Flying False Colors (The Sixth Day)

Carlo Zanni’s pieces are "data cinema": he uses live, Internet data to create time-based, social consciousness experiences with games, photos, films and installations that investigate topical issues. This multimedia project loosely refers to the 1975 espionage film "Three Days of the Condor," directed by Sydney Pollack, which was one of the first films to suggest a link between covert, U.S. military operations and control of oil production in the Middle East. Like many of Zanni's past projects, "Flying False Colors" relies on fluctuations of live, digital information to affect his artwork. In this piece, a wind-generating base blows on a flag at particular speeds and directions based on the number of oil barrels requested by a country and the current weather in that country’s capital. The flag is a version of the universal Ecology Flag, which was designed in 1969 and depicts the Greek letter Theta—formerly an abbreviation for "death." The pigment in the flag flakes off over time, so it eventually becomes pure white. Los Angeles-based writer Lyra Kilston writes, "At work in this project is a strategy Zanni frequently invokes: the pairing of ‘mere’ numbers to their real life implications. This juxtaposition underscores the tension between a distanced and abstemious mathematics on one hand, and the messy, human reality it strains to enumerate." Click on the image to advance to the next one. Point the mouse at the bottom of the image to see additional controls.

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Video Documentation: 1 2 Flying False Colors (The Sixth Day) - 2009 Customized Hardware and Software, real time Internet data. Dimensions variable. Courtesy of the Artist and Collection Angela and Massimo Lauro, Il Giardino Dei Lauri - Images 1-5: Installation views and details from Chelsea Art Museum's project room, New York, Oct 2009 Photos by Fedele Spadafora. Images 6-10: Installation view at MarsellËria, Milan Photos by Mirko Rizzi

Contributor’s biography

Carlo Zanni’s work has been shown internationally in galleries and museums including: MACRO Museum, Rome (2010); Hammer Museum, Los Angeles (2009); Galleria Lorcan O'Neill, Rome (2009); MAXXI Museum, Rome (2007, 2006); New Museum, New York (2005); Gavin Brown's Enterprise at Passerby, New York (2005); Chelsea Art Museum, New York (2009, 2004) and P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, New York (2001). He participated in the last edition of PERFORMA 09, a new performance art biennial held in New York in the fall of 2009. The Institute of Contemporary Arts in London held his first retrospective in October 2005 and published the book "Vitalogy." In October 2006, "8-bit," a documentary by artist and director Marcin Ramocki and featuring an interview with Carlo Zanni, premiered at the Museum of Modern Art, New York. His latest piece is "Iterating My Way Into Oblivion" (2010-11). Visit his website at to learn more.

Closing the Energy Efficiency Information Gap for Small Businesses

Small businesses are vital to the health of the United States’ economy. They provide essential goods and services, employ millions of Americans and generate half the U.S. nonfarm GDP (1). Businesses of all sizes prioritize cost reductions, but small businesses‘which lack the monetary, personnel, and technological resources of large corporations‘are often more sensitive to cost variability. This sensitivity to cost fluctuations is especially pronounced for energy expenditures, which cost U.S. small businesses approximately $130 billion each year (2). By decreasing energy expenditures, small businesses can increase efficiency across their operations, strengthen their financial prospects and minimize their impact on the environment.

Recently, there has been some debate in the literature about the aggregate economic effects of energy efficiency on sustainability and the environment (3); in the long term, energy efficiency can result in unintended "rebound" and "backfire" effects that may negate the environmental gains from efficiency.  However, if coupled with complementary energy policies that reduce energy consumption, some scholars argue that efficiency measures can offer "simultaneous economic and environmental gain" (3). This finding suggests that policymakers must be well informed and engaged for efficiency and sustainability initiatives to prove effective.

To reduce vulnerability to rising energy costs, small businesses can invest in either energy efficiency or renewable energy generation. A number of federal programs incentivize these investments. For example, businesses adopting renewable energy generation‘such as solar cells and small wind‘are eligible for a tax credit worth 30 percent of the project’s cost (4). Additionally, the Energy Star program offers tax credits and rebates for purchasing energy efficient goods (5).

There is some disagreement among lawmakers, academics and business owners on the most effective policies for helping small businesses reduce energy costs‘some favor tax incentives, others direct subsidies or even government mandates.  However, few argue against providing access to information on these incentive programs once they are in place. Better information about energy incentive programs can increase their effectiveness by reducing the time and effort needed for businesses to learn about and implement efficiency measures.

To date, researchers have not thoroughly investigated whether information about incentive programs is effectively disseminated to small businesses. Additionally, virtually no information exists regarding small businesses’ energy consumption habits based on available information. A thorough literature review uncovered one recent study exploring energy-consumption behaviors in the commercial sector, in which the author acknowledges, "[T]here is essentially no information about how small-business decision-makers make choices about energy consumption" (6). We felt that these findings‘or lack thereof‘warranted further investigation of a topic that has potentially huge ramifications for small business owners, the U.S. economy and the environment.

We partnered with the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization based in Washington DC that provides policymakers with information on environmental and energy-related issues. We worked closely with EESI to develop a study that would garner qualitative information on the energy consumption practices of small businesses in the Northeast and assess these business’ general attitudes toward energy efficiency. We used the results to identify opportunities to improve federal policies promoting energy efficiency among small businesses.

How Did We Do It?

We conducted in-depth interviews with owners or operators of 20 small businesses located in the northeastern United States (Table 1). To prepare for the interviews, we received instruction and training from Bentley psychology Professor Helen Meldrum, who has over two decades of experience conducting interviews for research. Businesses were selected using online business directories, personal contacts and referrals. Aside from ensuring the businesses represented a range of industries and sizes‘from a two-person accounting firm to a telecommunications company with 120 employees‘there were no other constraints considered when selecting businesses to interview. If a business declined to be interviewed, then a replacement business in a similar industry and of comparable size was contacted.

Table of Information on Businesses Interviewed in this Study

The 20 interviews were divided equally among four interviewers, each of whom handled all correspondence with the small businesses. We contacted each business via telephone, but only conducted five of the interviews over the phone. The remaining fifteen interviews were conducted in person. All 20 interviewees were business owners or management-level employees with detailed knowledge of the company’s energy consumption. Objective ("yes or no") questions were followed with open-ended questions to gather information on:

  • Energy consumption habits of small businesses
  • Energy efficiency habits of small businesses
  • Overall impact of energy-related needs and costs on small businesses and small business owners
  • Small business owners’ knowledge of strategies for increasing energy efficiency, including the business owners’ awareness of federal programs incentivizing energy efficiency

Speaking with business owners directly offered us a detailed perspective on the relationship between their energy-related knowledge and actions.  Rather than providing policymakers with just numbers, our in-depth qualitative interviews garnered stories that highlight real and perceived gaps in energy policy for small businesses. These insights may not have been readily apparent through a purely quantitative approach.

Findings: Small Businesses Want Large Cost Savings Now

Interviewees were open about their energy needs, habits and attitudes, and virtually all of the business owners interviewed said they would like to lower their energy costs. As the interviews progressed, common themes that spanned multiple sectors emerged.

A pervasive sentiment the interviewees expressed was the importance of immediate cost savings. Reducing costs to increase profits was the businesses’ primary motivator, and if increasing energy efficiency would lower expenses, the small business owners said they would proactively increase efficiency. However, interview responses suggest that businesses primarily take reactive approaches to energy efficiency; that is, they reduce energy consumption only after their energy costs rise. Out of the 20 businesses, only three ever had an energy audit, and some were partially or wholly unfamiliar with the practice (Figure 1 and Table 2).

Responses to Key Interview Questions

Many business owners also felt that they are not able to reduce their energy costs. Even if energy providers significantly increased their prices, many of the owners believe they have no option but to pay higher energy costs. The owner of a beauty salon said, "Every time I open my electricity bill I shriek…if [costs continue to rise] I’ll be forced to shut down," and, "There really isn’t anything out there for us to improve upon. We use a lot of high-energy things."

Our interviews suggest that these small businesses’ failure to anticipate and insure themselves against cost increases may result primarily from a lack of information about energy-related programs available to them. Most interviewees said they find it difficult to locate relevant and accurate information about energy and energy efficiency, and only eight out of the 20 interviewees were aware of federal programs that incentivize energy efficiency (Figure 1 and Table 2). Many businesses went on to say that they rely solely on their electricity and fuel providers for energy-related information. The owner of a small auto garage noted, "Every now and then I look at my gas bill and see some interesting information or statistic [about energy], but that’s about the only time I get [energy-related] information." In another case, a florist stated that although he is unaware of steps he could take to reduce energy costs, if he received information on what to do, he would unquestionably take action.

Table of Small Business Interview Responses

When asked about possible energy saving solutions, the business owners felt tax incentives intended specifically for small businesses would be most beneficial. However, most business owners knew more about the tax incentives they do not qualify for than those they do. Some of the business owners assumed that they would not qualify for federal incentive programs without actually researching whether this is the case.

Bottom line

The business owners we spoke with overwhelmingly want to reduce energy costs. However, most of them simply do not know where to find information on how to do so.

Policy Implications

Although this study had a very small sample size, the findings may have implications for public policy. Because the small businesses interviewed were largely unaware of federal programs or general actions that can reduce energy consumption, it appears that information on energy and energy efficiency is not being adequately disseminated. Therefore, policymakers interested in increasing the effectiveness of these programs should seek new channels for conveying information to small businesses. One possible channel identified by this study is small business organizations. Fifty percent of the businesses interviewed said they are currently members of a small business organization. Meanwhile, several others said they are interested in joining such an organization (Figure 2 and Table 3). All of these businesses said they would trust their current or potential small business organizations for energy-related information, but only one business said its organization currently provides such information. These findings indicate that small business organizations may be an underutilized and potentially effective channel for distributing energy-related information to small businesses.

Admittedly, deciding what the federal government’s ideal role should be in helping small businesses increase their energy efficiency is debatable. Many state governments have programs incentivizing energy efficiency, and some may see additional federal programs as unnecessary or even unwelcome. The specific policies the federal government should employ to promote energy efficiency are also open to interpretation. Tax incentives and rebate programs such as Energy Star are widely touted, but some argue that direct funding is more effective. Others may call for reduced governmental intervention across the board, arguing the government need not attempt to influence or support the private sector. Nevertheless, our study signals that there is a lack of knowledge among small businesses regarding existing policy measures supported by the federal government. Acknowledging and addressing inefficiencies among these programs would not require Congress to authorize any new programs (or additional spending) and could be seen as beneficial regardless of one’s position on promoting these or alternative measures.

Giving Small Businesses a Larger Voice on Capitol Hill

Once our study was complete, we communicated our findings to federal policymakers in Washington DC. We met with staffers from the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee as well as staffers from the offices of Senators Scott Brown (R-MA), John Kerry (D-MA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Jon Tester (D-MT) and Jim Webb (D-VA). We also had the opportunity to meet with Senator Tester directly to discuss the results presented here.

Based on the those results, on February 2, 2011, Senators Kerry, Tester, Shaheen, and Lieberman (I-CT) sent letters to administrators of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Small Business Administration (SBA) asking for a Memo of Understanding between the agencies to maximize the impact of federal energy efficiency programs on small businesses.

The Road Ahead

As with all public policy decisions, there is no clear path ahead to unilaterally spur energy efficiency among small businesses via federal programs. Nevertheless, we believe this study provides insight on the energy habits of small businesses that policymakers must consider in order to best serve these businesses. Our study indicates that small business owners are ill informed about federal energy efficiency programs. Improving communication and access to these programs for small business owners could produce many benefits for our economy, our environment and our country.


(1) Kobe, K. (2007). The Small Business Share of GDP, 1998-2004. Washington, DC: SBA Office of Advocacy.

