Juggling solutions, experts is all in a day's work for sustainability grad

July 8, 2013

With a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering and a master’s in business administration, Rajesh Buch was consulting on energy technology options for public and private companies, but he wanted something more.

To build on his extensive background in energy security, efficiency and renewables, Buch turned to Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability. male Indian American Rajesh Buch in white collared shirt and black hair Download Full Image

“I’d been doing business development for 10 to 12 years, and I was enjoying providing technology-based energy solutions to clients,” he says. “But then I wanted to make a broader impact beyond simply profit.”

Buch graduated from the school with a doctorate in sustainability last year, having produced a comprehensive sustainability assessment of ASU’s energy system for his dissertation. He says sustainability “has to be embedded in our business operations and community development processes if we are to grow in a balanced way.

"I knew this was very valuable knowledge that needed to be put into practice,” he says.

Not your average consultant

And put in practice he did. Buch joined the team at the new Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives. He is now a practice lead for the Sustainability Solutions Extension Service, a consulting group within ASU that provides customized advice and practical solutions to business and government sectors applying university-based research, knowledge and capabilities.

“We are not a traditional consulting company,” Buch says. “Being within an academic institution, our project execution teams consist of student analysts and project managers who are guided by faculty.”

Buch obtained his position at the Extension Service through a fellow sustainability doctoral student, Dan O’Neill, the general manager.

“Raj brings a customer-focused point of view and a drive to engage clients in developing solutions and projects, all with the customer’s needs in mind,” O’Neill says. “He always adds a strategic sustainability perspective; he always reminds us to view with a sustainability lens.”

What is a 'sustainability lens'?

Part of Buch’s job is to apply the theories he learned in the School of Sustainability to the daily life of a business, individual or organization. By analyzing daily functions with a sustainability perspective, Buch and his teams can implement a resource efficiency program in a local business; help organizations envision sustainable futures; teach employees how to communicate sustainability to clients; upgrade facilities with more efficient technologies; or develop sustainable products.

Essentially, the goal of the Extension Service is to connect monetary and time savings to practices that create positive environmental and social impact, while providing all-around efficiency.

“Sustainability can be integrated across all aspects of business processes, and how to combine it with different methods and knowledge bases is exciting and invigorating,” Buch says. “The best part is learning with and from the students, faculty and clients to find new ways to address challenges.”

As practice lead, Buch is responsible for composing expert teams of students and faculty members; executing projects; teaching students how to present plans and findings; coordinating solutions projects; and following up with multiple clients.

“Our clients are delivered sustainability solutions, while students get valuable real-world experience and faculty are recognized for applying their research,” Buch says.

Some of his projects include sustainability training for Waste Management employees, a greenhouse gas inventory for the City of Phoenix, a plan and vision for Phoenix’s new waste recycling and reusing system, and an evaluation on a client’s future biofuel plantation.

“Sustainability is a way to correct our way of developing,” Buch says. “We can start by taking baby steps. I contribute by assisting those private and public organizations that are willing to recognize the importance of sustainability.”

Experience, experience, experience

Buch’s educational background came full circle. He uses his background in mechanical engineering and business to effectively communicate and apply sustainability concepts within corporate and government industries – the “something more” he was looking for.

But for new students, that’s not so easy. Buch is an experienced graduate with lots of lessons learned under his belt. Exploring future options and gaining as much real-life familiarity with the sustainability field as possible can help fresh, wide-eyed students find their way.

“Know where you want to go, what it’s going to take to get there and build your skill set to achieve that goal,” Buch says. “When you graduate, understand what your skills are, where you can add value and be able to explain how you are going to add value. Know yourself.”

Sustainability students experience cultural, corporate contexts from leaders in Dubai

July 8, 2013

Students from Arizona State University’s School of Sustainability met with His Excellency Sultan bin Saeed Al Mansouri, the United Arab Emirates’ (UAE) Minister of Economy and regional business leaders for a brunch as part of their study abroad experience in Dubai this past May.

