students to explore their innovations.

To launch the online social platform, Krause worked with his mentor George Basile, a senior scientist at ASU’s Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability, and two classmates. The platform is based on years of research conducted by Basile and other scientists.

After a year of development, the team believes they have found a promising approach to scaling up sustainability by combining smart phones, the social web and a unique collaboration format powered by their “sustainability lens."

Users build a plan for the future they want by adopting ideas for personal improvement. Ideas are selected through expert “Challenges” or the user-driven idea “Exchange.” Challenges contain several ideas and tools curated by experts to achieve outcomes in a specific area. They’re delivered through interactive conversations that establish how you’re doing and highlight specific opportunities to do better throughout the process. The Exchange is an idea marketplace where users create, tag, share and vote on ideas. Creating a new idea is as simple as taking a photo. For all ideas, eEcosphere creates a unique website that can be promoted by users via Facebook, Twitter and SMS.

The app and website creation service are just the first steps in eEcosphere's mission to empower people to build the sustainable future they want.

The app is now available for free in the Apple App store.

Director, Knowledge Enterprise Development


Study measures nature's wealth for more sustainable planet

June 6, 2014

Imagine that you are considering selling stocks that you own in a company. You would probably consider how much the shares are worth today, how much they might be worth in the future and how much you might receive in dividend payments for each year you hold onto the stock. Much of your decision is informed by market wisdom and research.

Now imagine that you manage acres of old-growth forest – or another natural resource, like some fish in the ocean. How do you decide whether to use the resource now or conserve it as natural capital for the future? Arizona State University's Joshua Abbott Download Full Image

In a study published recently in the Journal of the Association of Environmental and Resource Economists, researchers from Arizona State University and Yale University have developed a first-of-its-kind, interdisciplinary equation to estimate the current monetary value of natural resources such as fish stocks, groundwater or forests in the United States. In assigning natural capital monetary value, the approach will have widespread implications for policymakers and various stakeholders, and will also advocate for the creation of robust asset markets for natural capital, a much-needed advance.

Nature is capital

“It is often said that nature is capital, but this has largely been a metaphor thus far; former measurement methods have lacked necessary inputs from experts from various disciplines, resulting in vast gaps of information,” said Joshua Abbott, associate professor at ASU’s School of Sustainability who coauthored the study with Eli Fenichel, assistant professor at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies.

“This approach to valuation is forward-looking and inherently interdisciplinary,” added Fenichel. “It accounts for the role of ecological dynamics in shaping the future direction of natural capital stocks, and also incorporates the role of human behavior in shaping this direction, as well as how real-world management policies mold this behavioral feedback.”

Unlike earlier approaches, the method takes into consideration the “opportunity cost” of losing future units of natural capital that could have helped replenish the resource, providing economic benefits in the long run. It is underpinned by the economic principles also used to value physical or human capital.

The value of a fish in water

Consider the example of reef fish in the Gulf of Mexico. During their research, Abbott and Fenichel found that the value of preserving live reef fish was more than $3 a pound in 2004, a price that jumped to almost $9 in 2007 after policymakers implemented management reforms that incentivized conservation. Under the scheme, fishermen were assigned individual tradable quotas or shares of the fish stock, which created a market for the fish as a capital asset.

The Gulf’s reef fish contributed more than $256 million to U.S. national wealth in 2004 – and three times that after management reforms.

“We know from experience in the corporate world that changes in management practices can enhance the overall value of a company’s assets; it is no different with natural capital – our management of it can either enhance or detract from its value,” said Abbott.

According to him, what goes unmeasured often goes unvalued. The ability to treat fish in the water as a capital asset encouraged fishermen to preserve the natural resource, in turn enhancing sustainable fishing practices that led to higher returns.

Implications for sustainable policymaking

In assigning a dollar value to natural capital, Abbott and Fenichel’s approach will have widespread implications for policymakers and various stakeholders, putting natural capital on an equal footing with other, more easily measured parts of society’s wealth. The researchers hope to apply the method to measure the value of all U.S. fish stocks, as well as other natural assets like groundwater and forests.

“Sustainability can be defined as ensuring that the assets the next generation inherits are worth at least as much as they were when the previous generation received them,” said Abbott. “As humans, we are not going to have zero impact on the environment, but we want to make sure that the value of human, physical and natural capital that we pass on to future generations is worth no less than when we inherited them. We are pursuing this research to help provide better measurements of society’s wealth, so we can know whether we’re moving in a sustainable direction.”

Media projects manager, Office of Knowledge Enterprise Development