(2) Bollman, A. (2008). Characterization and Analysis of Small Business Energy Costs. Washington, DC: SBA Small Business Office of Advocacy.

(3) Hanley, N., McGregor, P.G., Swales, J.K., and Turner, K. (2009) Do increases in energy efficiency improve environmental quality and sustainability?, Ecological Economics, 68: 692-709.

(4) DSIRE. (2010, June 9). Federal Incentives/Policies for Renewables & Efficiency. Retrieved April 10, 2011, from DSIRE:

(5) ENERGY STAR. (n.d.). ENERGY STAR for Small Business. Retrieved April 11, 2011, from ENERGY STAR Web site:

(6) Payne, Christopher Todd. (2006). Energy Consumption Behavior in the Commercial Sector: An Ethnographic Analysis of Utility Bill Information and Customer Comprehension in the Workplace (Doctoral Dissertation). Retrieved from ProQuest Dissertations and Theses Database. (3220742).

Contributors' Biographies:

William Markow, Victoria Adams, Daniel Green, and Gregory Bucci are undergraduate students at Bentley University in Waltham, Masachusetts. David Szymanski, Ph.D., is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Natural and Applied Sciences at Bentley and advised the students on this project. This research was the focus of an undergraduate course taught by Dr. Szymanski on federal environmental and natural resource policy. The authors would like to thank Carol Werner and Ellen Vaughan at the Environmental and Energy Study Institute (EESI), Dr. Helen Meldrum at Bentley University and all the small business owners who took part in our study. For further correspondence, please contact David Szymanski at

Parquet: A Social Floor Covering in Berlin-Neukölln

Raw materials for the "social parquet" (2010) come from unofficial refuse dumps on the streets of Berlin-Neukölln and residents’ cellars and attics. For example, this parquet includes Muhammet’s kitchen table, a childhood bed that once belonged to Kerstin, Güler’s wardrobe, and a plank from Bernhard’s ship. These are among the roughly 550 found items and donations which compose the "social floor covering."

In the final work, 4289 parquet pieces are laid out in a fish-bone pattern‘originally also known as "bourgeois parquet"‘on 126 square meters (1,356 square feet). It is an installation to walk on, made by materials from people who live in the most well-known social hotspot of Berlin, which has a high rate of unemployment, crime and poverty.

Between March and July, I used an empty shop called "SOZIALPARKETTSTUBE" to collect and show off contributions from the community. We spent many days talking to people, listening to their stories, observing their life and discussing the project. We got to know each other, and people started to visit us to chat over a cup of coffee. After a while, they informed us about "interesting" pieces of waste on the streets and started to bring us material from their households. Each time a resident brought in a contribution, I carefully "revalued" it. They were quite amazed to see that we really cared about each tragic, icky, funny‘and always touching‘piece. They were proud to become part of the "social parquet," and we photographed each of them with their wooden trophy.

Behind residents’ personal dramas, the ecological drama is hidden. Berlin residents produced 927,601 tons of household garbage and bulky waste in 2007. Some 1000 tons can be found in the streets of Neukölln: Whether you’re looking for shoes or sofas, you’ll find them in public spaces as witnesses to the faded beauty of consumption.

The "Art Parquet," the "People’s Parquet," and the "Social Parquet of Neukölln" belong to a trilogy of installations which question parquet as a material and a social phenomenon – sensually, poetically, aesthetically and politically. Please find more detailed information and a documentation of the project on the website

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Contributor's Biography:

Barbara Caveng is a visual artist who lives and works in Berlin. She studies at the Hochschule für Musik und Darstellende Kunst. To learn more about her work, visit

Skills for Sustainability Professionals

In response to a growing need to move the world toward sustainable development and sustainable practices, a whole new professional track has emerged in the last decade. In 2010, the International Society of Sustainability Professionals (ISSP)—the professional association that serves the needs of people working in this field—undertook a research study to answer the question, "What should a sustainability professional know how to do?" What we learned should inform everyone entering and working in this field. The study surveyed about 400 professionals, most of whom were actively engaged in helping organizations implement the principles of sustainability. The heart of the survey focused on the challenges organizations were facing and the technical and "soft" skills that sustainability professionals need to address these challenges. The side bar summarizes the findings, and the full study can be downloaded at here. The results of the study led ISSP to these conclusions:

  • There is still a need for being able to explain sustainability in business terms and to craft a financial rationale for sustainability efforts. Building the case for sustainability is important not only to garner the support of leadership in an organization but also to manage the long-term roll out of projects and initiatives in a way that returns the best value to organizations.
  • Systems thinking is critical to the application of sustainability principles to daily operations within an organization. Most initiatives cross traditional functional areas and require a whole systems view to both understand the interplay of processes and identify intervention strategies for best results.
  • Skills for managing organizational change initiatives are imperative. These skills include communicating with stakeholder groups, developing comprehensive sustainability plans, managing complex projects, motivating teams, holding them accountable for results and keeping sustainability initiatives strategically positioned in the organization.

    Along with others at ISSP, I helped develop a professional certificate program based on these findings. This program, and others like it, can go a long way toward developing the necessary competence and professionalism to build this field. Admittedly, the field is still emerging, the issues are evolving and the challenges continue to multiply, which means that training and education must continually adjust to keep pace.

    I see a growing need for both sustainability generalists who can steward efforts for a community or organization and specialists that focus on particular project efforts. These specialty areas include greenhouse gas accounting, climate action planning, life cycle assessing and sustainability auditing and reporting. New certifications are emerging to bring consistency to the profession and help organizations understand what they should be looking for when hiring professionals.

    The mission of ISSP is to "make sustainability standard practice." Until that goal is reached, there will be a demand for professionals who can shepherd the biggest transformation of the century. As sustainability professionals, it will be our challenge to keep our skills honed and up to date and continue to innovate strategies that will help us get there.

    Contributor's Biography

    Marsha Willard is Executive Director of the International Society of Sustainability Professionals, a published author on the subject of sustainability and adjunct faculty member for the Presidio Graduate School and the Bainbridge Graduate Institute.

    Virtual scarcity and "epic wins": Is sustainability in need of more games?

    Collaboration, urgent optimism, committed focus—these are the skills and qualities needed in humans to solve sustainability’s biggest challenges and, as it turns out, also the most minor of missions belonging to Azeroth in the online video game "World of Warcraft."

    A massive multiplayer game where thousands of people play at any time, "World of Warcraft" requires at least five to 20 players for a single challenge. Why? James Gee, a professor at Arizona State University studying situated learning in games, says it’s because the problems in "World of Warcraft" are too complex for just one person to take on.

    "It's an extremely complicated world," Gee says. "Essentially, this game is controlling hundreds of variables that interact with each other statistically to give the outcomes of the decisions you make."

    Each character, or avatar, has certain skills, "but there are many different types of characters you can be," Gee says. "And they have dozens of different types of skills. And their skills grow over time, and every time they grow you can choose which to grow and not grow."

    While game worlds such as Azeroth may be fictional, the real abilities of its eleven-million-plus community to band together and solve a relentless onslaught of problems are beginning to attract a growing number of researchers interested in how online games might be changing human behavior.

    But what does this mean for sustainability? Games appear to be an unlikely sector for the field, as they are played inside, consoles use up energy and Earth often is overshadowed by other, more fantastic worlds. However, a small number of games recently created to engage players in earthly environments—worlds that lack sufficient supplies of water, oil and food—point to an inherent power online games have in the discourse of sustainability: virtual reality or, in sustainability’s case, virtual futurity.

    In her 2010 TED Talk about the power of games to solve real-world problems, Jane McGonigal, a game designer, researcher and author of "Reality is Broken: Why Games Make Us Better and How They Can Change the World," says that if humans want to survive another century on Earth, we will need to start playing more games. In other words, if the role of sustainability is to plan for the future, then researchers like McGonigal believe that playing games—and designing specially tailored games for us to play—will help us better experience and co-design that future.

    Having a hard time envisioning what an oil shortage would be like? Well, there's a game for that.

    Created in 2007, in part by McGonigal, "World Without Oil" is a game that challenges its players to survive an oil shortage. The aim of the game is to blur the line between the real world and a virtual one where oil has become scarce.

    "The oil shortage is fictional, but we put enough online content out there for you to believe that it's real and to live your real life as if we've run out of oil," McGonigal says.

    The game forces players to think about how their everyday actions are connected to a complex web of processes. In a world without oil, gamers are able to see firsthand scarcity's rippling effects: impacts from the oil shortage extend beyond figuring out how to get to work and into more dicey areas such as food supply, where food transportation is affected by oil scarcity.

    The 1,700 gamers who signed up to play "World Without Oil" left in their wake blog posts, video posts and photos documenting their adventures and how their experiences have translated to their real-world lives.

    "Most of our players have kept up the habits they learned in this game," McGonigal says.

    In another game created by McGonigal at the Institute for the Future, a non-profit research center specializing in long-term forecasting, "SuperStruct" engaged 8,000 gamers over an eight-week period to come up with solutions to sustain human life on Earth. Under the fictional premise that humans had only 23 years left to live, the game's players came up with 500 solutions for the human species to endure.

    When did games become so serious? Decades after the term "serious game" came into use, the Serious Game Initiative formed in 2002 to encourage the production of games that do more than entertain, but rather are intended to address issues with major policy or management implications. It wasn't until last year, though, that games began to really earn some cultural capital. In 2010, McGonigal's "Evoke"—a "social network game to help empower people all over the world to come up with creative solutions to our most urgent social problems"—was commissioned by the World Bank Institute. And most recently, the academic journal Nature published its first paper co-authored by an online gaming community.

    Studies show that gamers play for a variety of reasons and that "escapism" and "entertainment" often rank lower on the list than one might expect.

    "There's a reason why the average 'World of Warcraft' gamer plays for 22 hours a week," McGonigal says. "We know that when we're playing a game that we're actually happier working hard than we are relaxing or hanging out. Gamers are willing to work hard all the time if they're given the right work."

    According to a 2008 Pew report, 97% of teenagers currently play games. Researchers have found that people who play games are more cooperative, more creative, more confident, more goal- and task-driven, and more motivated to succeed. While it may be difficult for parents to believe that their children are going to find a way around climate change by playing more video games, the importance of creating games that allow players access to more meaningful work is difficult to argue. Likewise, the need to develop game-like spaces that inspire creative, community-driven and interactive work is difficult to understate.

    "As we get better ways to let kids be productive experts and have passion and develop skills that really translate into abilities for the future world, we may want to get rid of this distinction between formal and informal learning," says Gee, reminding us that problem-solving, like games, should be fun.

    Typically, there is not a lot of fun involved in scarcity and behavioral modification, two of sustainability's greatest—and linked—challenges. Changing one's mind and routines is no easy feat. It's also notoriously easy for us as humans to shrug off the complexity and weight of our decisions, especially if we can't see what is at stake. An inability to conceptualize scarcity might be as threatening as scarcity itself.

    After ten years of scientific research on the social impact of games, researchers believe that playing games is not nearly the "time suck" it once was considered to be. However, that is not to say that all scientists agree that games will save the world or that we all should play as much as we possibly can. In fact, research reveals the opposite. Once players hit 28 hours of gaming each week, their real lives begin to suffer: social anxiety and depression are common, and the benefits of gaming are lost. It seems saving the world isn't enough—gamers must face the challenge of coming back to it too.

    Game designers and scientists are left with their own challenge: how to make the real world, steeped in standards and red tape, more like a game where people feel empowered to take creative risks in solving some of the world's biggest problems.

    Raphael Robbins, a technical writer, who formerly worked as a content developer in the game industry, says online spaces are outlets for inspiration and creativity and aren't just for kids.

    "I feel I am at my creative peak when I am playing," Robbins says. Games also bring with them a level of diversity that Robbins says he rarely encounters anywhere else.