Amid tables of exotic foods, including a dish called “ouzi” made of lamb, rice and nuts, His Excellency – himself an ASU alum – discussed tourism, governance, economics and other local issues with the visiting students. The young scholars explored sustainable tourism and culture in Dubai as one of four study abroad experiences offered by the Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives’ Global Sustainability Studies Program this summer. interior group photo of His Excellency, program leaders, and students in Dubai Download Full Image

The meeting was organized by two ASU Alumni Association members, Joseph Bularzik and Cody Paris, who were also able to attend.

“ASU has a long standing relationship with partners in Dubai,” says Caroline Savalle, program manager of the Global Sustainability Studies Program. “The city is an excellent location to study how rapidly developing countries are taking sustainability into account, especially given Dubai’s reputation for the ‘bigger, better, faster, more’ approach to development.”

Connecting with a global partner

Once a sandy oasis, Dubai has become a competitive member in the global economy and a land of plenty with super highways, skyscrapers, massive malls and man-made island resorts. Recently, the city’s officials became interested in instilling sustainability in Dubai’s practices and lifestyle.

To learn more about what ASU is doing in the field of sustainability and gain firsthand knowledge from the sustainability students from his alma mater, His Excellency expressed sincere interest in meeting with each of the 20 students. His Excellency shared that the UAE is establishing “knowledge enterprises,” much like ASU.

“The students fervently enjoyed engaging in discussions with His Excellency on topics that included tourism, sustainability, the economy and Native American culture,” says Christine Buzinde, a Dubai program leader and associate professor in the School of Community Resources and Development.

Dubai as a classroom

David Manuel-Navarrete – a senior sustainability scientist in the Global Institute of Sustainability, an assistant professor in the School of Sustainability and a Dubai program leader – says the trip provided real-world application of the topics the students were discussing in class.

“The students learned how to behave in a different culture and in the presence of high-ranking officials,” he says. “They were able to ask critical questions, and the Dubai business leaders and His Excellency were very open to discussion. The Emiratis we encountered provided a lot of insight and personal experience for the students.”

Matt Cohen, a doctoral student in the school, is studying governance and urban development. He plans to use his experience in Dubai as a case study in his dissertation.

“Dubai provided an opportunity for me to study urban development in a different governance setting that also happens to be one of the most rapidly developing cities in the world,” he says. “Although this was an academic study trip, I often find that the most important lessons are ones of cultural understanding.”

Students engaged in lectures delivered by academics from UAE’s universities. The students also met with industry representatives from Al Hosn Gas Company, the Dubai World Central Aviation City, the Dubai Municipal Government and Chamber of Commerce, and Masdar City.

The meetings and presentations with Dubai business leaders allowed the students to show off what they’ve learned at ASU, which led to some resume requests.

“This speaks to the caliber of students in the program,” says Buzinde. “They were actively engaged in every one of the visits and academic meetings. Our local hosts and academics were very impressed with our students’ level of engagement, intelligence and diplomacy.”

Global challenge needs global education

Stepping inside another culture can elevate a university education to a whole new level. Program leaders say that experiencing different places, people and ways of life is especially important in the field of sustainability.

“Sustainability is a global challenge,” says Savalle. “To remain the leader in sustainability education, research and solution design, School of Sustainability graduates must have first-hand, cross-cultural experience and understanding to effectively implement solutions in today’s interconnected world.”

During the Dubai trip, the students never forgot they were visiting on behalf of ASU.

“On one hand, studying abroad has an impact on the students, while on the other hand, the students are having an impact on the host culture,” says Manuel-Navarrete. “I think the students and faculty of ASU could help the UAE find their pathway to sustainability, but there are also great lessons to be learned in Dubai that can further prepare our students to tackle global sustainability issues.”

The Global Sustainability Studies Program provides financial support to ASU sustainability students through the Walton Family Foundation’s investment in the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives. This summer, more than 80 sustainability students are visiting regions such as Dubai, Ecuador, Spain, Morocco, Washington D.C. and London.

Read more about the Dubai trip and the other study abroad experiences on the student-authored blog.