The Interactive Atlas of the San Miguel

The Interactive Atlas of the San Miguel is a mediated sculptural display that allows users to interact with informational layers (pictures, texts, maps, stream data, etc.) and contribute "stories of place" focused on the San Miguel River Watershed in Southwestern Colorado. The project in its current form is a prototype for a network of interactive stations situated in publically accessible institutions and facilities (libraries, schools, museums, general stores, etc.) along the length of the San Miguel River.

Innovation and the Future of Urbanization: A TSR interview with Dr. Karen Seto (Part Two)

As you may have read, we at The Sustainability Review recently had the good fortune of speaking with Dr. Karen Seto, Associate Professor of the Urban Environment at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental studies, on her research related to urbanization in China and India. In our first piece, we discussed the implications, drivers and challenges of global scale urbanization in China and India. In this edited portion of our conversation, we look to the future and discuss the obstacles to and opportunities for urban sustainability.

Heritageisation of the Sun Corridor: A Heritage Tourism Perspective

The Sun Corridor, as the "New Heartland" of Arizona, has gathered unprecedented momentum in recent decades. It is one of ten megapolitan regions in the country and encompasses a total of four metropolitan areas in Arizona: Phoenix, Tucson, Prescott and Nogales. The primary purpose of the development of this corridor has been to link together cities, towns, villages and counties based on "goods movement, business linkages, cultural commonality and physical environments" (1). Several reports observe growth, recent trends and emerging industries in the region. However, a micro-level blueprint for a synergistic corridor product that can strongly tie the metropolitan areas together in a multi-sector, unified approach and provide opportunities and prosperity to the region and overall state is still lacking. This opinion piece suggests a present-centered heritage corridor paradigm to promote heritage tourism in the region.

Challenges and Dynamics of Urbanization: A TSR interview with Dr. Karen Seto (Part One)

We at The Sustainability Review recently had the good fortune of speaking with Dr. Karen Seto, Associate Professor of the Urban Environment at the Yale School of Forestry and Environmental studies, on her research related to urbanization in China and India. According to her official bio, Dr. Seto’s research focuses on four themes touching on human land-use transformation: its nature, impacts, implications, and potential future manifestations. In this first part of our edited transcript, we discuss aspects and drivers of urbanization in China and India. In the second part (forthcoming in Features), we look to the future and discuss challenges and opportunities for urban sustainability.

Walking “the tightrope of existence”: E. O. Wilson’s Philosophy Comes to Life in the “Anthill Chronicles”

Anthill, renowned biologist and environmentalist E.O. Wilson’s first novel, follows Raphael Semmes Cody through a childhood mesmerized by the wonders of the Nokobee Tract and Dead Owl Cove to an adult life devoted to preserving the natural environment. The middle section of the novel involving Raff’s senior thesis, titled, the "Anthill Chronicles," is focused on the ant colonies that resided in the natural environment where he spent his childhood and appears somewhat predictable to a reader of the novel who understands Raff’s devotion to the wildlife of the Cove. Beneath the surface of Raff’s thesis, Wilson’s philosophy and his discourse on coevolution, nature, society and ultimately, the need for living a sustainable life as a species can be better understood.

Behavioral Economics and Corporate Sustainability

By John Byrd, PhD and Kent Hickman, PhD The likelihood of meaningful legislation supporting a shift towards more sustainable practices by business and individuals seems miniscule. Without government policies or incentives the move to sustainability depends largely on the voluntary actions of companies. Companies choose the types of products they produce–the materials they are made of, their recyclability, their energy consumption, their durability–and how the products are manufactured–production efficiency, working conditions and so on. In theory individuals, through their consumption choices, can send a message to companies about the types of products they want. But if the range of choices doesn't include price competitive green alternatives this message never gets back to corporate decision makers.

