LightWorks Blog

Clean Energy, the Great Convener: Director Peter Byck Says We Are Not as Polarized as We Think

published November 20, 2012, 9:25 am

Last month, film director Peter Byck visited ASU Tempe campus to speak to an audience about lessons learned from touring and filming his documentary Carbon Nation. Byck toured the nation and interviewed over 300 people (only 61 people were actually used in the movie) to speak on behalf of climate change solutions. In his findings, Byck supported evidence that both liberals and conservatives in the U.S. are not polarized on the issue. In fact, there is vast agreement across the political spectrum when it comes to supporting clean energy initiatives and energy efficiency.

Carbon Nation Director Peter Byck in the edit bay. Photo by Carbon Nation.  

Carbon Nation boldly claims that the documentary is a “climate change solutions movie—that doesn’t even care if you believe in climate change.” When reading that over, it may seem a bit confusing. How can the film focus on climate change, but not care if viewers actually believe in climate change? Despite scientific research proving for it, it is indeed a fact that climate change skepticism is still alive and well in the U.S.

Peter Byck became a strong believer in climate change in 2007 after seeing previous presidential candidate Al Gore’s documentary film An Inconvenient Truth. For a long time, Byck could not believe that others would disagree with scientific evidence supporting global warming and climate change. He, like many people who approach the seemingly polarized subject of climate change, points out the differences between the yeasayers and the naysayers, as those who believe in climate change are liberals and those who do not are conservatives. That claim may still stick today, but Byck found something even more interesting regarding climate change while conducting his research for Carbon Nation. Although there may always be dispute when it comes to Americans regarding climate change as a “real issue,” Byck found that an overwhelming amount of people who did not believe in climate change did in fact believe in climate change solutions. The relationship that the U.S. has in supporting clean energy and energy efficiency initiatives is truly an optimistic one. “Currently, 90% of Americans want more solar energy,” said Byck. “People think we are not in agreement with each other, but we already are.”

The agreement that people have in climate change solutions is precisely the focus of Carbon Nation. Instead of giving viewers an element of scare tactics that climate change is taking its course (cue before and after pictures of Greenland), he examines climate change solutions of alternative energy producers and energy efficiency experts across the nation. The core of this film is made up of the people he interviews, ranging from a rural Texas wind farmer to multi-millionaire Sir Richard Branson and just about everyone in between. These people tell a story that concludes that even if you do not believe in climate change, at the end of the day reducing carbon usage and its emissions is simply common sense. Although Carbon Nation is an inspiring look at the many recent advances in clean energy and green technologies, this film above all leaves viewers with a feeling of national collectiveness and that climate change solutions and energy efficiency initiatives are indeed bipartisan issues. 


Written by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks

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Arizona Solar Summit III: Game-Changing Efforts to Propel Arizona’s Leadership in a Growing Solar Industry

published November 6, 2012, 10:24 am

The Arizona Solar Summit III took place October 9-10, 2012 at ASU SkySong hosted in partnership with ASU LightWorks. The summit’s participants included a collective group of distinguished panelists all focused on highlighting game-changing efforts regarding Arizona’s position of leadership in the dynamically growing solar industry.

Moderator Bud Annan, consultant of ASU, introduces the Site Visit Panel. Panelists from right to left: Giancarlo Estrada, Attorney, Ellen Zuckerman, Arizona Program Associate of the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, Lori Singleton, Director for Emerging Customer Programs at SRP, John Shepard, Senior Advisor of the Sonoran Institute, and Michael Neary, Executive Director of AriSEIA. Photo by Sydney Lines, ASU LightWorks.

Day 1: Game-Changer Site Visits

The key theme of the summit circulated around game-changing efforts that encourage the growth of solar availability in Arizona. On Day 1 of the Solar Summit III, participants and industry leaders had the opportunity to visit sites across Arizona that have been continuing to implement solar energy into their communities. Visitors were able to explore firsthand the ground breaking ideas taking place. Game-changer site visits included the downtown Phoenix/Vistancia area, ASU Tempe campus, Gila Bend, the community of Eastmark in Mesa, and a pre-summit visit to a variety of solar sites in Tucson. The Game-Changer Site Visits aimed to provide visitors with an insider look at solar opportunities each site envisions for their area.

The visitors were then gathered together at the end of the day for a reception and dinner under the SkySong shade structure. Visitors were able relax and discuss important ideas with members from the solar industry, as well as to take part in the featured sustainable car show. The sustainable car show’s most impressive highlight was the solar powered Tesla roadsters. These extravagant hybrid cars, powered by either solar or natural gas, were being charged by Joseph Hui’s Monarch Lotus. The Monarch Lotus is an innovative solar charging structure that uses a new form of solar panels, made up of polycarbonate blades formed around an aluminum spine instead of the conventional photovoltaic panels that you see on rooftops of homes and buildings. Hui has great plans in taking the Monarch Lotus solar structure to fulfill primarily philanthropic efforts. The goal is to ensure people meet their basic needs of clean energy, water, transportation, and habitat, to progress toward a cleaner and greener planet.

Joseph Hui explaining the Monarch Lotus solar power structure at ASU SkySong. Photo taken by Sydney Lines, ASU LightWorks

Day 2: Panel Discussions

The second day of the Solar Summit III focused on panelist discussion. Panels of the summit included discussion of current game-changing projects in Arizona cities, the progress made from the previous Solar Summit, and the vision to further develop solar initiatives taken from the views of an array of acclaimed panelist members and moderators.

Site Visit Panel

The Site Visit Panel consisted of representatives from the previous day site visits. These panelists led a discussion on what they were most impressed with at each site and specifically highlighted what they learned and saw.  

Moderator Matt Miller started off the panel by asking: What did you see and what were your expectations from the tour?

Attorney Giancarlo Estrada took part in the Gila Bend visit and said, “Expectations were fully met.” Gila Bend has implemented new solar technologies such as thin film and solar thermal as well as large-scale utility projects including the Cotton Center, Paloma solar projects, Solana, and a new 32 MW development. Estrada said that learning how solar implementation has affected Gila Bend was what he most took away from the site visit.

Ellen Zuckerman, Arizona Program Associate of the Southwest Energy Efficiency Project, took the Eastmark visit tour, a mixed-use community in Mesa close to the Phoenix-Mesa Gateway Airport. “At first I was a little skeptical, but I was overall pleasantly surprised by their good thinking,” Zuckerman said of her expectations of the visit. The homes in the Eastmark community have been planned to be easily oriented into the grid, which would make solar integration easy in this community. Zuckerman also remarked on the availability of open space, use of shade to make walking more desirable, and the recycling initiatives within the community.  

The next question was What are your recommendations for continuing sustainable solar integration into cities?

“We need to take advantage of our universities’ expertise,” said Lori Singleton, Director for Emerging Customer Programs at SRP. Singleton visited the ASU Tempe campus site visit and was very impressed with what she had learned from the visit. ASU Tempe campus site visit showcased the variety of solar projects taking place at the university. Projects included the PowerParasol installation, Decision Theater, The Sustainability Solutions Initiative, and the National Science Foundation-funded solar engineering research center and graduate degree program. “Utilities should look to universities to utilize their expertise in energy to help create a roadmap,” Singleton said.

John Shepard, senior advisor of the Sonoran Institute, said, “There’s an ample role for local governments to get involved.” Shepard visited the Tucson site, which showcased the University of Arizona’s Tech Park Solar Zone, Davies-Monthan Air Force Base, Armory Park del Sol, City of Tucson solar sites, and Pima Country Roger Wastewater and Solar facility. Shepard remarked that the impression he received from Tucson is that Southwest Arizona is a “laboratory for solar.” Shepard said that in order to sustain that position, it is important to incorporate local solar policy into our cities.