    In terms of diversity, the male-to-female ratio of gamers is nearly equal. With women making up 40% of adult gamers and 94% of girls under 18 currently playing games, virtual worlds could level the playing field in science and technology problem-solving. The potential of games to open up technology fields to a greater number of women could be of "epic" proportions.

    An "epic win," McGonigal says, occurs in a game when players achieve an "outcome so extraordinarily positive you had no idea it was even possible until you achieved it."

    The future is hard to predict. And while the power of games as a social platform remains unclear, it's easy to see that alternate game worlds will increasingly affect how humans participate and interact in the real world.

    How humans choose to respond to the development of virtual worlds could very well affect our chances of achieving an epic win in the real one.

    Contributor's Biography

    Britt Lewis is a graduate student in the Department of English at Arizona State University, where she is studying ecocriticism.

    The Second Green Wave

    Enrollment in post-secondary, degree-granting institutions swelled 26% between 1997 and 2007, according to the U.S. Department of Education. Moreover, the last decade has seen a dramatic upsurge of interest in the environment and sustainability on college and university campuses—in and out of the classroom.

    On college and university campuses, there is an increasing demand for sustainability and environmental studies courses and programs for undergraduates and graduates. According to the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), there are more than 30 U.S. institutions offering bachelor's degrees in sustainability, and more than 20 universities house graduate programs. Columbia University launched a Ph.D. program in sustainable development in 2004 with many other universities initiating similar programs.

    Sustainability features prominently in extracurricular groups on campus, as well. However, unlike the environmental movement that bracketed the first Earth Day in 1970, today’s college students are going beyond raising awareness and organizing protests; they’re organizing programs on campus and getting things done. Many of these students are working on campus recycling, getting their dining halls to use locally grown foods and initiating sustainable gardens. The College Sustainability Report Card includes data on and assessments of 322 U.S. and Canadian colleges and universities large and small.

    Two examples from the multitudes:

    At the University of Rochester (U of R) in upstate New York, 28 freshmen are selected each year to be EcoReps to plan dorm activities and events to educate students in the residence halls about waste reduction and energy conservation. Twice as many students applied to the program this past year compared to the prior year, according to Alexander David, Class of 2013, who was a coordinator for one of the largest residence halls this past academic year and will be directing the whole program next year.

    Members of Students for Environmental Action (SEA) at Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachussets, participate in The Real Food Challenge (RFC), which works to change conventional dining hall policies. According to SEA member Marisa Turesky, RFC, which was started in 2007, is a "youth food movement that encompasses producers, consumers, communities and the Earth.  RFC organizers seek social change through coalition-building, advocacy, community organizing, and education around food justice issues. The ultimate goal," Turesky explained, "is for college and university campuses to have 20 percent real food by 2020."  Brandeis students have rolled up their sleeves on other projects: one group petitioned the university for a plot of land to start a sustainable garden, while another initiated a carry-out service in the dining halls using reusable containers.

    These actions are truly laudable, but it's what happens after college that will push the envelope. Once the last strains of "pomp and circumstance" have drifted out of college and university auditoriums across the country this month, the graduates who have sustainability experience under their belts are likely to have a huge impact on the workplace—what I’m calling the second green wave.

    As these students move into the workforce, not only are they more likely to carry with them sustainability values, they are also more likely to put those values into action on the job, echoing what they did on campus. James J. McCarthy, director of the Museum of Comparative Zoology at Harvard University, told a group at the February 2011 meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, "There are lots of stories about students making an environmental difference." These students are "taking their success when they go into other walks of life."

    According to Mark Orlowski, founder and executive director of the Sustainable Endowments Institute, which publishes the College Sustainability Report Card, the schools charted in the latest assessment "not only serve as microcosms of the larger society but also possess a combined total of over $325 billion in endowment assets. This places them in a unique position to model successful integration of sustainability into both campus operations and investment practices."  That’s an incredibly powerful model for students.

    Alexander David, the U of R EcoRep coordinator, echoed that: "I think the experience of dealing with people who have all different kinds of mindsets about sustainability has been invaluable," he explained. "I want to work in the green market and being able to understand how people think and make decisions in this area has taught me a lot about how to approach them… No matter where I wind up going after college that is something I will hopefully be able to do for my company."

    In my own workplace, the American Geophysical Union (AGU), our Green Team is cochaired by Kaitlin Chell, a 2005 college graduate from California.  The Green Team regularly e-mails reminders about ways to reduce, reuse and recycle.  Chell was one of the moving forces behind "Waste-Free Wednesdays" to reduce lunchtime waste. "You’ve got to make a difference where you can," she explained.

    Contributor's Biography

    Barbara T. Richman is editor in chief of Eos, the weekly newspaper of the Earth and space sciences published by the American Geophysical Union in Washington, D.C. Prior to that, she was managing editor of Environment magazine for almost 19 years.

    Sustainable Cinema

    "Sustainable Cinema" is a series of kinetic public sculptures that merge natural power with visual illusions to create a moving image. The artworks combine references to both the optical illusion toys that led to the invention of movies and early energy sources. By referencing the histories of both film and industrialization, these sculptures explore a possible future of environmentally responsible media—looking forward by looking back.

    As an artist who mixes cinema with sculpture, I often focus on optics and how the moving image is created. "The Book of Film Care," a 1983 publication by Kodak, boasted that their film was "animal, vegetable, and mineral"—bragging that all the materials used to make the celluloid of the movie industry came from the natural world. The term "silver screen" derives from the actual embedding of silver into silk fabric, and even earlier shadow puppet shows projected onto opaque animal skin. This series of artworks considers alternative systems to create a moving image as if cinema had continued to evolve with sustainable elements instead of being influenced by the industrial and digital ages.

    Culture’s spreading audiovisuality means that we are surrounded by screens, yet we rarely understand the technology behind them; few people could explain how a movie appears on an iPhone. These sculptures offer a moment when the mystery of the moving image can be grasped. They are simple illusions created with simple energy to make us reflect on how removed we are from the original magic of the moving image. It is a primal media experience, which, due to the rapid development of cinema technologies, is no longer an oxymoron.

    Additionally, the source of their power changes the effect of the moving image in the sculptures. These machines directly and visibly capture the energy of the Earth. As a result, the animations seem to be channeling a life force. While part of the intrigue comes from the automaton element that is intrinsic in the work, their natural power source acts as a voice for the living Earth.

    An irony of the green energy movement is that the oldest energy forms, for example wind and water, are considered new replacements for more recently developed ones, like oil and coal. Sustainable energy is a re-imagining of the old, and these works aspire to do the same by re-imagining early cinema systems.

    Additionally, they have been designed for public spaces, so they can stimulate general awareness and conversation about sustainable development. The cinematic elements first entertain and then inform the public about the fundamentals of sustainable design. The sculpture takes the abstract principles of sustainable energy and makes them tangible; by simplifying the processes, it becomes more accessible.

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    Contributor's Biography:
    Scott Hessels is an internationally recognized filmmaker and media artist who merges cinema with new technologies to create innovative media experiences. Over the past 30 years, he has released artworks in media including film, video, web, music, broadcast, print, kinetic sculpture, and performance. His films have been shown in hundreds of international film festivals and his new media installations have been presented in exhibitions around the world including the Museum of Modern Art in New York, CiberArt in Bilbao, The Ford Presidential Museum, SIGGRAPH, ISEA, and Japan's Media Art Festival. They have also been included in several books on new media art and magazines like Wired and Discover. His recent projects have mixed film with sensors, robotics, GPS systems and alternative forms of interactivity and have included partnerships with NASA, The Federal Aviation Administration and Nokia among others. He is currently with City University at the School of Creative Media.

    Great Divide

    2010 -- cotton, wire / ~13 x 3 x 3 feet This work utilizes 100 pounds of raw cotton, grown, sourced and discarded near my former studio on the U.S.-Mexico border. Since the passage of NAFTA, more than a million Mexican farmers have lost their land due to the market saturation of U.S. cotton and other crops, driving prices for these goods below the cost of production. Unable to compete, small farmers have been forced out of business.

    In addition to being highly subsidized, cotton might be the most toxic crop in the world. Cotton uses more than 25% of all the insecticides in the world and 12% of all the pesticides. Also, 75% of the cotton and cottonseed in the U.S. is genetically modified. These external and intrinsic chemicals have polluted habitats and residents wherever the crop is grown.

    It's also said that in the U.S. we ingest more cotton products than we wear. Cotton fiber accounts for around 30% of a harvest, whereas cottonseed and gin trash make up the rest. Most of the cottonseed and almost all the gin trash are fed to cows, thereby entering the human food supply. The remainder of the cottonseed winds up in many different junk foods with the same end result.

    Another layer of the work reflects current issues of supply and demand. A recent forecast by the National Cotton Council of America indicates that the fiber will remain in short supply this year while demand increases. Cotton prices have risen 24% since the beginning of 2011, mirroring trends of other natural resources as global population and market production needs continue to grow.

    While working on this piece, my studio was a renovated cotton gin in southern New Mexico. There, like in many other parts of the country, agricultural land is giving way to housing development, and while one set of windows looked out over planted fields, the porch faced a growing tract of New Tuscan homes.  This summer’s disastrous oil spill in the Gulf, news of which hummed on in the background, also highlighted the precarious balance between preserving resources and fulfilling lifestyle needs.

    When first introduced to cotton, medieval Europeans noticed that it resembled wool, a familiar material. Told that it came from a plant, a prevalent belief held that its stalks bore diminutive sheep at each end. In contemporary life, we similarly attempt to draw on the familiar to make sense of things we don’t know. And as an artist, I wonder where our blind spots are – that is to say – what do we now take as a fact that may later seem like a lamb emerging from a bloom?

    Contributor's Biography:

    Susannah Mira completed her master's degree in Environmental Art at the University of Art and Design Helsinki (now Aalto University) in 2008.  Born in San Francisco and raised in a non-descript Philadelphia suburb, she champions a highly itinerant artistic practice based out of an updated station wagon.

    Peak phosphorus: the crunch time for humanity?

    by Dana Cordell, Stuart White and Tom Lindström The element phosphorus underpins our ability to produce food. Yet only recently has a vigorous debate emerged regarding the longevity of the world’s main source of phosphorus – phosphate rock.

    Like oil, the world’s economy is totally dependent on phosphate rock. But our dependence on the latter differs: while oil can theoretically be replaced with solar, wind or biomass energy, there is no substitute for phosphorus in crop growth and hence food production. A scarcity of phosphate rock is therefore likely to threaten the world’s ability to produce food in the future if concerted efforts are not soon taken by policy makers, scientists, industry and the global community. While the critical point in time for phosphorus scarcity is highly uncertain and contested, all agree that demand for phosphorus is growing, and remaining phosphate rock is becoming increasingly scarce and expensive.

    Global Phosphate Reserves

    Surprisingly, the most recent estimates of longevity of phosphate rock reserves take a simplistic approach that divides the reserve (in million metric tonnes, Mt) by current consumption rates (approximately 160 to 170 Mt per year -- or 176 million to 187 million regular tons) to yield the lifetime of the reserves in years (1). The recent study by the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC) used this approach to yield an estimated 300 to 400 years lifetime for global reserves (see Figure 1, Scenario B). However, assuming that 100% of the reserve will be accessible and that consumption will not increase is inappropriate. Global phosphorus demand will increase to meet the food demand of the one billion people who are currently hungry plus the additional demand created by an expected two to three billion new mouths by 2050 (2). Additionally, phosphate demand will rise to satisfy increasing preferences for more meat and dairy products, to fertilize currently phosphorus-deficient soils (especially in Sub-Saharan Africa) and to grow biofuel crops and other non-food products that require phosphorus. Due to the non-homogeneity (or "patchiness") of phosphate rock and most other non-renewable resources, the easier to reach and high-grade reserves are typically mined first. There is consensus that the world’s remaining phosphate reserves are declining in phosphorus concentration, increasing in impurities and becoming harder to physically access. Meanwhile, phosphate extraction increasingly generates more pollution and waste, requires more energy per nutrient value and costs more to mine and to process.