Some companies include sustainability in their strategic planning, but the adoption rates appear well below those required to address the most urgent problems related to climate change, biodiversity loss, fisheries depletion and water availability. Abrupt changes in climate and increasingly expensive raw materials and energy threaten the ability of companies to continue to create value for stakeholders. So, why aren’t companies doing more?

We think that behavioral economics provides some insight into this lack of corporate initiative toward sustainability, and also offers some suggestions on how to overcome these impediments. Behavioral economics enriches the neoclassical economic model of rational profit maximization by recognizing that social and psychological factors play a role in decision making. This evolving discipline has uncovered systematic differences between the results predicted by models based on rational agents and what people actually do. This more nuanced view of decision making can be a valuable tool to help managers and policy makers shift organizations and individuals toward sustainability.

Heuristics: People use ‘rules of thumb’ to sort through complex problems. For the most part this is an efficient and effective approach to making decisions. Over time, the rules of thumb, or heuristics, evolve to be efficient and become embedded into the Standard Operating Procedures of organizations, such as simple rules about when to offer a new customer credit.

Some researchers argue that the use of heuristics leads to better decisions than those based on extensive data collection and formal modeling. Dr. Gerd Gigerenzer, the director of the Max Planck Institute for Human Development in Berlin, claims that relying on intuition produces quicker and better decisions because too much information prevents decision makers from focusing on the most important aspects of a problem (1). This is similar to the ‘thin-slicing’ approach to decision making made popular by Malcolm Gladwell in his book Blink (2). There he has a chapter titled, "The Theory of Thin Slices: How a Little Bit of Knowledge Goes a Long Way." But he admits that gut-feelings can lead to poor decisions as well as good ones. In his book he discusses the Warren Harding effect, in which a tall, handsome man is elected President mainly because people intuited that his good looks implied good leadership. This bias persists, as Gladwell documents, with Fortune 500 CEOs being on average nearly 3 inches taller than average American men. Moreover, Gladwell says the greatest likelihood for thin-slicing errors is found among overconfident decision makers, a trait well documented among CEOs.

Heuristics, rules of thumb, and thin slicing work because people have acquired some expertise in recognizing patterns or traits within the decision framework. However, if the external environment changes–resources become scarcer, legislation about climate change occurs, consumers become concerned about the long-term impact of products, the life-cycle impact of a product begins to matter–then existing rules of thumb may not be appropriate. In fact, relying on old rules will almost guarantee that companies are not prepared for shifts to new ways of thinking.

Framing: The behavioral economics literature argues that the outcome of the decision process depends on how a decision is framed or articulated. Much of the conversation about sustainability centers on what companies should do and the extra costs they should bear. Framing sustainability as a cost center creates a natural aversion to examining sustainability initiatives carefully. Decision makers know that there are costs involved.  Therefore, it is easier for them to defer analysis than to promote a costly solution to the problem. Examples of companies that have begun to embrace sustainability show that they have changed the framing of their initiatives. General Electric’s "eco-imagination" was created as a revenue center. Wal-Mart embraces sustainability, and avoids framing their action as costly to the firm by pushing these costs onto its supply chain. Framing can also impact the acceptance of sustainable products, helping to create market driven demand for progress. For example, studies of consumer behavior have found that green products sell better when advertising focuses on the product’s benefits to individuals rather than their benefits for the overall environment (3).

Status Quo Bias and Groupthink: Behavioral economists have found that decision makers exhibit a bias toward established regimes or ways of doing things. Significant or disruptive change only occurs if there are strong reasons to change. Reinforcing this bias is the structure of corporate boards and management teams. Corporate directors and high-level executives tend to have very similar backgrounds and worldviews (c.f., 4 5). For example, Chhaochharia and Grinstein (6) show that the vast majority–well over 60 percent–of directors of US companies are employed in industry. If those categorized as being in financial fields or retired are added to this group the proportion approaches 80 percent. O’Hagan and M. Rice (7), looking at companies in the northeastern US, find that high-level managers have a long personal history in the region, which may limit their ability to respond or adapt to new circumstances. This can lead to a ‘groupthink’ mentality in which there is a reluctance to pursue alternatives, especially alternatives that vary from the established perspective. Robert Shiller, an economist at Yale, explained how groupthink played a role in the US housing crisis that contributed to the current recession (8).