Michael Neary, Executive Director of AriSEIA, believes that the incorporation of policies will be the determining factor in continuing statewide solar integration into Arizona’s cities. Neary took part in the Phoenix/Vistancia site visit, which highlighted the integration of solar in commercial and residential rooftop settings. The site tour visited Arizona’s first net zero office building, the APS Chase Field installation, and SheaXero energy efficiency homes. “We need to understand the value of solar to the grid and to the long run,” Neary said. “Arizona will be solar leaders by developing strong solar policies.”

Mayoral Panel

The Mayoral Panel focused on current game-changing efforts that each mayor has implemented in their cities, as well as what new opportunities they see for solar and what they mean in terms of economic development. Each mayor also discussed what they envision for their city, in terms of sustainability and solar initiatives, and what the challenges are in doing so. The mayors of this panel included Mayor Georgia Lord of City of Goodyear, Mayor Scott Smith of City of Mesa, Mayor Greg Stanton of City of Phoenix, and Mayor Doug Von Gausig of Town of Clarkdale. 

Check out our “Surveying the Mayors: Two Recent Panel Discussions Outline Sustainability and Solar Initiatives in AZ” blog to read more about the mayoral panel discussion.

Working Group Panel

The Working Group Panel consisted of leaders from four working groups, with Gary Dirks standing in for Ardeth Barnhart: Supply Chain, Applied Research Collaborations and Pilot Projects, Policy and Finance, and Building the Narrative. Each panelist was led by moderator Gary Dirks of ASU LightWorks who focused questions on reviewing the previous solar summits and discussing current progress and findings within each working group. 

Building the Narrative, headed by Jeff Luth and assisted by solar graduate Jamie Kern. Luth noted a general lack of participation from the community in the solar discussion. “Solar advocates are generally preaching to the choir,” he said. There need to be vastly more people involved. Luth suggested the creation of an umbrella organization for collaboration in these talks to broaden the understanding that solar is technologically and commercially viable. “Arizona should be more informed about how solar fits into the energy mix,” he said. “We have to get together.” Kern recommended developing a coherent, easily understood solar narrative. He highlighted education and called for the unification of voices saying, “Solar is neutral, non-partisan, and a contributing factor to the future of Arizona’s economy.” While he highlighted education initiatives at ASU, he also noted that the greatest challenge is educating policymakers on solar policy tools. Renewable energy, and solar in particular, are not new discussions. Kern showed a clip from Bell Lab’s 1956 film “Our Mr. Sun” (available at the end of this section). Kern talked briefly about the Solar Decathlon as a way to show Arizona solar expertise and market Arizona as a brand.

Applied Research Collaborations and Pilot Projects, headed by Ardeth Barnhart (presented by Gary Dirks).  Dirks highlighted the UA SolarZone as an impressive collaborative project between academia and industry. “It showcases how multi-sector collaboration can bring projects to fruition,” he said. It exemplifies how R&D is a driver. Dirks took the opportunity to talk about how and why R&D is so crucial to technological innovation. “Continuity in R&D is critical,” he said. “The commercialization of test labs gives us important insight on what to expect from various technologies.” Along with the UA SolarZone, he also highlighted the ASU Solar Testing Lab as another successfully collaborative space. “I cannot stress how important commercialization test centers are.”

Supply Chain, headed by Bud Annan. “How do we even define the solar supply chain?” He asked. “We need to determine that first.” Annan expressed the need to consistently organize and publish data. We need to get a handle on how far the supply chain reaches, and we need long-term measurement standards. He suggested the state supply $250,000 for a three year study to learn about and determine the supply chain strengths and gaps in Arizona. The findings would be published as neutral, public data. “Arizona is capable of doing this,” he said.

Policy and Finance, headed by Eric Fitzer. “How do we, in Arizona, differentiate our energy mix?” asked Fitzer. Arizona has to determine how to make that transition and market itself. A photon-based economy must export solar, which requires new transmission to different markets. “Team up natural gas and renewables to achieve utility scale clean generation and export capabilities,” he said. “When you look at natural gas and renewable energy together, that’s the future of utility scale.” Fitzer recognized Gila Bend as a perfect pilot project for this scenario because its location is prime for a testing area for this kind of energy transmission. Arizona should find out what the California utilities need. Again, this group highlighted the need for collaboration.


From left: Bud Annan, Eric Fitzer, Jamie Kern, and Jeff Luth. Photo by Sydney Lines, ASU LightWorks.

Women Changing the Solar Game Panel

Representing the final panel discussion for the day, the Women Changing the Solar Game panel discussion hosted a choice assembly of distinguished women panelists who have each assisted in implementing solar initiatives in Arizona: Sandra Kennedy, Commissioner; Leisa Brug, Energy Policy Adviser to Governor Jan Brewer; Barbara Lockwood, General Manager of Energy Innovation at Arizona Public Service; Joy Seitz, Vice President of Business and Policy Development, American Solar; and Maja Wessels, Executive Vice President, Global Public Affairs, First Solar. The panel began with Bud Annan at the podium, showering the women with accolades as they each received an award for their roles in advancing solar in Arizona.  The panel was then led by moderator Kris Mayes, Faculty Director of the Program on Law and Sustainability at ASU College of Law. Mayes led the panelists through discussions of what opportunities they see for solar in the future, the challenges and possible solutions for current initiatives, and the economic influence the solar industry has in Arizona.


Joy Seitz receiving her “Women Changing the Solar Game” award. Left: Maja Wessels, Sandra Kennedy, and Leisa Brug. Far right: Kris Mayes. Photo by Sydney Lines, ASU LightWorks.

Leisa Brug made sure to note that in Arizona we have a governor who is very supportive of solar and clean energy. Brug, who is on the Governor’s Solar Task Force, mentioned that her group is currently working on a master energy plan for the state. She highlighted the Governor’s Renewable Tax Incentive as having drawn in many solar opportunities to Arizona.

Commissioner Kennedy, who is currently up for re-election to the Arizona Corporate Commission, stated her strong support for Arizona solar and renewable energy. “I would like to change some of my colleagues’ minds about solar being too costly because we know that’s not true,” she said.  

First Solar’s Maja Wessels said that we need to figure out how to integrate solar power as one of our traditional sources and talk about it as a traditional source because it is here to stay. “In the not too distant future we won’t need subsidies, but we still need policy,” she said. She argued that we need to raise our Renewable Energy Standard (RES) since we are already nearing the current 15% standard.

APS’ Baraba Lockwood said that the next phase of utility needs to incorporate solar safely and securely into the portfolio. She also recounted a story from the MIT clean energy forum she attended. A woman from South Africa wanted to incorporate solar because it is shown to cause a 70% reduction in the number of women who die in childbirth. “We’re lucky to be having the solar conversation,” she said. “Solar is in demand all over the world.”

Mayes made a point to note that the Arizona RES runs out in 2015, but we may not reach grid parity until 2020. “We need gap fillers,” she said.

Lockwood and Wessels both agreed that utilities should be able to rate base solar. Georgia Power is already doing this in a state with no Renewable Portfolio Standard (RPS).

Commissioner Kennedy and Joy Seitz both emphasized the need for education and civic engagement. Support solar? “Vote.”


Gary Dirks and Todd Hardy made closing remarks. Hardy mentioned that there will be new working groups to arise out of the summit discussions, which will appear on the AZ Solar Summit website as they are formed.


From left: Gray Dirks and Todd Hardy. Photo by Sydney Lines, ASU LightWorks.

Dirks made a point to mention that 50% of Arizona’s current energy mix comes from transportation fuels. He highlighted the new ATP3 partnership as both a necessary collaboration between industry and academia as well as a way of branding Arizona as the go-to test-bed. He emphasized the importance of reducing our carbon footprint, analyzing and determining the environmental and climate effects of our energy choices, and supporting R&D as a way to accomplish those needs.

The underlying themes that have continued to arise in these summits on both solar and sustainability is the need for an educated community who engage in civic activities and educated leadership who can make informed decisions for Arizona. There is a pressing need for continued and expanded collaboration between various groups: government, university, industry, and the community.