    While the element phosphorus is not scarce in the earth’s upper crust, the amount that can be accessed for productive use in food production is orders of magnitude smaller due to a wide range of bottlenecks including physical, economic, technical, geopolitical, legal, ecological and environmental constraints. From a food security and sustainability perspective, the most important quantity is not the total amount of phosphate rock in the ground but the fraction that is available to be accessed by farmers and applied to agricultural fields for food production. This fraction depends on a range of factors including the concentration of the phosphate deposit, levels of contamination, the cost of energy as well as the potential for new discoveries and technological advances. The exact fraction is therefore uncertain and will change over time depending on the influence of these factors.

    Estimating Peak Phosphorus

    The peak phosphorus curve provides a more realistic picture of this important estimate. That is, the peak phosphorus curve identifies the point in time when the production of high-quality and relatively inexpensive phosphate rock reaches a peak due to economic and energy constraints despite growing global demand (Figure 1). Predicting the exact year of peak phosphorus production is nearly impossible due to unpredictable factors (such as new agricultural policies, global financial booms and crises, geopolitical instability or market distortions), and, indeed, the peak is more likely to be a lumpy plateau as with peak oil. However, the peak phosphorus analysis tells us that the critical point in time for phosphorus scarcity will occur far sooner than when 100% of the resource is depleted. In 2007, Dery and Anderson arrived at a peak production year of 1988 (3). This analysis was inaccurate because they did not presume a total reserve value and only used historical production data until 2006. Fixing the area under the production curve to an assumed reserve value plus cumulative historical production is key to estimating a future peak. Otherwise, the estimated peak will be highly unreliable due to the variance of phosphate production data from year to year. In 2009, Cordell, Drangert and White published a peak phosphorus curve based on the latest USGS 2009 phosphate reserve data (4). This analysis resulted in a peak year around 2035. The study cautioned that while the exact timeline may vary, the fundamental problem of phosphorus scarcity would not change. More recently, the new IFDC study suggests: "there is no indication there is going to be a ‘peak phosphorus’ event within the next 20-25 years" because reserves have been re-estimated at 60,000 Mt, up from 16,000 Mt. However, no peak phosphorus analysis was actually undertaken to support such a claim.

    If the 60,000 Mt IFDC reserve estimates are indeed correct, policy-makers, farmers, industry, scientists and the general community should be clear on what the IFDC report changes and what it does not change. While the timing of the peak would change, the threat of peak phosphorus this century remains. A revised peak phosphorus analysis by Lindstrom, Cordell and White (5) using Bayesian statistical methods takes into account both the Cordell et al. (2009) results and the IFDC reserve figures of 60,000 Mt. This analysis indicates a probable peak between 2051 and 2092 with a mean of 2070. At best, the new reserve estimate "buys time" until more substantial changes to our use of phosphorus become necessary.

    Phosphorus and Sustainability

    Despite the debate on the critical point in time when demand will exceed supply, what is clear is that our current phosphorus use patterns constitute an unsustainable situation of global proportions. First, access to phosphorus is already inequitable: many of the one billion currently hungry people are poor farmers working with phosphorus-deficient soils who cannot access fertilizer markets. Second, the unequal distribution of phosphate reserves means that a single country, Morocco, controls a major proportion of the world’s remaining high-quality phosphate reserves. Third, cheap fertilizers will become a thing of the past as cheap and high-quality reserves are depleted. Fourth, price spikes of phosphate commodities (like the 800% price spike in 2008) can be expected more frequently, making importers in places like India, Sub-Saharan Africa, Australia and the European Union more vulnerable. Fifth, an inefficient and "leaky" food production and consumption system means that only a fifth of the mined phosphorus reaches the food on our dinner plates. Finally, current human use of phosphorus for food production has led to a global epidemic of freshwater eutrophication and marine "dead zones," which threaten many of the world’s potable water supplies and endangers aquatic biodiversity.

    These six chronic problems alone should be enough to warrant the attention of our political leaders and cause them to secure local and global phosphorus to feed the world. Achieving phosphorus security is by no means simple. However, it is possible: there are huge efficiency gains to be made not only in agriculture but also "upstream" in the mining and fertilizer sectors and "downstream" in food processing, retail and consumption. Further, unlike oil, phosphorus is not lost to the atmosphere once used. Hence, if we’re smart, we can recover used phosphorus from our excreta, food waste, manure and even fertilizer and mine waste.

    References Cited:

    (1) IFDC (2010), World Phosphate Reserves and Resources, International Fertilizer Development Center, Washington D.C.

    (2) FAO, More people than ever are victims of hunger, 2009, Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, Press Release, June 2009.

    (3) Dery, P. & Anderson, B. (2007), Peak phosphorus. Energy Bulletin.

    (4) Cordell, D., Drangert, J-O. and White, S. (2009), The story of phosphorus: Global food security and food for thought. Journal of Global Environmental Change, 19(2): p. 292-305

    (5) Lindström, T., Cordell, D. & White, S. Improved peak phosphorus estimations: determining the real crunch time for food security, forthcoming article.

    Other Supporting References:

    Cordell, D. & White, S. (2011), Peak Phosphorus: clarifying the key issues of a vigorous debate about long-term phosphorus security. Sustainability, 1 (2011), ISSN 2071-1050. (in press).

    GPRI (2010), GPRI Statement on Global Phosphorus Scarcity, Global Phosphorus Research Initiative, 26th September, 2010.

    Gilbert, N. (2009), The Disappearing Nutrient. Nature, 461, 8 October 2009, pp.716-718.

    Jasinski, S. M., "Phosphate Rock," Mineral Commodity Summaries 2011, US Geological Survey, January 2011.

    Contributors' Biographies:

    Dana Cordell is a Research Principal at the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney where she undertakes and leads research projects on sustainable resource futures. She co-founded the Global Phosphorus Research Initiative (GPRI).

    Stuart White is Director of the Institute for Sustainable Futures at the University of Technology Sydney where he leads a team of researchers who create change towards sustainable futures through independent, project-based research. He co-founded the Global Phosphorus Research Initiative (GPRI).

    Tom Lindström is a theoretical ecologist, working as a postdoctoral researcher at the Department of Physics, Chemistry and Biology (IFM) at Linköping University in Sweden. Currently, he is currently a Visiting Fellow at the School of Mathematics and Statistics, Faculty of Science, at the University of New South Wales in Australia.

    Youth, Sustainability and Art: The Barrett Summer Scholars Program

    Youth involvement in the sustainability movement is absolutely critical, for they will inherit and craft the future of our planet. They have the opportunity to learn to see the world as a system from day one. They can avoid the bad habits and shortsighted thinking that have plagued the generations that precede them.  And they are ready and waiting to learn what needs to be done.

    Nineteen 8th- and 9th-grade students from around Arizona took a three-week sustainability intensive at Arizona State University last summer as part of the Barrett Summer Scholars Program.  There they learned that living sustainably is much more than just "being green." Each week the students tackled one of three sustainability topics: food, water, and energy. They examined each from a systems perspective and traced the connections between people and their environments at local, regional and global levels.

    Their instructor, School of Sustainability PhD candidate Tamara Lawless, emphasized different learning styles during the three-hour classes. Her students didn’t just listen to her talk about supply chains, they got on the floor and put magic markers to paper: mapping the journey of every day items from raw material to disposal. They watched documentaries on environmental injustice, kept food diaries, used digital cameras to photograph campus water use and journaled their thoughts every step of the way.  Art was encouraged as a way for the students to process their role in a sustainable future. The following pieces are a small selection from the amazing work the young sustainability warriors produced.

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    Contributor's Biography:

    Tamara Lawless is a passionate educator from Madison, Wisconsin. While earning her Master’s degree in Environmental Education she spent three semesters traveling around the United States on an old school bus, sleeping under the stars every night, backpacking and honing her skills as an educator. Tamara is working on her PhD in Sustainability from the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University.

    The Bus Project

    "The Bus Project" focuses on the social impact of the public bus system in Phoenix, a city with a strong car culture. The idea was born out of the frustration that I felt trying to move through the valley without a car, using a system whose dysfunction and idiosyncrasies seem endemic to most urban areas in the American Southwest. This ongoing project attempts to give a face to the urban landscape through dialogue with and portraits of the people who move through it.

    Transportation infrastructures have a role in the creation of "the public." They make it visible, give it form and locate it in predictable and controllable spaces. They also channel it, authorizing paths of movement through otherwise disorderly environments. The concept of "the public" is usually so faceless, normative and bland that we often lose sight of the people who are a part of it.

    Riders of buses are not mere "users" with interchangeable values and needs. There is nothing "mere" about them. They have faces, feelings and voices, personal histories and social networks, job obligations and family needs. Understanding how riders interact with the urban landscape cannot be reduced to: "People use buses."

    Using the bus means actively and critically engaging with an array of material and abstract entities: Boarding a vehicle, paying a fare, reading a schedule, scrutinizing a map, following a route (or two or three), tracking time, seeking shelter from the sun or the rain, and speaking to or avoiding other passengers.

    These small, continuous interlocking events are what keeps the city and its public alive and in motion.
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    Contributor's Biography:
    Born in Madrid, Spain, Teresa Miro Martin received her BA In Fine Arts ("Arts of the Image") from the Complutense University of Madrid and her advanced Specialist Certification in Artistic Photography at the Fine Arts School nº10, Madrid. Afterward, she travelled and studied abroad, spending a full academic year at the Lisbon School of Fine Arts in Portugal and another year at the Basque Country School of Fine Arts in Bilbao, Spain. She is currently a MFA Intermedia candidate at the Herberger College of Design and the Arts at Arizona State University.

    Phosphorus and food security: Framing a global sustainability challenge through art

    By Laura Turnbull The role of art in science has gained precedence as a means to engage non-scientific communities in key science-related issues. ASU’s Sustainable Phosphorus Summit explored how art can serve as a universal language by which to communicate critical sustainability challenges – with colorful results.

    Phosphorus, and its link to food security, represents a multifaceted global sustainability challenge. Phosphorus (P) is a limited natural resource that is essential for life, with experts predicting the exhaustion of known mineral reserves of P within 100 years.

    As a critical element in fertilizer, P is essential to the production of food and, thus, plays a key role in global food security. In the last 50 to 75 years, increased agricultural intensity, heavily reliant on fertilizer to maximize yields, has dramatically boosted dependence on mineral P and increased P runoff. Due to runoff and erosion, vast quantities of phosphorus are lost from farmland and pollute aquatic ecosystems.

    Globally, farmers, scientists, engineers and decision makers need to facilitate more efficient use of existing phosphorus and reclaim phosphorus into closed loop cycles. Recycling wastewater, implementing new technologies and creating new practices would help to limit waste and bolster food security for future generations. These challenges require creative solution-building, and one prerequisite is effective communication with non-scientific audiences.

    ASU's Sustainable Phosphorus Summit – which brought experts from all over the world to Arizona State University, Feb. 3-5, to discuss phosphorus sustainability – sought to address the communication gap between sustainability science and the public in an uncommon way: by launching an art exhibition. The art exhibition, "Phosphorus, Food and Our Future," partnered more than 20 artists with scientists.

    How can sustainability inspire art and improve links between the public, policymakers, industry, farmers, scientists and general understanding about sustainability and phosphorus? The resulting works of art, video, sculpture, dance, music, painting and multimedia helped reveal that while commonly viewed as opposing camps in the creative enterprise, the partnership of artists and scientists can be powerful.