Groupthink is related to herd behavior. Herd behavior is common in business and has implications for the adoption of sustainability activities. In essence, people can hide in herds. If a decision is similar to those made in other companies (i.e., acting like the herd) then poor decisions are justified as conforming to what everyone else was doing. An unusual initiative (i.e., different than the herd) that fails risks being blamed on an individual’s incompetence leading to potentially serious repercussions. The herd mentality is strong. In 1997 John Browne, then Group CEO of British Petroleum, gave a speech at Stanford University acknowledging the potential seriousness of climate change. BP was the first major corporation, other than reinsurance companies, to take a position on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. This anti-herd behavior was so surprising, especially from an oil company, that his speech has been hailed as ‘groundbreaking,’ and became the subject of several academic articles (c.f., 9, 10, 11).

Loss aversion: The concept of risk aversion that underlies much of economics says that people assign a larger value to a loss than they assign a benefit of an equivalent size. This lop-sided valuation effect produces the risk aversion that explains the existence of the insurance industry. Conversely, behavioral economists have found that risk aversion is largely limited to uncertainty at a given level of positive wealth changes, and in cases of negative wealth changes, individuals may systematically turn to risk-seeking behavior (12). Thus, if environmentalists pose a picture of dire hopelessness, the average citizen and consumer may opt for increased consumption with less attention to its environmental consequence. The effect is aptly portrayed in the well-known Gary Larson cartoon depicting two fishermen in a boat with a mushroom cloud in the background…one fisherman says to the other, "I'll tell you what this means, Norm.  No size restrictions and screw the limit!"

How To Overcome Behavior Impediments

We have argued that several aspects of behavioral economics create impediments for companies to become more sustainable. The shift to sustainability asks companies to think and operate differently, but psychological and organizational bias slow this process.  What can employees, shareholders and consumers do to overcome these impediments?

Within The Firm

Employees and sustainability advocates need to frame sustainable initiatives in both a positive and a personal light. Avoid doomsday forecasts as the motivation for action. An advocate can make the business case for sustainable initiative by explaining why they are profitable opportunities or will reduce risk. Value is created by increasing revenue and/or by reducing risk. By enabling the firm or organization to avoid shocks that negatively affect its cost structure or the integrity and authenticity of its brand name, sustainability helps create durable and profitable organizations. Moreover, individual motivation is likely greatest when benefits are seen as having a personal impact. It is critical, therefore, to link benefits first to the individual and family, next to the firm or organization, and finally to society and the environment in general.

Employees and sustainability advocates need to learn the skills of being effective change agents. An employee who wants to implement green changes in an organization needs a well-stocked toolkit. First, they need to be knowledgeable about the particular sustainability issues they want to advocate.  This could be technical knowledge about a process, product or material that can be improved, or more general information about broader programs like re-cycling or flexible scheduling. They also need to develop communication skills so they can quickly and clearly explain the benefits of adopting the changes. They need to be politically aware of how changes occur in their company, and generous about sharing credit. Finally, they need to be willing to persevere: change rarely happens on the first try.

Outside The Firm

Shareholders have a role to play in moving companies toward more sustainable practices.  They can use their proxy power to elect a more diverse board. The first step might be to raise the issue of more diversity among director nominees. Groups such as actively push for board diversity, so following that group’s activities would be a good starting place for modeling diversity advocacy. The SEC (US Securities and Exchange Commission) has been modifying rules regarding director nominations (13).  The new rules allow investors or groups of shareholders who have owned three percent of a company for at least three years to include a director candidate(s) on proxy statements for shareholder vote. The ownership threshold is substantial, but it is a first step toward more shareholder democracy.