Written by Gabrielle Olson and Sydney Lines, ASU LightWorks

Slideshow of Solar Summit III Flickr photos taken by Sydney Lines, ASU LightWorks

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Captain Wayne Porter’s Darwinian Moment and a National Narrative of Strategic Adaptation

published October 31, 2012, 1:06 pm

On October 25, 2012, ASU’s School of Sustainability hosted a lecture by Captain Wayne Porter, USN, where he discussed his piece, “A National Strategic Narrative,” co-authored with Colonel Mark Mykleby. (Access article PDF).


Colonel Mark Mykleby (middle left) and Captain Wayne Porter (middle right) receiving the Ellis Island Medal of Honor Award for their work on “A National Strategic Narrative.” Photo Credit:

Porter set the stage for his narrative by discussing the current environment in the U.S. Two of the main components directing the narrative are:

  • An increase in global competition for finite resources (soil, food, water, energy, etc), and
  • The influence of markets and culture.

Porter argued that we are currently undergoing the greatest ethical shift since the Age of Enlightenment. In the Age of Uncertainty, as we now see ourselves, we are positioned in a Darwinian moment in time, and he argues that we need to adapt if we’re going to evolve.

So, what to do about it? Porter says we need to recognize that the model of growth we’ve developed—for example, fossil fuels—“is increasingly difficult to maintain and is probably killing us in the process. We need to develop a new model.”

What is the current Grand Strategy?

We don’t have one.

Where do we start building a National Strategy?

Porter looks to history…

  • 1648 – The Treaty of Westphalia: this document has served as a basis for our international understanding of sovereignty.
  • From 1689 onwards, we demonstrate empiric uncertainty in our universe (starting with Newton) – nothing is deterministic, it’s probabilistic. This uncertainty is the problem with every strategy seen in the Pentagon; strategies are always involved in overcoming a recognizable threat; they are hyper-focused on location, which only allows response rather than prevention.
  • Needs: a values-based strategy focused on opportunity.

What should our strategy look like?

Primary objectives:

  • Prosperity: a state of well-being
  • Security: the freedom from anxiety (economic, pandemic, civic, etc.)

Porter sees these two objectives as wholly interdependent of each other but that this interdependence needs to be seen as a unifying strength. It should be able “to converge interests, people, and cultures,” he notes.

 “It’s the values that characterize us as Americans that constrain us in our energy needs,” he says, “but also empower us and give us credibility when we stick to those values.”

In 2009, Porter was asked to develop a national strategy, but he soon realized that preceding this was actually the need for a strategic narrative. This narrative had to define:

  • Who we are as Americans and as a nation,
  • A kind of unity that was non-political in nature, and
  • An idealistic approach to uncertainty.

“There’s just as much opportunity and hope in uncertainty as there is risk and threat,” he says.

So, what’s the current narrative?

From 1946 to the present, U.S. policy shows the world that we are empowered by military, our governmental system, our values, and unification. Now, Porter states, we need congruence and complimentary domestic policy to have good foreign policy because creating good domestic policy allows us to lead by example.

Porter notes the way post-WWII America differs from the U.S. position in this Age of Uncertainty. “We have excelled across the spectrum of human endeavor,” he says, “and now we are becoming competition averse.” The term “competition” now takes on a pejorative sense when it should be seen more closely to the root of its origins—“striving together.” Porter argues that there should be multiple winners, rather than one winner and multiple losers. Competition needs to be more of a collaborative process. He argues that this is fundamental to what the strategic approach ought to be.

But how do we get there?

Porter asks, “How do we build a legacy with poor national numbers?”

 With a new approach:

  • Education. The only way to reinvigorate new strategy is through education. “We have about the most broken system of education” on the planet, Porter says.” He suggests we start by looking at good models (like Finland and Singapore, for example) and use best practices. He also emphasizes that this is not just STEM education; we need well-rounded individuals who think critically, and these skills are best developed through the arts, literature, and social sciences. Porter cites Sir Ken Robinson’s video on “Divergent Thinking” as a noteworthy critical approach to education (view an animated version below).



  • Security. This, Porter argues, does not belong to any one department in the government than it belongs to the government itself. “It’s security of values, expression, economic, etc. They belong to all of us as citizens.”


  • Renewable Resources. This includes food security, soil, water management, and energy. “We have already far surpassed the carrying capacity of the planet with how many consumers we will have,” he says. “We can take the lead here as Americans in recognizing the shift and need to adapt.” In order to evolve globally as a whole, we need to follow a values-based approach. We cannot simply be residents. “Residency is paying rent. Citizenship is investment in our own future,” he says.

As a general take away from the lecture, Porter seems to say that we all need to step up for the fate of our own future. “The sense of entitlement we develop nationally is not a positive – we can’t live on legacies of old generations,” Porter stated before quoting the Preamble: “We are 'to secure the blessings of liberty for ourselves and our posterity.'” He emphasizes the point that this generation needs to go forth and create a strategy for sustainability and security that is values-based. That is our adaptive requirement for the evolution of a new age.

To lend your voice to the National Strategic Narrative, visit, a collaborative companion site to Porter and Mykleby’s non-partisan strategy.

Watch Capt. Porter and Col. Mykleby present their article at PopTech 2011.

Written by Sydney Lines, ASU LightWorks

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Surveying the Mayors: Two Recent Panel Discussions Outline Sustainability and Solar Initiatives in AZ Cities

published October 24, 2012, 12:37 pm

In the past month, Arizona’s mayors’ from Phoenix, Tempe, Mesa, Goodyear, and the Town of Clarkdale have actively engaged in ASU organized mayoral panels highlighting their cities’ sustainability and solar initiatives.  

Panel 1: “Sustainable Cities: A discussion with the mayors of Phoenix, Mesa, and Tempe on sustainability.”

From left to right, moderator Rob Melnick, Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, and Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell discuss sustainable development in cities. Photo by Cassandra Strauss, Downtown Devil.

Taking place at the state-of-the-art Virginia G. Piper Repertory Theater in the Mesa Arts Center, the mayors of Phoenix, Mesa, and Tempe participated in a panel discussion on sustainability. Moderator Rob Melnick, executive dean of the Global Institute of Sustainability (GIOS), led each mayor into a discussion about present and future efforts to improve sustainability initiatives in their respective cities.

Melnick began by asking each mayor: “What does it mean to be a sustainable city?”

Mayor Smith of Mesa spoke on the economic and environmental benefits of planning and developing his city though a sustainable lens. “[Sustainability] means many different things to different people,” said Smith. “To me, it’s a multi-generational city.” Planning for a city that can be utilized by future generations is an important factor when drafting urban development projects. For Mayor Smith, it is all about common sense and saving money by conserving energy via sustainable development despite one’s placement on the political spectrum.

Mayor Stanton of Phoenix noted that it doesn’t matter how Phoenix ranks in sustainable development across the country. The important point is that Phoenix continues its sustainable efforts. “Every city should do all that they can,” said Stanton. “So the question is, are we doing all we can? We should be able to market this region as a leader in sustainability and entrepreneurship.” Sustainable development for Mayor Stanton is being sure to implement consideration of environmental impact when developing new construction in Phoenix.

Mayor Mitchell of Tempe evaluates sustainability by quality of life. The Mayor talked about the transit system of Tempe and how it has advanced sustainable planning for further development. “The more we work together between Tempe, Phoenix, and Mesa, the more we build a sustainable community,” Mayor Mitchell said. City collaboration leads to a better quality of life statewide, and Mayor Mitchell hopes to continue working together with Mayor Stanton and Mayor Smith to keep sustainable development in Arizona moving forward.

Melnik continued with a question for Mayor Stanton, “Is marketing going to attract people to move here or is it a brand that sounds nice?”

Stanton noted that in order to market Phoenix, the city would also need to deliver. He highlighted intercity collaboration as key to getting sustainability right. He used transportation as an example since the local light rail and Valley Metro bus systems operate throughout a variety of Arizona cities.