    Collaborating with artists forced scientists to think about the ways that key messages about phosphorus can be communicated to a non-scientific audience. The show also was a valuable opportunity for scientists to get a glimpse into how non-scientists view their work and its importance.

    Nathaniel Springer, a doctoral student from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute who attended the Sustainable P Summit, said, "Artist-scientist collaborations are a great way to stimulate conversations about critical issues and evoke an emotional response." Artist Sarah Kriehn, who collaborated with ASU scientist Lara Reichmann, said she felt their collaboration was "enlightening." She also valued the affirmation of the scientific integrity of the artwork they created.

    One of the four judges of the art show, Dennita Sewell, a curator with Phoenix Art Museum, drew excitement from being involved in an event that brought together a diverse array of people to address important concepts and raise awareness of the phosphorus sustainability challenge.

    Of the members of the public who attended the exhibition, many noted that communication of the phosphorus sustainability challenge through artwork raised their awareness. Most knew little or nothing about phosphorus scarcity prior to attending the art show. One show-goer, Vic Lopez, noted that "visualizing the different facets of the phosphorus sustainability problem through art really helped him to engage with the key issues, and place each of the different facets within the context of the overall problem." For another attendee, the art work served as a catalyst – one that made him take out his smartphone to more deeply explore some of the issues of phosphorus.

    United Kingdom scientist Dr. Phil Haygarth was excited by the potential for the artwork to engage young children in science. "Young children are the future and are thus the people who really need to understand these important issues," Haygarth said.

    Art is a medium through which messages can be communicated to people across the world, regardless of the language they speak. While the artwork did not necessarily communicate all of the issues pertaining to phosphorus sustainability, art can reach people in ways of which they are not even aware.

    Members of the public at the summit acknowledged that without a pre-existing interest in art, they would have had little interest in attending an exhibit about sustainable phosphorus. The show’s success can be measured in how it stimulated discussions, generated curiosity and evoked emotional response – all ingredients essential to addressing sustainability challenges.

    Contributor's Biography

    Laura Turnbull is a post-doctoral scholar in the Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University. She would like to acknowledge sponsors of the Sustainable P Summit, Margaret Coulombe, Dan Childers and Barry Sparkman.

    Feeding our cities: Why genetic engineering is our friend

    By Britt Lewis Recent concerns about phosphorous sustainability are fueled by the persistent overuse of phosphorous in fertilizers to increase crop yields. On the one hand, the United States has increased food production to both feed a growing population and produce biofuels. On the other hand, using phosphorus-laden fertilizers has imbalanced crop cycles and polluted surface water, even killing off an area the size of New Jersey in the Gulf of Mexico.

    Phosphorus mine reserves are quickly diminishing, which has led to scarcity predictions worldwide. With phosphorus as vital to agriculture as water, food security hangs in the balance.

    The following is a Q&A conversation with Dr. Roberto Gaxiola, an assistant professor at Arizona State University, whose research explores the role that transgenic crops might play in sustaining agriculture under limited phosphorus conditions.

    (Editor’s Note: The terms "phosphorus" and "phosphate" are used throughout the article. Phosphate is a compound containing phosphorus, and plants can use phosphate as a nutrient.)

    Recent efforts in the science community have been focused on bringing attention to the issue of phosphorus sustainability, which has been called "the biggest problem you never heard of." Why is this a major problem and why has it largely been ignored?

    I would be imprecise if I tried to cover all of the different areas that make P [phosphorus] sustainability a major problem, so let's focus on the area my group is working with, namely agriculture. After the green revolution, we developed plants that were selected to produce higher yields at the expense of excess use of fertilizers and water. These plants generated a big boom of production. It's also relevant to say that only people and countries that had the economic capacity to buy the fertilizers benefitted. The enhanced food production was impressive, but now we are paying the consequences of that boom as the plants that we selected for this kind of response are plants that, in a sense, "got lazy" and did not develop root systems capable of scavenging nutrients and water from the soil. In other words, we are bringing them a lot of food, so they don't need to go and get their food. That resulted in plants that have a reduced nutrient uptake capacity – phosphate and nitrate uptake capacity. Farmers know that insufficient P fertilizer reduces crop yields, so they continually add P to their fields. Global consumption of P is increasing about 3 percent annually, and about 60 percent of the world’s P comes from one country (Morocco). Concerns have begun to arise about the long-term prospects of the global P supply and its geopolitical implications.

    Another problem is the pollution that excessive P fertilization generates.  The P that plants do not use is either fixed by the soil or washed into the water bodies generating a problem called eutrophication.  Eutrophication results from an excess of P in the diet of algae that enhances their growth in water, which could be seawater or freshwater. The algae eventually will die and sink to the bottom, and the bacteria that decompose them consume a lot of oxygen generating huge areas that lack oxygen and cause mortality of the other members of the ecosystem.

    Are you referring to coastal dead zones?

    Yes, exactly – like the dead zones in the Gulf of Mexico.

    When did you first become aware of concerns in the science community about phosphorus scarcity?

    My initial interest in agriculture was salinity of the soils – especially the soils in arid and semi-arid regions of the planet – which are the most productive areas of the world due to longer days and higher temperatures ideal for photosynthesis. Those areas were used by the green revolution, and those areas were receiving a lot of fertilizers and water. Fertilizers are presented as different kinds of salts, and one of the results of this massive fertilization was the accumulation of salts on the top soil. Well those salts, mainly NaCl (sodium chloride or table salt), are toxic for plants. The crops we actually consume, like corn, cannot tolerate above 50 mM of sodium chloride. (For example, the ocean contains 400 mM of salt. A corn plant will die with 50 mM; they are very sensitive.) My initial idea was to learn how plants adapt to this salty environment because in nature we have plants that actually grow in the presence of high salt (more than 1000 mM), like mangroves. So I started studying that and looked at the players involved in sodium detoxification. By doing so, we identified some key plant genes, and then we were able to generate transgenic plants that were salt tolerant.  Interestingly, these salt tolerant plants were also very large plants with enormous root systems, and their characterization has revealed that they have an enhanced nutrient (phosphate, nitrate and potassium) uptake capacity.

    That's a good thing, right?

    Yes. One important thing that we have to emphasize is that plants in nature don't grow to produce food for us – their only goal is to reproduce. So the plants that we have domesticated have been altered, so now they produce more food for us, but that's not the normal goal of a plant. So when people talk about eating natural plants, they are imprecise. Nobody really eats any natural plants. Mostly, we have domesticated the plants that we consume. We have used different means for domestication. Now, we are using more sophisticated technology, like genetic engineering. We have tweaked them in many different ways, and now we have precision tools to actually go and manipulate one specific unit of genetic information (gene) and get a result. So when we saw these plants that have enhanced root systems, the first question was: How do they behave under limited phosphorus conditions? Well, these genetically modified salt tolerant plants are very efficient [at] taking up phosphate, especially in alkaline soils (like those of Africa). These plants develop root systems with very long root hairs, specialized in taking up nutrients, and they use those modified root systems to scavenge phosphorus via acidification.

    Does this work in other kinds of plants?

    It works in other plants too. It is a very natural phenomenon; I emphasize this because genetic engineering has been demonized.

    Yes, and that touches on a question I had about genetic engineering: What is the origin of this negative stigma surrounding genetic engineering that is reflected in rhetoric of popular culture?

    I do not know. In general, history shows that people are resistant to changes. We have a potential geopolitical problem regarding P availability. The situation is that we have one country in possession of about 60 percent of the phosphorus of the world, and that country is Morocco. And we have countries like India where there is no availability of so-called "cheap" phosphorus for fertilizers. The United States has phosphorus mines for relatively cheap phosphorus, but the extraction of phosphorus is getting more and more expensive because the easy phosphorus has been taken. So now they have to go and get deeper phosphorus, which is more expensive. This shift already has been reflected a little bit in price of phosphorus. So another strategy will need to address optimizing extraction processes. How we address phosphorus sustainability will have to be a multidisciplinary and concerted effort, and one aspect is making these processes to extract phosphorus more profitable and more efficient. That will be a technical challenge for engineers.

    From the agriculture side, we need to make crops more efficient. One important thing to emphasize is the fact that there is a lot of phosphorus bound to the soil that crops normally can't acquire because they lost their capacity to scavenge, or their capacity is toned down. So GMO plants with an enhanced P scavenging capacity, with other approaches, can help to optimize P sustainability.

    I think that genetic engineering is going to play an important role – not the only one – but in order to overcome public concerns, a well-designed information campaign is necessary.

    What about the organic food movement – will it play a role?

    The organic story is about reducing the use of pesticides. It's a very nice and romantic story, but it's not a practical one. Organic agriculture will not be able to generate food to feed the huge cities we have generated. Civilization has developed as it has – whether it is right or wrong is another question. You cannot feed a city like Phoenix with organics. It's impossible. I don't see another option; organics, at least, do not provide that option. If you are rich enough to pay the prices for organics, then that's okay. But I'm more concerned about the people who cannot eat. A lot of the unrest that we are seeing in the Middle East is coming from food security. People can be abused – and they have been abused for a while – but their food supply was still sufficient. Scarcity is starting to hit. When food scarcity hits, it's a major problem.

    In the timeline of genetically modified plants, where are we now?

    We are ready, and China is taking the lead. China is already growing genetically modified plants that already have been approved by the Chinese department of agriculture. Here in the United States, you can grow genetically modified plants after passing all the challenges. If the challenges weren't so dramatically high, ASU could promote the growth of the plants I'm generating – but the price is so high that only a big company can do it. So one of the main dangers is that we might have in the near future a monopoly of agricultural goods. I think that is dangerous for the whole world.

    In 20 years from now, what is your hope for Earth in relation to phosphorus scarcity?

    I think we will be in a good place. There is enough technology at different fronts that will actually help to address the problem. Morocco remains ... a question mark, but again, the research and the technologies hold a lot of promise. It's just a matter of using them.

    Contributor's Biography:

    Britt Lewis is a graduate student in the Department of English at Arizona State University, where she is studying ecocriticism.

    A tale of two neighbors: the United States’ and Canada’s distinct but intertwined paths to sustainability

    By Genevieve Metson The U.S. and Canada are the largest trading partners in the world. According to the U.S. Department of State, the total trade between these two countries exceeded $610 billion in 2008. Seventy-five percent of Canada’s exports go to the U.S., and 20% of U.S. exports go to Canada. They also share the longest non-militarized border between any two nations and a vast continent with a multitude of natural resources. Their close geographic, economic and political ties make them strong partners but also leave each vulnerable to decisions across the border. As a citizen and resident of both nations, I can attest to these close ties and to the double-edged sword of such an intimate relationship.

    The close relationship between these two nations intertwines their futures as well. If either nation strives for a more sustainable society, it should not expect to succeed by acting in isolation. However, their distinct histories, political systems and geographic realities mean that the path toward sustainability will be different for Canada and the U.S. These nations must coordinate their dissimilar strategies toward sustainability.

    The government’s role in sustainability

    The U.S.’s and Canada’s strategies toward sustainability are, and will continue to be, heavily informed by their different histories and social norms. In all likelihood, the role of the U.S. government in regulating strategies for sustainability will be limited, reflecting its colonial history, which has resulted in institutionalized governmental checks and balances, clear limitations on federal control, and core values of personal freedom. For example, carbon trading will probably be preferred over carbon taxes as it is more in line with the free-market ideals of the U.S.  On the other hand, Canadian citizens expect the government to provide services and regulate sectors of the economy, culture and research to maximize benefits to society as a whole rather than to individuals. And in terms of sustainability, the importance of natural resource extraction in Canada has led it to acknowledge that a healthy environment is essential for its citizens and economy.

