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ASU to dedicate $192 million sustainable facility amid full slate of Earth Week events

ASU to dedicate $192 million sustainable facility amid full slate of Earth Week events

Arizona State University will punctuate a week of Earth Day events on Tuesday with a dedication ceremony for its new, $192 million research and teaching facility, currently known only as “Interdisciplinary Science and Technology Building 7.”

The school has kept mum about who it will honor when it names the building, even among faculty of the interdisciplinary research effort comprising the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory, who started moving into the building’s sleek offices and laboratories in January.

Diane Pataki, director of ASU’s School of Sustainability, which now falls under the expansive umbrella of the Global Futures Laboratory, is excited for the public to learn more about the innovative work being done at the university to address the climate crisis and the opportunities for students to build careers in the field.

She says the green job market just keeps growing and that ASU is leading the charge on preparing workers for employment in sustainability fields, and attracting top researchers along the way. She moved her Urban Greening Lab to ASU from the University of Utah last year.

“It’s all supposed to now be more than the sum of its parts, by linking all of these schools together,” Pataki said. “So that’s why I came here and there’s no other university that I know of, especially in the U.S., that’s made this kind of commitment to have an impact outside of academia and to serve the public good. It’s really exciting.”

The new building and laboratory initiative bring together natural scientists, social scientists and experts in humanities and business, among others, with stakeholders and decision-makers to help chart the best path forward in the midst of warnings about climate change that grow louder with each subsequent report from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.

More: Climate experts say the world ‘is at a crossroads,’ but offer hope with concrete actions

ASU brought in Peter Schlosser, a leading Earth scientist, to enact the vision in 2018. As the Global Futures Laboratory’s vice president and vice provost, he says the work being done by the assembled experts is happening not a moment too soon. 

“We are looking for a global future in which lives thrive on a healthy planet. The mission simply is to design options for sustainability and to improve well being for all humankind, very straightforward,” Schlosser said.

“We see the pressures on the Earth system from the growing population. We are looking for solutions that are economically feasible and we’re looking at whether or not we have the institutions to implement them. That’s a lot of work that is absolutely necessary,” he said. “If we are not doing that, we just will keep going down the road and rolling toward the abyss, with very dire outcomes.”

More: ‘Medical school for the Earth’: New ASU lab to focus on sustainable solutions for the future

Schlosser and Pataki are optimistic that humanity can roll back from that abyss with the type of work and leadership happening at ASU. In addition to the events being curated for the public for next week, the university offers undergraduate and graduate degree and certificate programs in various aspects of sustainability science, including sustainable food systems, sustainable energy and sustainable economics.

“You need a lot of information and a lot of methods and a lot of partners to make sustainability happen,” Pataki said. “I think, personally, that it was ASU pushing sustainability as a concept that led to some of the popularity in these programs that we see now. But it’s going to be even bigger. We’re moving into global futures territory, which is even bigger than sustainability.”

Earth Day is celebrated annually on April 22 to mark the anniversary of the modern environmental movement, according to the organization,  which aims to “diversify, educate and activate the environmental movement worldwide.”

This year, April 22 falls on a Friday. But starting on Monday, ASU has lined up a full slate of educational events on what its leaders are doing to advance the field of sustainability research and what the public can do too.

Highlights of Earth Day activities

On Monday:

  • At 9 a.m., Schlosser will welcome Earth Week revelers in the ISTB7 auditorium with a panel discussion on “how we think about and approach energy in the context of building better futures at a global scale.”
  • At 11 a.m., a panel titled “Don’t Look Down” will discuss the need to engage diverse voices to make sure scientific and technological advances benefit everyone.
  • At 12:30 p.m., the judge of a competition for female entrepreneurs will guide a discussion of sustainable business practices.
  • From 2 p.m.-6 p.m., youth are invited to learn how to use spatial data to create the type of maps needed to address issues in global resilience. Free pizza is included.
  • At 4:30 p.m., a panel examines “Arizona’s Energy Journey” through recent legislation.

More: Climate report draws an arc toward environmental justice, seeking equitable emissions cuts

On Tuesday:

  • After the building dedication at 10 a.m., tours of the facility will be offered from 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m.
  • At 2:30 p.m., a session on “The Future of Conservation” will include a “photographic journey” and input from global-thinking authors, scientists and even a surfer.
  • At 4:30 p.m., a presentation will highlight “Opportunities for Climate Solutions and Green Careers.”
  • At 6 p.m., former Vice President Al Gore will deliver a live virtual address on how threats to democracy impact climate activism.

On Wednesday:

  • 9 a.m.-1 p.m.: Exhibits offer more information on the Global Futures Laboratory while food trucks keep visitors to sustainability booths sustained.
  • The ASU College of Liberal Arts and Sciences is hosting a “Democracy and Climate Change Conference” all day in the Pima Ballroom at the ASU Memorial Union.
  • At 2:30 p.m., a panel will explore the role a $620 billion sports industry plays in the search for sustainable solutions.
  • At 4:30 p.m., Diné chef Brian Yazzie will host a session on cooking and food sovereignty. Register online. 

On Thursday:

  • At 10 a.m., experts will discuss the decision-making structure for global solutions and how to decide who those decision-makers should be.
  • At 1:30 p.m., three Indigenous women sustainability scientists will talk oceans, languages, science and culture.
  • At 4:30 p.m., students in ASU’s College of Global Futures will share highlights from sustainability-related internships and projects.

More: The EPA released state-specific emissions reports. Arizona isn’t on the list

On Friday:

  • At 8:30 a.m., a collaborative panel between Kings College London and ASU will discuss “Ecologies and Infrastructures of Environmental Management.”
  • At 10 a.m., Schlosser will lead a panel on the importance of staying hopeful in a climate-ravaged world.
  • At 11:30 a.m., winners of the inaugural “Climate Narratives Prize” will be announced and their work discussed.

On Saturday:

  • Between 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m., ASU will celebrate the end of its Earth Week events — but not the end of its commitment to the Earth — by inviting volunteers to help clean up the Salt River. Those interested should register online and meet on the west side of 91st Avenue, one mile south of Broadway Road.

Joan Meiners is the Climate News and Storytelling Reporter at The Arizona Republic and azcentral. Before becoming a journalist, she completed a Ph.D. in Ecology. Follow Joan on Twitter at @beecycles or email her at

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