Smith also responded to the question noting that when we talk “region” we’re talking “Arizona.” He said that we get lazy in realizing our fragility, and we need to better learn to live within our means to grow as cities. “We’re talking about lifestyle in a way we didn’t four years ago when I took office, which is good,” he said. “The discussion is changing.”

Mitchell added, “Sustainable cities attract business.”

On the upcoming election, Melnik asked, “What do you sense is the level of concern about sustainability? Is it a powerful concern of your constituents?”

Both Mayors Mitchell and Stanton said that government needs to support sustainability. Stanton said that it’s important for leaders to explain to their constituents why it’s wrong to think solar and other renewable energies are not economically viable.

Mayor Smith added, “Solar isn’t a bad thing, but it has its place.” He also noted that we need to be smart in our solutions. For example, transportation options make economies more self-supporting. Urban sprawl is not sustainable, and making sustainable choices “isn’t conservative or liberal,” he said, “It’s life.”

Melnik asked, “What do you do in your cities to reduce your carbon footprint?”

Stanton said that Phoenix is actively reducing GHG emissions and instituting sustainability in city planning. He talked about Energize Phoenix, extending the light rail, bike-share programs, and incentives for companies that assist with green goals. He also thanked ASU for access to a GIOS adviser.

Smith took a different approach, saying that the city has myriad of planned, smart efforts, and that they create environments that are already sustainable. “It’s not a cop out,” Smith said, “We’re making smart decisions without the vitriol.” Sustainability is an initiative in all new Mesa project proposals.

Mitchell highlighted a few Tempe programs like electricity reduction goals, LEED certified buildings, and green grants for retrofitting, but he also urged leaders to get the word out about sustainability because leaders need help from constituents. He also brought up the need to educate both today’s and tomorrow’s generation.

“Are there cities anywhere on the globe that stand out to you as leaders?” Melnik asked.

Both Stanton and Smith agreed that Denver was a great city to model after best practices. Additionally, Smith added Salt Lake City and Phoenix to the mix, noting that their use of land planning and central downtown area development is key to preventing more sprawl. Mitchell noted that he looks at best practices in cities with great transit systems.

Addressing the relationship between city and state, Melnik asked, “ Are there things that the state has done that have helped or hindered your efforts?”

“Cities have a philosophical difference with the State, “ Mayor Smith said. “The State never created a single city. Cities are formed by people coming together.” Smith noted that sometimes there are territorial issues, and the legislature needs to help make policies that give cities the ability for more economic drive.

Mayor Stanton said that he is not optimistic about the legislature—that its “hyper-partisan” nature creates disconnect. “Bill Agenda 21 sounded crazy, but it went far,” Stanton said. He also said the legislature should provide the economic tools to help build more sustainable cities.

All three mayors expressed the necessity of collaboration. “We need better relationships to make sure there are no unintended consequences,” Mayor Mitchell said.

An audience participant asked, “If you would need to single out one challenge [where we can] help , what would it be?”

“Education,” Mitchell said, “Educating policy makers. We need to communicate with constituents and get the legislature to help with initiatives.”

Mayor Smith reiterated the need to have conversations from a “common sense” approach.

“Push us to be better leaders,” said Mayor Stanton, “Give us your best ideas and challenge us.” He also emphasized the need to continue sustainability efforts despite leadership rather than go back to the old ways when the economy turns around.

A final participant asked, “How do you work to integrate across departments to be maximiz[ing] and not counteractive?”

Stanton said to look comprehensively and plan right. Mitchell talked about cross-training for efficiency. All three mayors discussed interdepartmental collaboration and working to find best practices within their respective units.

Panel 2: “Solar Summit III: Mayoral Panel discusses game-changing energy projects in their cities.”

From left to right, Mayor Smith of Mesa, Mayor Lord of Goodyear, Mayor Von Gausig of Town of Clarkdale, and Mayor Stanton of Phoenix. Photo by Sydney Lines, ASU LightWorks

Moderator Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, Senior Vice President of the Office of Knowledge and Enterprise Development (OKED), led the mayors of Goodyear, Mesa, Phoenix, and the Town of Clarkdale through questions examining what they envision as both new opportunities and challenges with implementing solar in their cities.  

Mayor Stanton of Phoenix highlighted similar points that he addressed at the previous mayoral panel discussion. The Mayor noted that sustainable thinking is part of every Phoenix initiative and planning progress. “The more we tell the world we are committed to sustainability, the more we benefit our economy,” Mayor Stanton said. Stanton also placed the conversation within a moral perspective. Solar may not be the cheapest option, but it’s “the right thing to do,” he said.

Mayor Lord of Goodyear is in favor of solar development, but she noted that a challenge she sees is the lack of information the public receives. “We need to bring people into the discussion,” Mayor Lord said. “Mayors have a bipartisan, closer relationship [to the people]. I don’t just worry for my party.” The Mayor believes that the solar industry in Arizona needs to better engage the public in order to get the support it needs to enact solar policy.

Mayor Smith of Mesa believes that the way to get people to be engaged and excited about sustainability and solar initiatives is to make the new projects less monumental and more ordinary. “Everybody is in favor of sustainability,” said Mayor Smith. “Nobody is in favor of dirty air or dirty water. It’s about how we do it.” To Mayor Smith, it is a matter of culture change. People should see sustainable implementation as regular, common sense practice. 

Mayor Von Gausig of the Town of Clarkdale explained that although Clarkdale is a smaller town, enacting sustainability initiatives is still very important. “Sustainability and renewable energy projects [are] important for small towns as well as big cities,” said Mayor Von Gausig. Engaging with the community proved to be beneficial in getting traction for sustainable initiatives for the Mayor. “Small town community meetings have been fruitful in advancing sustainable practice and solar,” Mayor Von Gausig said.

A recent Harvard graduate, one of only a few in his class to return to the Phoenix area, addressed the panel. He found that the city was not developing for the new generation in terms of transportation and sustainable development. He called it a “city of our parents.” The issue of urban sprawl came up several times, and as Mayor Smith noted, “We cannot unring the bell, but the conversation is changing.” All the mayors encouraged people to get involved and engaged. How do you create the city of the future? “Go vote,” said Mayor Von Gausig.

All of the mayors shared the view that energy policy is a bipartisan issue, that the narrative around sustainability has become too politicized, and that with the right leadership, public opinion will follow in the right direction. Despite political party differentiation, mayors from both sides agree that sustainable development and implementation of renewable energy is important as well as continuing to work together to create the policy needed to produce more opportunities for our state. 

Written by Gabrielle Olson and Sydney Lines, ASU LightWorks

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R&D Matters: Modified Algae and the Frankenstein Problem

published October 16, 2012, 11:08 am

A few weeks ago, Ohio State University’s Emily Caldwell published a news article on a recent paper published in BioScience magazine about the potential environmental impacts of modifying algae, a process that is being done in labs across the country (and the globe) for research in biofuels. The paper is titled “Genetically Engineered Algae for Biofuels: A Key Role for Ecologists” (Note, this article is available by paid subscription only; citation available at the end of this post). Caldwell converses with Dr. Allison Snow, one of the authors of the paper. The paper states a concern for uninhibited algal research and the prospect of modified algae escaping into the wild. Would they survive?  Would they evolve or hybridize? What sorts of effects might this have on an entire ecosystem? It is a conversation that should be familiar to us.

Swamp Thing. Photo Credit: Marvel DC Comics.

  • “I beheld the wretch—the miserable monster whom I had created.”
  • “The beauty of the dream vanished, and breathless horror and disgust filled my heart.”
  • “Learn from me…how dangerous is the acquirement of knowledge, and how much happier that man is who believes his native town to be the world, than he who aspires to become greater than his nature will allow.”

Although that’s a picture of Swamp Thing (a pond scum hybrid of sorts), these quotes are all the musings of Dr. Victor Frankenstein from Mary Shelley’s groundbreaking novel Frankenstein, or the Modern Prometheus.