    The U.S.’s focus on national security dominates many of its strategies for achieving sustainability. The link between defense and sustainability is most apparent in the energy sector. Energy security and independence are the basis for most political discussions about mitigating climate change and reducing the size of the country’s ecological footprint. PricewaterhouseCoopers identifies energy security as the key motivation for the U.S. to participate in any carbon trading ("cap-and-trade" in the U.S. Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009). In contrast, Canada has taken steps toward domestic sustainable development with new government regulation and taxation. Canada has adopted a number of environmental sustainability indicators including air quality, water quality, and greenhouse gas emissions.

    The case of energy

    The U.S. and Canada have a symbiotic energy network, which is an important consideration for both counties’ paths toward sustainability. Not only does Canada export resources such as uranium for fuel production to the U.S. but its infrastructure and electricity grids are also linked to the U.S.’s. Canada’s exports may only account for 9% of U.S. energy consumption, but Canada is the largest supplier of oil (19%), natural gas (90%), and electricity to the U.S. This energy relationship benefits the U.S. because importing from Canada, a political ally, does not pose a substantial security threat. Canadian resources are a reliable energy source for the future, and thus U.S. investment in Canada for both physical (for example, pipelines) and political infrastructure to meet American energy needs is desirable. For Canada, continuing the exploitation of energy resources for the U.S. is beneficial because it ensures that the U.S. continues to act as the largest market for Canadian goods.


    The U.S. and Canada must coordinate their efforts towards sustainability although their approaches must be different. They have successfully maintained a profitable relationship for decades and this partnership needs to be an integral part of both neighbors’ plans toward more public and private sustainable enterprise.

    Canada and the U.S. can work together to solve common environmental problems. For example, after studies revealed that pollution from Canada decreased water quality downstream in the U.S., the Great Lakes Water Quality Agreement of 1972 was implemented.  And after studies  revealed that acid rain resulting from emissions from U.S. east-coast cities negatively affected cities and protected ecosystems in Canada, the Air Quality Agreement of 1991 was implemented. These are two examples of successful binational efforts to reduce pollution, where the approaches to control pollution differed on both sides of the border. Although sustainability is not as well-defined a problem as these point-source pollution examples, we can still apply some of the lessons learned from solving them. Sustainability is multifaceted, and solutions are only realizable on a long timescale, but, like the examples above, sustainability must be a binational goal.

    Contributor's Biography:

    Genevieve Metson is a second year Master's of Science student at the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University. She studies sustainability issues related to biogeochemistry (especially phosphorus), food systems, and urban environments. As a Canadian citizen who moved to the United States in 2005, she has a special interest in how these two countries can collaborate on sustainable solutions.

    Photosynthesis Photography

    Imagine a photographic world where you don’t need heavy metals and litres of water to make photographs. Imagine a photographic world where you can discard your unwanted images as well as used and expired materials in your own backyard or compost bin.

    Imagine a photographic world where your garden is your photographic supplies store.

    Imagine no more. Often we point the finger at others who may not be doing enough for sustainability. However, you must ask yourself: Am I doing enough?

    How does my practice contribute to environmental issues?

    Is the energy used to make the work in balance with how effectively it reaches and educates the people seeing it?

    By addressing positive environmental action through photography, can I provide an alternative cleaner process?

    It is my responsibility to ask these questions of myself and the activities I participate in.

    The work I have produced is an ongoing answer to these questions. I use the natural process of plants – photosynthesis, the transformation of sun into energy. Chlorophyll is a light-sensitive substance, reacting to the sun or the lack of sun. I use the sun as my light source, and the negative I create interferes with overall normal photosynthesizing of the leaf. The negative makes it harder for the light to get to the leaf, so more chlorophyll is required for the plant to convert the sunlight into energy in the same way that plants growing in shaded areas tend to be darker green. As a result, some areas of the leaf retain their chlorophyll while other areas are scorched by the sun, producing enough tonal range to create a photographic image. Using this natural process, the leaf creates the image upon itself.

    Using this method, I can avoid the need for photographic paper. I don’t require the chemicals to develop and fix the image on the paper, and I don’t need water to wash the image to ensure it lasts and is safe to handle. I don’t need to dispose of these chemicals once they have been exhausted, and I don’t need more chemicals and paper produced for my next prints. I don’t need a special room in which to make my images, and there are many products I no longer require, as the tools I use are multifunctional or growable. I still require technology but less than before; hence is it an ongoing answer, a progression.

    I want to lead by example rather than just criticize. Pointing the finger is not enough, and it never has been. We have spent too long focusing on everything that is wrong, so we only see the problems. We need to offer solutions. I hope my work can be a part of a solution. The possibilities I discover and develop in photography are meant to encourage and inspire others to explore how they can adapt their situation to be a part of the solution.

    Photography about the environment should aspire to engage with materials in its physical presentation, giving further depth to the message in the images. Marshall McLuhan explained that the message is in the medium, and this is significant when expressing ideas about the importance of sustainability. If words and actions are not saying the same thing, then the message will be lost. It is necessary for the materials and processes that I have used to create the images to work in conjunction with my concern for our lack of consideration for the environment, which I aim to show through my images. The physicality of the work is fragile, delicate and time sensitive. So are the environments we live within, but we have lost touch with our surroundings. We no longer live in our environment, instead we live off it and on it. We take so much of our surroundings for granted because we have become disconnected from our environment – we no longer consider how much we constrict, construct, and control. We pulverise and reform nature into any suitable form, thus natural ecological states and processes have become irrelevant. The fact that these natural processes, these raw materials before us, are complete functioning systems is lost on us. Where has our wonder gone? I wish for my work to help people rediscover this wonder, to reconnect with our environment, to become part of it again rather than remaining apart from it.

    [aslideshow] 3 Textures on Weeds Drains to Streams on Weeds Fences Protect on Arum Lilly Fences Restrict on Broadleaf Save the Snails on Arum Lilly [/aslideshow]

    Contributor's biography:

    Rosemary Horn ( is a photographer primarily using alternative processes. She received her Bachelor of Design in photography from Massey University in Wellington, New Zealand in 2006. Since graduating, Rosemary has been travelling and working throughout Europe. Her work focuses on environmental issues and incorporating tactile elements in her photographic practice.

    Archives of Horror and Hope

    Appalachian Coal serves electric companies 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.PLEASE read this writing with the lights out.....

    Sometimes all day long I collect horror stories like an archivist of hopes for change this horror story is of a coal company that pumped coal slurry into an abandoned mine of a mountain town the slurry is now in the water and the land and the bodies the bodies of the people today's calls yield: barren women babies with cancer and their sons their sons have arsenic in their blood on this day they are counted in the costs of how coal keeps the lights on when the water turned the colors were many orange brown black grey

    but in between it sometimes runs clear again and the smell sometimes like fuel sometimes indescribable and you think you'd never wash in it but at some point you have to wash yourself and your children and yes your babies if this is the only water you can afford at some point you have to drink it and be thankful for the Kool-Aid flavors swirling in your cup this call yields three little ones dead everyone knows it was the water we hope we can prove it some things will be easier to prove than others tumors removed ovaries removed gallbladders removed kidney stones and kidney stones and kidney stones again then there are the cysts cysts everywhere in the bones on the neck on the ovaries on the thyroid and her daughter had a cyst in her brain pretty positive it's the poison in the water don't forget the skin rashes, boils open sores, blistering skin, itching skin it comes and it goes nothing seems to stop it but it started with the poison in the water it will be harder to prove the poison took their teeth teeth rotting from the inside out teeth dying so fast it's as if they are trying to escape the poison on their own we know they will blame the soda but everyone here knows it's the poison in the water it will likely be hardest to prove the heart problems heart attacks, heart stints, half the heart is enlarged, all his arteries smaller than they should be and the blood pressure, the blood pressure, the blood pressure again

    but heart attacks are pretty common in the U.S. even if everyone knows it's the poison in the water sometimes people list their illnesses throwing jokes in between laughing about how crazy that last boil was they tell their illnesses like a tall tale that happened to someone else they are survivors lovers, parents, friends, children but sometimes you can hear how sick they are the sadness seeps into the phone and we both get off quickly because the tears are coming despite all the sickness and trouble heart and otherwise the hearts here are stronger than one could imagine beating against poison and often poverty they know about fighting here fighting for your life often uncertain if the illness will take them most know today counts so they take care of each other and live and love and laugh with or without you they've got heart i'm waiting on the heart of coal to change to practice respect for the people who give their lives to it and live with it like another family member it costs one dollar more a ton for coal companies to never again create coal slurry yet still they wash the coal in our water and a host of other poisons that poison washes into the lives of the people here while distanced from the mountains people turn on the lights like electricity is magic and it is a magic in forgetting that electricity comes from somewhere everywhere you go and for that the people in the mountains often pay a very high cost sometimes they pay with their lives

    When you turn the lights on, think about asking your electric company if the coal plants that serve them create coal slurry, and think about asking them why. By the time the lawsuit we're working on is settled, more people will have died from the poison in the water created by coal slurry and lots more will be even sicker. Coal companies that aren't injecting slurry into the ground often are damming it up in pools in somebody else's hometown.

    Coal companies have the technology to do what's called dry caking to process coal, which does not involve the same type of poisons in coal production or utilize clean water to create coal slurry. Please tell your electric company you want no part of electricity that involves slurry creation.

    Contributor's biography:

    Katherine Lautar is currently working as a legal assistant in the coalfields of southern West Virginia with a law firm whose principal focus is defending communities against illegal environmental practices. She recently graduated with a Masters of Science from the Audubon Expedition Institute, a unique program where students are required to live outside while studying the environment. Her other work experience includes more than 13 years as a community organizer and educator in Baltimore, Maryland. Her work is based in the belief that another world is possible.

    Superstition Vistas and the Battle for Smart Growth Communities

    By Martin A. Gromulat Superstition Vistas is a nearly 175,000-acre plot of land managed by the Arizona State Land Department (Department). Named for the mountain range that dominates the area, Superstition Vistas is located in the Sun Corridor, an area that stretches from Phoenix to Tucson and is predicted to grow to 15 million inhabitants by 2060. The Department's stated goal is to develop Superstition Vistas as a sustainable community – one that can be the model for future sustainable desert development.

    Described on their website as an "Oasis of Opportunity," the Superstition Vistas project area spans 275 square miles of undeveloped land on the eastern edge of Phoenix. Development plans include the Williams Gateway freeway, a regional commuter rail system connecting with downtown Phoenix, single-family homes on small lots, and pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly neighborhoods within reach of stores and businesses. It is estimated that more than 1 million people could reside at Superstition Vistas.

    Recent polling by Superstition Vistas Partners found that about 80 percent of those residents polled from surrounding Maricopa and Pinal Counties said that it is "very important" to consider quality of life of future generations, and about 72 percent said that the kind of planning and visioning going into Superstition Vistas is "absolutely essential" for the future of Arizona. And a report by Moving AZOne Reality Check states: "Our region would benefit from using [Superstition Vistas project area] as a demonstration project to envision, plan, and test the type of growth we desire for the future of Central Arizona." Moving AZOne Reality Check asked community leaders to articulate a common vision for growth by exploring possibilities for the region’s land use decisions. Some of their recommendations included: create more compact and diverse housing options; grow west, east, and south to strengthen the Sun Corridor mega region; and accommodate a portion of future population growth on state trust lands.

    But Superstition Vistas faces challenges in moving beyond just a vision. For one, Arizona law requirements regarding the Department’s ability to auction, plan, and develop the land it manages are the most restrictive among the Western United States. If sustainable communities such as Superstition Vistas are to become a reality in Arizona, then the Department will need to be granted authority to consider long-term economic and sustainable gains over short-term economic ones. According to a Pinal County Supervisor, "Without state trust land reform, we will have sprawling, piecemeal development of Superstition Vistas, and likely a lower return to the key beneficiaries of the state land trust – Arizona schoolchildren."