These iconic quotes are iconic for a reason. They exemplify a scenario in which a scientist is ultimately destroyed by the fruits of their scientific pursuits. This is a valid concern for all new technological research, so the concerns with modified algae are certainly not without merit. This isn’t to say that modified algae (which the paper sometimes refers to as ‘genetically engineered’ or ‘GE’ algae) is some sort of ecological plague waiting to wreak havoc on the natural world, nor is the paper a condemnation of the algal research currently underway. After reading the paper, however, there are some key points that could be further illuminated.

Researcher Allison Snow states, "If they’re grown in big, open ponds, which is mainly what we’re talking about, could the newer types of microalgae get out into nature and mingle. We need to know if they can survive and whether they can hybridize or evolve to become more prolific when they get out of a controlled environment...If they can survive, we also need to know whether some types of genetically engineered blue-green algae, for example, could produce toxins or harmful algal blooms—or both" (Caldwell).

Blue-green algae bloom in Morning Glory Pool at Yosemite National Park, WY. Photo credit: Britannica.

This is certainly a valid concern. We should determine, to the best of our abilities, what type of environmental impact these newly engineered algae and cyanobacteria will have on current ecosystems should such an event occur. Right now there are large algal ponds at AzCATI, which is situated here in the Sonoran Desert. Desert climates, like the one here in this valley, are prime grounds for algae cultivation (we’ve written before about this) and with relatively no freshwater nearby the facilities (and certainly no ocean), this is just one more reason that Arizona provides the prime location for algal research. The Department of Energy thinks so, too.

Another of Snow’s critiques is that few of the details are made public because of business competition on the path to commercialization. Crops like soybeans and corn (other sources of biofuel) have more documented breeding histories and genetic research, something algae lacks because of its relative novelty in the field.

“There’s a community of people like me,” she says, “who study genetically engineered crops and how they interact with the environment, and we need to get this started with algae” (Caldwell).

Snow notes that she sees many indications that algae is growing in popularity and is ultimately deemed a technology worth funding in a variety of sectors—in business and government, especially. However, she also recognizes that in order for algae to be an efficient and sustainable biofuel source, it will require breakthroughs in biotech. That research continues daily, but the results thus far are promising.

Snow and her colleague Val Smith (co-author of the paper) offer a few suggestions about how to prevent the potential of an algae outbreak. To begin with, they argue for a comparative study that examines algae strains cultivated for large-scale commercialization and their natural counterparts outside of the lab to determine their respective differences. They also suggest a second option of genetically engineering what they refer to as a “suicide gene” that would essentially make the algae self-annihilate before they could infiltrate the wild. This last option is a bit more controversial. It raises some bioethical questions and could also be heavily detrimental if the algae were able to get out and reproduce before they self-destruct. The extreme possibility being that it could eradicate certain strains of algae in the wild if the suicide gene were inherited and passed on to other wild strains. However, Snow and Smith recognize the threats inherent in such an endeavor. They write:

"If such precautions are taken in lieu of thorough environmental assessments, more information should be required to ensure their long-term success and to prevent (genetically engineered) algae from evolving to silence or overcome biological traits that are designed to kill them" (Snow and Smith 766).

The next issue Snow brings up is another topic we’ve discussed before: algaculture, or algae as agriculture. Crop plants like soy and corn are already recognized as agricultural biomass. What this means is that the crops specifically modified for biomass cultivation, prior to commercialization, are grown and tested in various outdoor environments because of the permitting processes associated with crop farming. This essentially aids in making public the efforts being achieved without disclosing any of the proprietor’s exclusive research data. With algae, the strains used and their modifications would be public without having to disclose specific findings in terms of biofuel production and technology. Snow and Smith use the USDA’s environmental releases as an example of the kind of transparency that is not present in current algae research (767). In Arizona, algae are now considered agriculture under HB 2225 and HB 2226, but this is not a standard nationwide—yet.

AzCATI grand opening 126 

Harvesting algae at AzCATI. Photo credit: Sydney Lines, ASU LightWorks.

The news article closes with a quote from Snow.

“We’re trying to be constructive and get the word out, to get the conversation going” (Caldwell).

Conversation is a good place to start, and it’s a conversation worth having. As of now, there is a growing market for biofuels, and with recent crop conditions from summer droughts, non-food source biofuels like algae are becoming highly sought after alternative fuel sources. The minimal environmental impacts and high yield-per-acre are equally attractive characteristics of algae biofuel.

A few months ago, SBI Energy reported an investment shift in algae biofuels, predicting 43.1% market growth annually through 2015. Government funding is quickly being replaced by strategic partnerships from a wide range of industries in the energy sector. Private funding and venture capital will also act as contributors through 2015. Despite this shift, some government sectors are still heavily supportive of algae biofuels.

Recently, U.S. Secretary of the Navy Ray Mabus contributed to a UT-San Diego piece where he supported military biofuel initiatives and expressed the need for U.S. military branches to transform their energy sources in order to remain a global power.  He writes:

“I firmly believe the Navy should purchase biofuels for sustained operations at prices that are cost competitive with petroleum. That is official Defense Department policy. Several studies suggest that could happen within 10 years, but we can significantly shorten that timeline if we partner with private industry to bring costs down.”

Snow and Smith are not the only ones looking for a more collaborative biofuel development process. The National Resources Defense Council (NRDC) issued a proposal for “A Greener Biofuels Tax Credit” in 2011 that highlights the failures of current policies that aid in prohibiting the advancement of next-generation biofuels. In the proposal, the council calls for technology-neutral market incentives that award measurable environmental performance over volume alone. They argue that current policies do not allow for a sustainable biofuels industry and that new incentives will encourage innovation. Like Snow and Smith, they also call for a USDA developed tool to score biomass production and third-party assessments of biofuel producers. Brian Siu of the NRDC wrote a follow up post to the Senate Finance Committee’s extension of the cellulosic ethanol income tax credit. He reiterates many of the issues in the NRDC proposal but also warns about the reckless development of biofuels that could come about as a result of not assessing the environmental impacts of the biomass sources. He also applauds the qualification made to the tax credit that now considers algae among these feedstocks.

Clearly, there are many facets to the biofuel issue, and it’s great that people like Snow and Smith, Secretary Mabus, and the NRDC are shedding light on the areas that are most in need of attention. However, the underlying theme running throughout this narrative is funding.

Siu states, “Commercializing these better biofuels requires continuous investment and experience to reduce cost and risk.”

Snow and Smith say, "As GE algal strains are developed for large-scale facilities, we suggest that ecologists and other researchers will need access to basic information, access to relevant strains, independent authority to conduct research, and funding to build a rigorous scientific foundation that can support objective and quantitative risk assessment" (767).

Secretary Mabus gives his version as, "America looked to fuel savings and alternative energy in its drive for victory in World War II. In 1944, Congress passed the Liquid Synthetic Fuels Act, which authorized $30 million (nearly $370 million in 2010 dollars) to construct synthetic-fuel demonstration plants. The United States paid $58 per barrel for that synthetic fuel ($755 in today’s dollars), far higher than the $15 to $19 per barrel market price for petroleum at the time.

Today we have an opportunity to make another defense-critical investment in a viable, domestic alternative fuel industry."

Research and development (R&D) is absolutely critical in creating technology that is viable, commercially successful, and sustainable. Modified algae and cyanobacteria have vast potential as alternative drop-in fuels for global energy demands, but they must be researched like any other new science—and research takes money. Dr. Frankenstein didn’t fail because he altered nature. He failed because there was no collaborative, supportive process in place to help monitor and direct the research to make sure it was a beneficial venture that produced a measurable advantage for society at large.

Written by Sydney Lines, ASU LightWorks

Print Source:

Snow, Allison A., and Val H. Smith. “Genetically Engineered Algae for Biofuels: A Key Role for Ecologists.” BioScience 62.8 (2012): 765-768. Environment Complete.

Web Sources:

Caldwell, Emily. “Ecologist: Genetically Engineered Algae For Biofuel Pose Potential Risks That Should Be Studied. Research and Innovation Communications. The Ohio State University Office of Media and Public Relations. 20 Aug. 2012. Web. <>.