    Superstition Vistas also will need to gain the support of Arizona homebuilder groups and environmental groups such as the Sierra Club – organizations that remain fundamentally opposed to the project.

    Facing the inherent challenges of sustainability amidst a politically conservative Arizona landscape, the Superstition Vistas project aims to be a sustainable development model for the 21st century. How they will provide the planning necessary for a large-scale development, guided by sustainability principles, hangs in the balance.

    Long-term vision v. short-term interests

    According to a 2009 report by Superstition Vistas, Arizona law prohibits the Department from engaging in the following actions: (1) investing funds on master planning; (2) selling land subject to development conditions; and (3) selling land at discounted rates to stimulate economic development for the surrounding area. Arizona’s Enabling Act and Constitution require that state trust lands only be sold or leased to the highest and best bidder at public auction so that land cannot be disposed of for less than the appraised value. Arizona courts have further restricted the disposition of trust lands by prohibiting exchanges of state trust land for non-trust land without public auction. In addition, competitive bidding is required for the sale or lease of trust lands.

    These restrictions severely limit the Department’s ability to attain their goal: creating a model for sustainable communities. In creating Superstition Vistas, the Department’s authority to consider only short-term economic gains might diminish other community values and threaten the environment. Superstition Vistas project leaders also find it necessary to enhance the ability of the Department to participate as a partner in the development of the community, reallocate land values, and participate in alternative methods of infrastructure financing. Although trust land must be disposed of at full market value, there is some flexibility in getting there. In implementing concepts of sustainability and other community values, the methods of trust management and revenue generation will need to change.

    As a general principle, state trust land exists in perpetuity and must be preserved for future generations. Thus, the Department’s obligations extend not just to current beneficiaries but to future generations as well. The Department’s mission conveys both of these obligations on their website: "To manage State Trust lands and resources to enhance value and optimize economic return for the Trust beneficiaries, consistent with sound stewardship, conservation, and business management principles supporting socioeconomic goals for citizens here today and generations to come.  To manage and provide support for resource conservation programs for the well-being of the public and the State's natural environment."

    In fact, Arizona’s 1998 Growing Smarter legislation requires the Department to consider various factors and public values that extend beyond the present economic interests of trust beneficiaries. Due to the perpetual nature of trust lands, the Department may need to meet not only the current financial objectives of a transaction but also to consider a variety of other values, such as sustainability principles. Regarding reform, the Department endorsed Proposition 110, which the public voted on in the Nov. 2 election. The measure failed to pass by less than 1 percent. If Proposition 110 had passed, it would have allowed voter-approved exchanges of state trust land after public notice and hearing if the exchange is related to land management purposes. Its passage would have been a step forward for Superstition Vistas.

    The Department has taken the position that it already possesses some of the authority to at least initially move forward on Superstition Vistas through the use of planning permits and participation contracts. However, the Superstition Vistas Scenario Report states that additional legislation or amendments to existing legislation are necessary to give the Department the authority it needs to properly develop Superstition Vistas in a sustainable manner. For example, the Department should be vested with the authority to enter into joint venture agreements, where landowners and project developers partner. This partnership agreement allows both developer and landowner to share the risks and receive a share of the profits. This type of agreement also allows landowners to receive higher returns than they would receive if the land were simply sold outright because they can share in the significant increases in market value that occur when lands are developed and supplied with necessary infrastructure to optimize market demand. These participation contracts limit capital investments, risks, and carrying costs to developers, allowing for larger master-planned developments on state trust lands. Additionally, these large-scale, single-owner, master-planned developments can more easily integrate smart growth strategies and sustainability planning.

    More challenges on the road ahead

    Gaining the support of environmental groups poses another challenge for Superstition Vistas. Rather than outward growth, environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, argue that more infill projects are needed. The concept of smart growth often is viewed as just another avenue for urban sprawl.

    "This is just about selling more houses. That's all. It's the same old pattern of developing sprawl," said Sandy Bahr, director of the Grand Canyon Chapter of the Sierra Club, in a 2009 article in High Country News.

    Biologist Ken Sweat agrees that a new development project such as Superstition Vistas in an undeveloped section of the desert is less than sustainable. "If our civilization is to ever embrace sustainability, it would seem prudent to begin now," he said. "And the best way to do so is to preserve what natural spaces are left, and plan better to use the landscapes we have transformed in the past to help meet the needs of the future."

    On the other end of the spectrum, the Home Builders Association of Central Arizona also opposes the Superstition Vistas project. Despite the fact that the association says it is open to discussing reform efforts, it also states in a 2009 Legislative Report that it "will continue to oppose any measure that shortchanges the trust and unfairly burdens new growth to pay for the conservation efforts."

    Local citizens and community leaders have expressed their support for the stated goals of Superstition Vistas: to create sustainable development on state trust lands. Even if a sustainable development project such as Superstition Vistas gains the support of the organizations that are currently opposed to its development, it still will require greater flexibility and a higher level of investment from the Arizona State Land Department.

    About the author: Martin A. Gromulat is an attorney focusing on land conservation and sustainability policy, as well as a graduate student at Arizona State University’s School of Geographical Sciences and Urban Planning, specializing in Environmental Planning.

    TSR and Dialogue on Sustainability

    By Robert Kutter This year, we want to make The Sustainability Review (TSR) more accessible and reach a wider audience. We’ve made changes to TSR’s format to help meet these goals. But before talking about these changes, I’d like to briefly explain why I think engaging a wide audience is so important in sustainability.

    Sustainability’s central problem is how to make sure contemporary societies endure without damaging the next generation’s ability to do so. Because of this long-term perspective, sustainability may require solutions which affect more people in deeper ways than other applied sciences. Some paths to sustainability would require new governance arrangements, technologies, or even worldviews. As solutions have particularly far-reaching effects, an informed dialogue between academics and the public at large is central to the field of sustainability.

    TSR is also intended to be a forum for conversation about sustainability. To that end, visitors can now comment on articles, and we are also considering new website capabilities that enable visitors to connect with each other and the content. In terms of content itself, we've added the new Features section. These journalistic pieces are meant to look in depth at examples of sustainability in practice. For example, we hope to publish personal experiences of implementing sustainability and explore the barriers that people confront when doing so.

    Finally, we have changed the pace of publication to promote an ongoing conversation among our readers. We increased the number of issues from two per year to five and moved to a rolling publication schedule. With a rolling publication schedule, pieces from each issue are published over the course of a month to a month and a half. We hope these changes will enhance TSR as a place where people can find and contribute to the latest ideas about sustainability.

    I look forward to a year of thoughtful dialogue with our readers.

    Contributor's Biography:

    Robert Kutter is editor-in-chief of The Sustainability Review and a doctoral student in the School of Sustainability at Arizona State University. He has a master's degree in sustainable technology from The Royal Institute of Technology (Stockholm, Sweden) and a bachelor's degree in environmental engineering from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois.

    Rapid response: Sustainability demands more speed and agility from universities

    By R.F. "Rick" Shangraw, Jr. If you’ve ever wondered why sustainability is so difficult to achieve, consider the Thanksgiving dinner. Each year in homes across our nation, many hours of preparation go into making a big meal that is consumed in a fraction of that time, followed by a lengthy cleanup effort and several days of leftovers. While overly simplistic, it’s an example of the inherent difficulties in balancing production and consumption while also managing their byproducts of waste and surplus.

    Whether the goal is wise use of natural resources or economic stability, achieving stasis—the state of optimal balance—is a highly dynamic process that requires timely intervention to keep systems in check. Many experts agree that a variety of factors, including exponential population growth, are increasing the frequency and severity of change in many previously "stable" ecosystems.

    As a result, there is an urgent need for more rapid innovation in response to changes in our natural and societal ecosystems in order to sustain or improve living standards and protect our planet. Research universities can play an important role in catalyzing this innovation, but only if they learn to accelerate the pace of discovery and improve the mechanisms for quickly driving these discoveries into the marketplace. In particular, we desperately need innovations that enable society to identify and correct imbalances earlier to prevent cascading effects.

    Following are several concepts being applied at Arizona State University (ASU) that help ensure educational and research programs emphasize rapid responsiveness to globally important needs.

    Improving our ability to "see" the best option: Sometimes, action is hampered by too many potential solutions. Technology that increases the ability to predict the impacts of various options before they’re pursued provides the clarity necessary for consensus. ASU’s Decision Theater uses advanced visualization, simulation and decision system tools to do this. For example, it is used by local water resource planners to project the impact of new development on water tables.  Being able "see" the long-term outcomes of decisions helps identify the best approach for sustainable development. Generally, these tools also accelerate the decision process when multiple stakeholders are involved.

    Sharing information: Information technologies have created new channels for sharing information, but they can also lead to information overload. Getting the right information to the right people at the right time is an area of need that is ripe for innovation. The emerging field of sustainability informatics is developing tools that integrate information across the complete decision life cycle. More importantly, sophisticated systems are explicitly addressing the uncertainty, credibility, timeliness and relevancy of data, especially as it is aggregated into information and knowledge.

    Nurturing and identifying market-ready research: Strategically aligning existing strengths with urgent societal priorities is key to delivering timely solutions. This requires realistic assessment of an organization’s differentiated capabilities, which can be difficult in large, multifaceted research universities. We employ mapping software to spot new research cluster opportunities in national priority areas like alternative energy and then assemble the strongest possible interdisciplinary teams. We assign well-trained project managers to large, complex efforts to help with integration and ensure all milestones are met.

    Consolidating efforts: At many universities, entrepreneurial programs are isolated in business programs with few links to science and technology efforts. There is often poor integration between research, entrepreneurial and educational functions. This can result in a gap between great discoveries and the great entrepreneurs who are able to drive them forward to impact urgent problems. Also, students are too often given theoretical problems to solve, when they could contribute greatly by engaging real-world problems through university research programs. For these reasons, we nurture strong linkages between the Global Institute of Sustainability, the School of Sustainability, and other ASU programs. We offer numerous entrepreneur development programs and engage students in use-inspired research.

    Engaging with decision makers and industry: Rather than relying on traditional lobbying, more attention should focus on understanding national priorities and the existing barriers to commercializing potential solutions. With this insight, we can then tune our research efforts to address or avoid these barriers. We have developed a "solutions" group within the Global Institute of Sustainability to connect more directly with decision makers and industry.

    These efforts have required the passionate commitment of faculty, students, administrators and supporters of ASU, and they are producing results. Some positive indicators are the fact that ASU ranks first among peers in the number of invention disclosures it produces for every $10 million spent on research and ranks third in terms of patents issued.

    The impressionist artist Henri Matisse said, "What I dream of is an art of balance." Sustainability requires we bring this dream to fruition with ingenuity and speed.

    Contributor's Biography:

    Dr. Shangraw is the director of the Global Institute of Sustainability, and he is ASU’s senior vice president for Knowledge Enterprise Development.

    Drugs in Water: A San Francisco Bay Case Study

    by Morgan Levy, UC Berkeley, Energy & Resources Group This is one part of a joint Art & Research entry. See the corresponding art piece here.


    Hormones, antidepressants, antibiotics, and chemicals from personal care products have been founds in waterways nationwide (1). Most wastewater treatment plants are not equipped to filter pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) from treated wastewater and existing treatment processes do so with varying levels of success (2). Thus contaminants not removed during treatment can enter water systems such as freshwater streams and rivers, canals, lakes and reservoirs, groundwater aquifers, estuaries, and oceans (2, 3). Active pharmaceutical compounds are robust and persist in the environment. Pharmaceuticals are specifically made to withstand digestion processes in human (and animal) bodies, and some drug compounds will leave sewage plants at concentrations that are just as strong as when the water entered the sewer system (4, 5). Two studies from the South San Francisco Bay ("South Bay") in northern California demonstrate a geographically specific, yet nationally representative example of how PPCP contaminants enter and persist in our linked natural and human environment.