Mabus, Ray. “Guest Perspective: US Navy Continuing Its Long Tradition of Energy Transformation.” The San Diego Union-Tribune. 9 Sept. 2012. Web. <>.

Siu, Brian. “Biofuel Tax Policy: Short Term Progress, Long Term Challenges.” Switchboard: Natural Resources Defense Council Staff Blog. 20 Aug. 2012. Web. <>.

Additional information:

ISTB 4 Grand Opening: Panel Discussion Highlights

published October 3, 2012, 12:45 pm


Robot cutting ribbon for the grand opening of the ISTB 4 building. Photo by Sydney Lines.

Wednesday, September 19, 2012 marked the grand opening of the Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building IV (ISTB 4) on ASU Tempe campus. In celebration of this event, the Office of Knowledge and Enterprise Development (OKED) hosted a forum discussing how activities and research at ISTB 4 and ASU affect the local economy and state. The “Exploring the Economic Impact of Research in Arizona” forum hosted a renowned group of panelists that represented the fields of research that are now housed at the ISTB 4 building. OKED Senior Vice President, Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, was the moderator of the forum and began with introducing each panelist as a representation of the three interdisciplinary topic areas to discuss: earth and space exploration, security and defense, and energy and sustainability.

Panelists and their research facilities (listed in order of appearance):

Earth and Space Exploration:

  • Kip Hodges, ASU School of Earth and Science Exploration Director and Professor
  • Phil Christensen, Regents’ Professor, ASU School of Earth and Space Exploration

Security and Defense:

  • Werner Dahm, Director, ASU Security and Defense Systems Initiative
  • William Chapman, Chief Technologist, Raytheon Missile Systems

Energy and Sustainability:

  • Gary Dirks, Director, ASU LightWorks

  • Julie Zimmerman, Associate Professor, School of Engineering and Applied Sciences, School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, Yale University


“Exploring the Economic Impact of Research” From right to left: Moderator Sethuraman “Panch” Panchanathan, and panelists Kip Hodges, Phil Christensen, Werner Dahm, William Chapman, Julie Zimmerman, Gary Dirks. Photo by Sydney Lines.

Dr. Kip Hodges of the School of Earth and Science Exploration (SESE) discussed the school’s area of research that will now be located within the ISTB 4 building. The research areas that SESE concentrates on include planetary systems, earth history/evolution/current state, and the evolution of societies. Hodges emphasized that science is a combination of experimental, theoretical, and observational. Hodges said, “We continue to emphasize observational science, but it does not get its due.”  ISTB 4 will host more opportunities to expand observational science, such as geology, in terms of education and research. “We love to concentrate on education”, Hodges said, and also noted plans to develop a strong K-12 outreach program within the building.

Phil Christensen, also of SESE, discussed his area of interest which is developing Mars research, discovery, and education. Christensen opened with saying, “For me, science is discovery and exploration, but it’s also about new ideas and new ways of thinking.” ISTB 4 will host an outlet for researchers and students to invent, create, and develop technologies needed for the future. Christensen praised the opportunity of education that will be done at ISTB 4 and the importance of “training explorers of tomorrow.”

Werner Dahm of the Security Defense Initiative (SDSI) highlighted the ambitious goals that SDSI plans to have at ISTB 4. Dahm said, “We are establishing entirely new mechanisms here at ASU.” SDSI focus areas are technology, law and policy, and root socio-cultural and socio-economic causes. Because Arizona is fifth on the list of aerospace employment nationally, Dahm expects that the research and education being done in the ISTB 4 building will provide a tremendous economic impact for ASU.

William Chapman spoke on behalf of Raytheon Missile Systems and provided an overview of the various types of missiles that are currently being designed and produced in Tucson, Arizona. Chapman emphasized the point that Raytheon invests in research and that the technology and talent taking place at ASU will be “incredibly important to further and continue missile research.” 

Gary Dirks, director of ASU LightWorks, spoke about sustainability and energy practices that will need to be considered in all areas of education and research for the future. Dirks' focused area of interest was discussing the future of renewable energy in Arizona. Dirks said about LightWorks, “Our vision is to be an active player to new approaches, create a new industry, and encourage consciousness of energy security and energy justice.” Dirks also spoke about the recent accomplishment of the Department of Energy awarding a $15 million grant for ASU to lead the first ever national algae testbed ATP3. “This will provide many commercial opportunities,” Dirks said. “Researchers from all over will want to come to ASU to contribute in this ground breaking research.”


Photo of Gary Dirks during his presentation. Photo by Sydney Lines.

Julie Zimmerman focused on the concept of sustainability and the impact that it has to achieve challenges we wish to see for our city’s future. “It is important to know what problems we want to solve,” Zimmerman said. Through the advancement of technologies and introducing new areas of sustainable design, education and research, sustainability is sure to be instilled in many areas of life and will have a tremendous economic impact. “Sustainability is really about designing for tomorrow,” Zimmerman said.

The forum was then opened into an interactive “Q&A” session. Some of the questions included:

Q. How important is the ISTB 4 building to ASU? What is the value in having interdisciplinary research and activities?

Christensen: “I think it is essential for intellectual development and collaboration. Bringing scientists, engineers, and researches together is fundamental to what a university does.”

Q. What are the economic drivers that will move companies to be more sustainable?

Dirks: “Oil companies will take more interest in biofuels as a commercial opportunity. Oil companies will need places to invest money and those who see climate change as being an issue will be the ones out on the leading edge. I am very optimistic that business is going into this space.”

Q. What is the trade-off for sustainability and renewable energy? Is it conceivable that Arizona could export solar energy?

Zimmerman: “If we implement renewable sources, we won’t have to push for as much conservation and lifestyle changes.”

Dirks: “We can absolutely export solar power. We have to build relationships with our neighbors, particularly California, to work toward advancing solar technologies. Exploring high voltage lines that could reach to Texas or out to the East Coast will be what we need to look into.”

The ISTB 4 building boasts eight-stories into the sky offering a series of complex labs, world-class conference facilities, spaces dedicated to public outreach, and visible laboratories. It is the goal of researchers, such as these panelists, to see their legacy of interdisciplinary research, discovery, education, and outreach continued, and ASU’s ISTB 4 will allow for that accomplishment.

Written by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks

Video: ISTB 4 Grand Opening by ASU News

ASU's new science building will push boundaries of research, exploration from Keith Jennings on Vimeo.

Additional Information:


Arizona Sustainable Cities Series: Mesa

published October 2, 2012, 3:55 pm

As the final stop in our Sustainable Cities Series, we look at the City of Mesa, headed by Mayor Scott Smith. The City of Mesa has a long tradition of being pioneers. In 2012, it is a city that is committed to a number of green initiatives that help to continue that pioneer spirit all the way to sustainability. According to Mesa’s city website, sustainability is not only the merge of green ideas and environmental impact, but also the acts of “creating a better community, boosting economic growth, and promoting a vibrant social network.”

Mayor Smith (left) at the ribbon-cutting ceremony at Anzio’s Landing in celebration of going solar. Photo credit: City of Mesa.

Here are just some of the initiatives currently in place:

Solar Pilot Program


Photo credit: City of Mesa.

City of Mesa electric customers are able to receive up to $5000 (for up to 5 KW) in incentives for residential solar and up to $10,000 (for up to 10 KW) for commercial. The Mesa Energy Resources Department’s annual budget allows for utilizing $100,000 worth of these solar incentives per year on a first-come, first-served basis. In return for these solar installations, the city not only is improved by the environmental benefits, but the city receives renewable energy tax credits as well. As it is a one-year pilot program, the incentives will be available from July 2012 thru June 2013. Find out more information and how to apply for the Solar Pilot Program.

Fire Station 219: Mesa’s First LEED Certified Building

Mesa Fire Station 219

Photo credit: Mesa Fire Department.

This brand new fire station in East Mesa opened its doors in May 2012. Some of the many sustainable features and equipment installed in this fire station include solar panels, a solar hot water system, recycled construction materials, solar-reflective roofing materials for energy efficiency, and much more. LEED certified buildings must meet very specific qualifications in order to wear the LEED badge, and this is a great accomplishment for Mesa. Find out more information on Fire Station 219.

iMesa Community Garden 


Photo credit: City of Mesa.

The Mesa Urban Garden (MUG) is a new community garden, currently under construction, that is scheduled to open in January 2013. The mission, as stated on the MUG website, is “to inspire sustainable urban living through education, community involvement and creative cooperation to strengthen families and enhance and beautify our community.” It is a project that will add a community-run, cooperative sustainability element to the city, and there are a number of events and dedication ceremonies coming up. There is also a need for volunteers! See how you can help out with MUG.


Initiated in San Francisco in 2009, Solar Day has now become an international day of solar awareness and participation, and it is celebrated on or near the Summer Solstice. The City of Mesa participates in Solar Day. This year, Solar Day fell on June 20, 2012, but the City of Mesa has kept a page of abundant resources, tips, tricks, and program details for anyone interested in continuing to use or learn about solar energy. Find out more about Mesa solar.

While the City leadership has collaborated on making sustainable initiatives a reality for Mesa, Mayor Smith has also demonstrated leadership that promotes sustainability. Because of his business and leadership experience, Mayor Smith has been cited as having been instrumental in attracting First Solar to Mesa, a decision that has the potential to bring 600 green jobs to the city. He was also a panelist at the Arizona Solar Summit earlier this year and a speaker at AzCATI's grand opening this past spring at the ASU Polytechnic Campus in East Mesa. Mayor Smith was also present at the ribbon cutting ceremony at Mesa-area restaurant Anzio's Landing in celebration of becoming the first solar-powered restaurant in Arizona. Mayor Smith will once again be attending the Arizona Solar Summit at ASU SkySong, which takes place next week, as part of an Arizona Mayors panel.

Mesa is also a Bicycle Friendly Community, Playful City, and Tree City USA. We congratulate the City of Mesa and Mayor Scott Smith on their sustainability efforts!

Written by Sydney Lines, ASU LightWorks

Additional Information:

City of Mesa -- Environment and Sustainability:

City of Mesa -- Sustainability:

Mesa Urban Garden (MUG):

Maricopa County Green Government:

Follow Mayor Smith on Twitter:


Arizona Sustainable Cities Series: An Interview with Tempe Mayor Mitchell

published September 20, 2012, 11:03 am

It is near impossible these days to research cities, businesses, or universities without coming across their sustainability initiatives. What exactly does sustainability mean? Why is it so important? ASU President Michael Crow has answered this question by saying, “Sustainability is a concept with as much transformative potential as justice, liberty, and equality.” As our world continues to grow, sustainability will be a leading factor in shaping our future environmental responsibility, accommodating population growth and resource deprivation, and introducing new economic outcomes from residential to global levels. Sustainability is the term to use when we think about designing a cleaner, brighter future.

This Tuesday, September 25, 2012, The Mesa Arts Center will be sponsoring the Sustainable Cities Conference to discuss sustainable initiatives in the cities of Phoenix, Tempe, and Mesa. Rob Melnick, executive dean of the Global Institute of Sustainability (GIOS) at ASU, will lead Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell, Mesa Mayor Scott Smith, and Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton in a discussion that will address sustainability challenges and opportunities within their respective cities.

In preparation for this event, I have interviewed Mayor Mitchell to get a closer look on his take of a sustainable city. The following interview spotlights the Mayor’s current initiatives as well as his future plans to further sustainable development in Tempe.

Tempe Mayor Mark Mitchell.

What green initiatives or policies are already in place for Tempe?

Tempe is a sustainable city that takes care of people, profit and the planet through a variety of innovative programs, including water and energy conservation, recycling, composting, alternative transportation, sustainable business practices and environmental stewardship. Specific programs include:

  • LEED certified green buildings – the Tempe Transportation Center, East Valley Bus Operations & Maintenance Facility and Kyrene Water Treatment Facility.
  • Energy retrofits for 23 city buildings and facilities.
  • Telemetry that provides online dashboard showing utility use of 10 city buildings.
  • Streetlight retrofits for 2,000 city street lights (old high pressure sodium lights replaced with energy-efficient induction lights).
  • Solar power installations, including: project at Tempe Beach Park (partnership between the City of Tempe and APS) that provides energy for park lights and splash pad water pump; solar panels at Household Products Collection Center; solar-powered speed limit signs; solar lighting at Town Lake Marina; solar parking meter station adjacent to Tempe City Hall.
  • Waste Grease to Biodiesel Feasibility Study.
  • Public transportation – comprehensive transit network that includes fixed-route bus system, free Orbit neighborhood circulators and light rail.
  • Comprehensive bicycle facility network with more than 165 miles of bikeways.
  • Tempe values our rich social and cultural history, and supports a variety of community programs to preserve and celebrate those assets, including the Carl Hayden Campus of Sustainability and the Rio Salado Foundation.
  • Curbside residential and commercial recycling programs – celebrating 20 years of recycling services!
  • Composting and green waste programs for residents and for city parks.
  • State-of-the-art Household Products Collection Center.
  • Water conservation programs that include: xeriscaping workshops for residents, low-flow toilet rebates, gardening grants for schools, xeriscaping conversion rebates, school outreach presentations and a variety of educational materials and programs.

1)      What is your concept or definition of a “sustainable” city?

A sustainable city is one that – like Tempe – supports programs, policies and practices that provide environmental, economic and social sustainability. Sustainable cities respect their history, their present and their future generations. They create the smallest possible ecological footprint, using resources and land most efficiently while providing a high quality of life for their residents, businesses and visitors.

The crux of this is creating the smallest ecological footprint possible-- producing the lowest quantity of pollution possible, efficiently using land; composting used materials, recycling, or converting waste-to-energy -- thus minimizing the city's overall contribution to climate change.

2)      What efforts have you made so far to make Tempe more sustainable?

During my time on Council, I have supported programs to make the city as an organization more environmentally responsible (e.g., energy-efficient and green buildings, retrofits to city buildings, energy-efficient streetlights, solar power installations) and programs that help our residents to live more sustainably – public transportation, bikeways, recycling and composting. 

I’ve supported smart land-use policies like our Community Design Principles, wherein we have building height guidelines that allow for high rises in our most densely developed area, downtown Tempe, and the creation of a transit corridor along the light rail line that allows for higher densities so that more people can live near mass transit. We also allow existing commercial developments to add residential components in the hope of getting people closer to the resources they need. These mixed-use developments will become even more popular as populations become older.

My council colleagues and I proudly support ASU’s new Athletic Facilities District that is being planned as an EcoDistrict, meaning that it will focus on energy-saving buildings and infrastructure while drawing companies that specialize in green research and products. This district is 330 acres and could add 7 million square feet of green development to the heart of our downtown.

ASU’s main campus in Tempe is also home to the nation’s largest sustainability program for a university. We partner with the Global Institute for Sustainability and ASU researchers on a great many projects, including water research, solar opportunities and more. I look forward to continuing to collaborate with ASU and our other community partners on projects that make our region more sustainable.

3)      Where would you like to see our city in 20 years in terms of sustainability?

Maurice Strong, who is widely credited with globalizing the environmental movement, said, “The future health of our planet will be determined in our cities.” In the Phoenix Metro area, Tempe has long been a leader in sustainability – with our public transportation system, green buildings, recycling and many other initiatives. Our forward-thinking residents and city leaders have spearheaded and supported policies and programs that promote environmental, economic and social responsibility.

In 20 years, I see Tempe being a city where sustainability is just a way of life – a natural part of our business practices and way of living that’s so ingrained we don’t even think of it as being anything different. I see our residents and businesses living and working smart to produce minimal waste, recycling and composting to minimize landfill waste.