    Where Pharmaceuticals in Water Come From:
    • People: The U.S. represents the largest single national market for pharmaceuticals. Forty-four percent of all Americans take at least one prescription drug, and almost a fifth take three or more (6). Human urinary excretion of intact pharmaceutical compounds can range from the three percent of original intake for a drug like the antiepileptic carbamazepine, to the 90 percent excretion for the beta-blocker atenolol (7). Additionally, medical facilities such as hospitals, nursing homes and dental offices, and institutional facilities like schools, public housing, and correctional facilities release concentrated sources of PPCP compounds into water systems (2).
    • Agriculture: Animals, and especially factory farming operations, introduce PPCPs into water systems. In agriculture, antibiotics are used to treat infections and to promote growth as feed additives (2). Forty percent of U.S.-produced antibiotics are fed to livestock as growth enhancers; livestock manure and un-absorbed antibiotic compounds (often concentrated in massive waste lagoons) eventually wash into surface water or percolate into groundwater (8, 9, 10, 11).
    • Industry: Pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities contaminate water by dumping excess drug compounds. Water from two New York streams that receive discharge from drug manufacturing facilities were found to have concentrations of pharmaceuticals 10 to 1000 times higher than non-receiving water (12).

    While many different classes of pharmaceuticals are detectable in water, they are often found at concentrations so low that quantifying their concentrations accurately in samples can be difficult (8, 13). However, the impacts of what even trace amounts of pharmaceuticals can have on both aquatic ecosystems and humans are only beginning to be explored and are little understood (2). Pharmaceuticals have nevertheless been labeled "legacy pollutants of tomorrow" due to their persistence in environments and their ability to build up within the tissues of organisms (14). PPCPs can, like mercury (a more well-understood persistent contaminant), bio-accumulate and move up food chains (4).

    • Environmental Concerns: Pharmaceutical contaminants can cause ecological impacts. USGS scientists found that antidepressants discharged to streams by wastewater treatment plants are taken up into the bodies of fish living downstream of sewage plants (15, 16). Researchers in the UK found that shrimp exposed to the antidepressant fluoxetine (Prozac) radically alter their behavior, endangering their own survival (17). Exposure to pharmaceutical compounds containing hormones has been linked to sex mutations. For instance, in one study, female fish developed male genital organs, sex ratios were skewed in some aquatic populations, and bass produced cells for both sperm and eggs (3). Other documented effects of pharmaceutical exposure include kidney failure in vultures, impaired reproduction in mussels, and inhibited growth in algae (3).
    • Human Health Concerns: In 2008, an Associated Press investigation revealed that pharmaceuticals had been detected in the drinking water supplies of 24 major metropolitan areas serving 46 million Americans; all supplies received water from rivers and reservoirs that contained previously treated wastewater (18, 19). These drinking water supplies contained antibiotics, anti-convulsants, mood stabilizers and sex hormones (20). Scientists and health professionals don’t fully understand the risks from persistent low-level exposure to pharmaceuticals through our drinking water (and potentially our food supply). Experimental research has found that exposure to small amounts of medication affect human embryonic kidney cells, causing them to grow slowly; that human blood cells show biological activity associated with inflammation; and that trace medications can cause human breast cancer cells to proliferate more quickly (21). In studies of soil fertilized with sludge product from wastewater treatment plants, researchers found that earthworms and vegetables had absorbed pharmaceutical compounds, thus posing a potential threat to food chains (3). Studies to date suggest that most found concentrations of pharmaceutical compounds in water systems today (not in lab environments where higher concentrations can be tested) have little known impact to most aquatic species or to humans (22, 23). Nevertheless, preliminary findings such as those above concern some scientists and water treatment experts (13, 23).

    Case Study of the South San Francisco Bay

    California’s San Francisco Bay and Delta, located at the terminus of the San Joaquin and Sacramento Rivers, is the largest estuary on the west coast and drains almost half the land area of California. PPCPs have been found throughout the Bay’s sediments, plankton, invertebrates, fish, birds, and even marine mammals like seals (24). Both San Jose (25) and Santa Clara (26) are large urban cities that get most of their drinking water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta to the east of the San Francisco Bay -- water that comes primarily from the Sacramento River (26). The Sacramento River originates over 400 miles to the northeast of the Bay in California’s Sierra Nevada Foothills and winds through many small towns and cities (and their treatment facilities) on its journey to the coast (27). Once in the Silicon Valley (South Bay), the water is mixed with local supplies, treated once more, and piped to residents as drinking water (27). While both San Jose and Santa Clara reported that they had not tested for pharmaceuticals in their drinking water (18), PPCPs were found in the larger watersheds of both cities (28).

    Google Earth image of San Francisco Bay

    South San Francisco Bay’s largest wastewater treatment plant, the San Jose/Santa Clara Water Pollution Control Plant (WPCP), rests on 2,600 acres on the southernmost banks of the San Francisco Bay (29). Of the three wastewater treatment plants that discharge into the lower South Bay, the San Jose/Santa Clara plant serves the largest population and discharges the most wastewater (30). Wastewater travels to the plant from a 300-square mile area and from eight cities in the Santa Clara Valley. The plant treats the sewage water of 1.4 million people and 16,000 businesses (31). Sixty-two percent of the sewage comes from residential sources, 7 percent is industrial, and 31 percent is from commercial businesses (30). Through 2,200 miles of sewer pipes, the plant receives on average 100 million gallons of raw sewage per day (most wastewater treatment plants receive around 10 million) (31, 32).

    Drugs From The Plant:

    In July, 2010, the San Jose/Santa Clara WPCP published results from a study that tested wastewater for 166 different compounds, including PPCPs, steroids, hormones, pesticides, flame retardants, and polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) (13, 32). Plant and city government staff collected samples of wastewater influent, effluent, and waste solids, and analyzed the samples using U.S. EPA analytical methods to achieve trace-level quantification of contaminant compounds (32). For compounds with a sufficient number of quantified concentrations at more than one sampling point, staff calculated a removal efficiency and mass balance estimate (32). Few studies compare pharmaceutical contamination from an individual plant’s influent (untreated raw sewage) to contamination found in the plant’s effluent (treated wastewater), and this research is unique even internationally according to its authors (13).

    Google Earth Image of South San Francisco Bay and Research Sites

    Results from the study show that some compounds are reduced significantly by the plant’s current treatment processes (such as 99 percent of ibuprofen), while others are unaffected or even increased (such as fluoxitine – commonly known as Prozac) (32). Many compounds were significantly reduced in the treatment process (between 88 percent to 100 percent reduction in final effluent) (32). Ninety-five of the total 166 contaminants tested were detected in at least some effluent samples; 53 of the detectable 95 were measured at quantifiable levels, and the rest were detected but not quantified (concentrations were too small to be accurately measured) (32). Ten of the quantifiable compounds showed less than 75 percent removal, and for three, the treatment process appeared to have no impact whatsoever (32). Pharmaceutical contaminants that showed what plant operators and study authors qualified as "poor to no reduction" through current treatment processes included those listed below in Table 1.


    Drug Type

    Influent (ng/L)



    % Reduced


    Bronchodilator (lung diseases and asthma medication)















    Anticonvulsant and mood stabilizer



















    Table 1: Table adapted from Dunlavey et. al., 2010, Table 3: "Removal Efficiency and Mass Balance Estimate for Conservative Constituents." Ng/L = nano-gram per liter; a nanogram is one billionth (1/1,000,000,000) of a gram.

    Drugs In The Bay:

    The South Bay is relatively stagnant; during dry months, the lower South Bay can receive nearly all of its freshwater inflow from the three wastewater treatment plants located along its shores (30). In 2006, the San Francisco Estuary Institute’s "Regional Monitoring Program" sampled and tested for PPCPs in the lower San Francisco Bay (30). This study tested influent and effluent samples from the San Jose/Santa Clara WPCP and another smaller local plant (serving Palo Alto) as well as ambient surface water at multiple points in the lower South Bay at low tide (30) This study also followed the same U.S. EPA methods employed in the San Jose/Santa Clara plant study (30). PPCP concentrations in Bay waters decreased with increased distance into the Bay (and away from the plant); salinity measurements collected along with Bay samples indicated this was the result of dilution through mixing with saline Bay waters (29). The San Francisco Estuary Institute study (published in 2009) evaluated 39 compounds from fourteen different classes of use. Researchers found (similar to the San Jose/Santa Clara Plant’s study) that while some PPCP compounds were not detected or not able to be quantified, several were present in measurable quantities, including those listed in Table 2 below (30).


    Drug Type





    Bay (ng/L)

    EcoToxicity Thresholds



    Pain relief medication
















    No information provided


    Opiate, pain relief medication




    No information provided


    Psychoactive stimulant




    No information provided


    Blood pressure medication


















    Cholesterol regulation medication
















    No information provided

    Table 2: Table adapted from Harrold et al. 2009, Table 8: "Average concentrations of PPCPs in influent, effluent, and Bay water samples from Lower South San Francisco Bay…" Ng/L = nano-gram per liter; a nanogram is one billionth (1/1,000,000,000) of a gram.

    Test results from a testing station at the outlet of the Artesian Slough (the waterway that channels wastewater directly from the treatment plant to the Bay) show concentrations of pharmaceuticals that were typically higher than those found further out into the Bay. Thus due to location, the presence of these compounds at the outlet of the Artesian Slough can be primarily attributed to effluent coming from the San Jose/Santa Clara plant.

    Ecological Impacts

    Overall, the San Francisco Estuary Institute study found that pharmaceutical concentrations generally decrease with distance from the treatment plant and that concentrations were generally at levels below accepted toxicity values; however toxicity thresholds for many of the measured compounds are not established (30).  The antibiotic sulfamethoxazole appeared in concentrations two to forty times higher than one known threshold of concern; concentrations of between 44.8 to 1,060 ng/L were observed relative to a 27 ng/L toxicity threshold derived from acute toxicity tests on blue-green algae, an often-used indicator species for toxicity impacts (30). At the same time, sulfamethoxazole concentration levels came in well under the threshold established by another test wherein 30,000 ng/L was found to impact the growth of duckweed (another aquatic plant used regularly used in toxicity studies) (33).

    Many PPCPs present in the Bay have been tested for ecological impacts at much higher concentrations than those actually found in the Bay. Through these tests, some compounds were found to have harmful effects. For example, gemfibrozil reduced testosterone in fish, and erythromycin-H2O inhibited the population growth of green algae (30). In other cases, little effect was demonstrated. For instance, extended multi-generational exposure of a freshwater amphipod (a tiny shrimp-like crustacean) to acetaminophen, gemfibrozil, and ibuprofen did not impact survival, mating, body size, or reproduction—common evaluation factors in toxicity studies that demonstrate environmental impact (30).


    Available evidence suggests that for most found concentrations of pharmaceutical compounds in water systems today (not in lab environments where higher concentrations can be tested), there is little to no threat to most aquatic species or humans (22, 23). Nevertheless, the increasing number of U.S. government agency efforts to address this topic (see USGS Toxic Substances Hydrology Program "emerging contaminants" project [34], and U.S. EPA’s "PPCP Research Areas" [35]) suggest that scientists are concerned. Undeniably, the increasing manufacture and use of PPCPs has resulted in the introduction of diverse and novel contaminants into water systems in the U.S., and worldwide (36). The prevalence of drugs in waterways begs the question: Are we permanently altering the composition and health of local, regional, and even global water systems? We’ve already seen industrial-era contaminants like mercury do precisely this.


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    About the author: Morgan Levy is a graduate student in UC Berkeley’s Energy & Resources Group, researching interdisciplinary water resources issues particular to California and the American West. She recently returned from a Fulbright Fellowship in Environmental Studies – Water Management in The Netherlands, where she interviewed farmers about agricultural water use.