I see Tempe continuing its tradition of collaborating with ASU and our regional partners to create innovative new initiatives in sustainability. I see our residents continuing to be our partners in finding more sustainable ways to live and creating a sustainable community for future generations of Tempeans.

4)      Do you believe it is important for ASU students to be engaged in supporting Tempe sustainability (even if they are not necessarily from Tempe)?

Arizona State University is integral part of our city – including its institutions, as well as faculty, staff and students, many of whom live in Tempe.  Many ASU students will remain here after they get their degrees, finding careers here, raising their families and calling Tempe home. I and several of my City Council colleagues are proud alumni of ASU. Many of our community leaders – past and present – were once ASU students, and we know that many of our leaders of the future will come from ASU. ASU students are important members of our community; they do and can have major impacts on the community – both positive and negative. We look to ASU students to be our partners in sustainability – recycling and composting to reduce landfill waste; biking, walking and using public transportation; conserving water; working on important university research initiatives to contribute to our future as a sustainable community.

The Sustainable Cities Conference will be held this Tuesday, September 25, 2012, at the Mesa Arts Center. If you wish to attend what is sure to be a great discussion, please RSVP here.

Written by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks

Additional Information:

Arizona Sustainable Cities Series: Phoenix

published September 17, 2012, 11:00 am

In anticipation of the September 25th, 2012 Mayor’s Forum on Sustainable Cities, hosted by the ASU School of Sustainability, we are spotlighting the cities of Mesa, Tempe, and Phoenix in preparation for discussions on sustainable policy and governance. Phoenix is the first installation of our September Sustainable Cities theme.


Mayor Stanton with Dr. Steven Chu at the unveiling of Solar Phoenix 2. Photo by Department of Energy.

The City of Phoenix boasts a variety of green projects. Some of the notable solar installations include community centers, transit canopies, city park lights, restroom facilities, and more. A full list (including non-solar renewable energy projects) can be found on the City of Phoenix website. Additionally, under the leadership of Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton, the city of Phoenix has partnered with National Bank of Arizona, Arizona Public Service (APS), Salt River Project (SRP), and Paramount Solar to bring more cost efficient, sustainable solar energy options to the Phoenix area through the Solar Phoenix 2 initiative.

Some of the key components of Solar Phoenix 2:

  • By the end of 2012, it is expected to put solar panels on 1,000 Phoenix roofs and save users 10-15% in monthly energy costs
  • It is expected to create 150 jobs and pour $25 million into the local economy
  • It is currently the largest city-sponsored residential solar program in the country

Solar Phoenix 2 arose out of Solar Phoenix, a prior city-wide initiative that proved successful in 2010 by providing residential solar options to 400 customers, generating 2.8 MW of solar power, and contributing $26 million to the local community.

In June of this year, Mayor Stanton and the Phoenix City Council declared June 20th “Solar Day” and recognized solar leaders from a variety of Phoenix districts. Leaders were selected based on their contributions to advancing solar power in the Phoenix area, helping to make the city a leader in sustainability.

In his State of the City Address earlier this year, Mayor Stanton placed emphasis on the promising growth in bioscience careers here in the Valley, the advantage of public-private partnerships, and the necessity of making Phoenix a national solar leader.

“By the end of 2012 Phoenix will be double the amount of solar cells on city buildings. This is in addition to the Rental Car Center at Sky Harbor Airport that opened earlier this year with one of the largest solar arrays of its kind in the country.

We are leading the way. And we will continue to join the best and brightest in our community to push the envelope and build a brighter energy future.

To become a true national leader in green and sustainable industries sustainable thinking must become a fundamental part of our culture and permeate all of our thinking at the city of Phoenix.

Which is why, as promised I have appointed a Sustainability Advocate to work directly with me in the Mayor’s Office. And why we have convened a community-based Sustainability Advisory Committee. We are integrating sustainable strategies into our everyday operations and long-term decision-making. Sustainable thinking can provide solutions to some of our city’s most vexing challenges.” (Transcript available) 

Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport has also gone solar, as Mayor Stanton noted. Atop the rental car center sits 12,000 solar panels generating 5.4 MW of energy, providing over 50% of the facility’s power needs. Additionally, Sky Harbor has its own set of green initiatives and is working diligently to reduce the environmental impacts of travel.

Sky Harbor solar panels. Photo by Sky Harbor.

We commend Phoenix for quickly becoming a leading city in solar energy and Mayor Greg Stanton for his solar efforts. Tune in on September 25th for the Mayor’s Forum!

Written by Sydney Lines, ASU LightWorks

Additional information:

Follow Mayor Stanton on Twitter:

Mayor’s Forum Flyer (PDF):

Mayor Stanton’s Guest Post for the DOE:

Phoenix Sustainability Initiatives:

ASU’s Solar Energy Engineering & Commercialization Program: Preparing Students to Be the Solar Entrepreneurs of the Future

published August 29, 2012, 11:02 am

With the 2012 presidential election coming up, energy policy ensures itself as a frontline issue that both candidates need to continue to address. The question of where and how we will produce our energy will need to be determined in order to accommodate our future energy demands. Renewable energy has become a hot topic of discussion due to rapidly advancing clean technology as a result of the necessity to find ways to be more sustainable and efficient in our methods of energy use and the ever-present impacts we continue to see in our environment from our current methods. That being said, it is no coincidence that the push for wide acceptance of renewable energy in U.S. (and global) energy policy has influenced the increased interest in renewable energy studies at universities across the nation. Students who are interested in renewable energy studies will be the ones to fill the demand of our growing green job market and help conduct the research to foster the appropriate technology to do so. Students here at ASU are already fulfilling these roles.

I was able to talk to Karen Dada, project manager of ASU’s Solar Energy Engineering and Commercialization Program this week as she gears up for ASU’s fall 2012 semester. The Solar Energy Engineering and Commercialization Program kicked off its first semester in spring 2011 making it the newest addition to ASU’s Professional Science Masters (PSM) degree. The PSM, affirmed by the National Science Foundation, is specifically designed to more efficiently prepare scientists for industry, non-profit, and government sector related careers.

“The PSM degree illustrates a workplace model rather than an academic model,” Dada said. “We’re not just doing what we think needs to be done, we’re doing what the industry directly tells us.”

Students who are completing the Solar Energy Engineering and Commercialization Program work toward an applied project that focuses on high-impact solutions to solar energy and commercialization problems as opposed to a thesis paper that most graduate degrees require. Students work alongside a mentor to develop an individual project that ranges from technical engineering to energy policy. The purpose of working toward an applied project is to prepare these future solar engineers to become the entrepreneurs and innovators of the future.

“Our program focuses on producing solar company entrepreneurs, project managers, and policy makers,” Dada said. “We’re really filling a niche.”   

Since its inauguration, the program has already made ASU News headlines for their students’ entrepreneurial endeavors. During his final semester studying in the Solar Energy Engineering and Commercialization Program, student Sage Lopez helped Sunshine Acres Children’s Care Home devise a solar-energy plan that will help control the energy costs of the home as it continues to grow. Lopez assisted in helping Sunshine Acres get closer to its goals of having a “net-zero” energy system within the next 10 years. Because of his applied project, Lopez was able to land himself a position at a San Diego-based company in the solar-energy industry after graduation.


Sage Lopez: Picture by ASU News.

Here is a list of other example applied projects from the Solar Energy Engineering and Commercialization Program. 

As technology changes, so does the way we utilize our resources. The energy job market will need creative and educated innovators to use technology to better our future energy demands. If students are interested in pursuing a career in solar, then look no further than pursuing the Solar Engineering and Commercialization Program degree right here at ASU.

“We need to broaden our energy base,” Dada said. “Solar in Arizona is an obvious choice, and it’s a natural fit for ASU to take the lead in helping to create a sustainable energy source for our future.”

Campus Solarization – Innovation and Education in the Valley of the Sun from ASU News on Vimeo.

Written by Gabrielle Olson, ASU LightWorks

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