A second route that shareholders have to changing companies is through shareholder proposals. The ownership threshold to submit a proposal is about $2,000 (or alternatively 1% of the company’s stock) held for at least a year. Proposals that satisfy the SEC’s requirements are included in company proxy statements and voted on at annual meetings.  These proposals make it very clear to directors what shareholders are concerned about.  While votes on shareholder proposals are non-binding (the board can ignore even a majority vote) they do have an effect. Byrd and Cooperman (14) found that in response to shareholder proposals about climate change reporting, about 20 percent of the companies took action despite the non-binding nature of the vote. Often, companies facing a shareholder proposal negotiate with the initiator to find an acceptable solution and have the proposal withdrawn. Byrd and Cooperman also found that over 50 percent of withdrawn proposals resulted in the companies taking action regarding the proposal topic within two years.

Just as internal change agents need to make the business case for sustainability, shareholder proposals must show how the company benefits from making the proposed change. Shareholders must also be willing to negotiate and withdraw a potentially embarrassing proposal, if it helps a company become more sustainable.


Behavioral economics offers important insights into why companies may be reluctant to embrace sustainability. Advocates for corporate sustainability, both within and outside of the corporation, may be more successful if they recognize the behavioral bias decision makers have, and recast their efforts to reduce the effect of those behavioral habits.


1. Worstall, T. (2011, December 26) Why Rules of Thumb, Intuition, Gut Feelings, Work in Business Decisions. Forbes. Retrieved March 27, 2012 from

2. Gladwell, M. (2005). Blink: the power of thinking without thinking. Boston: Little, Brown, 2005.

3. Okada, E. & Mais E. (2010) Framing the "Green" alternative for environmentally conscious consumers. Sustainability Accounting, Management & Policy Journal, Vol. 1 (2), 222 – 234.

4. Davis, G., Yoo M. & Baker W. (2003) The Small World of the American Corporate Elite, 1982-2001. Strategic Organization, Vol. 1 (3), 301-326.

5. Nguyen, B. (forthcoming) Does the Rolodex Matter? Corporate Elite's Small World & the Effectiveness of Boards of Directors, Management Science.

6. Chhaochharia, V., & Grinstein Y. (2007) The Changing Structure of US Corporate Boards: 1997-2003. Corporate Governance: An International Review, Vol. 15, (6), 1215-1223.

7. O’Hagan, S., & Rice, M. (forthcoming) The Geography of Corporate Directors: Personal Backgrounds, Firm & Regional Success, The Professional Geographer. DOI:10.1080/00330124.2011.614567

8. Shiller, R. (2008, November 2) Economic View: Challenging the Crowd in Whispers, Not Shouts. The New York Times,  (Page BU5).

9. Lowe, E., & Harris, R. (1998) Taking Climate Change Seriously: British Petroleum’s Business Strategy. Corporate Environmental Strategy, Vol. 5 (2), 22-31.

10. Rowlands, I. (2000) Beauty & the beast? BP’s & Exxon’s positions on global climate change. Environment & Planning C: Government & Policy, Vol. 18 (3), 339 – 354.

11. van den Hove, S., Le Menestrel M. & de Bettignies, H.-C. (2011) The oil industry & climate change: strategies & ethical dilemmas. Climate Policy, Vol. 2, (1), 3-18.

12. Kahneman, D., & Tversky, A. (1979) Prospect Theory: An Analysis of Decision under Risk. Econometrica, Vol. 47 (2), 263-291.

13. US SEC (2011, Septemebr 15) Facilitating Shareholder Director Nominations. 17 CFR PARTS 200, 232, 240 & 249 [Release Nos. 33-9259; 34-65343; IC-29788; File No. S7-10-09]

14. Byrd, J., & Cooperman B. (2011) Do Shareholder Proposals Affect Corporate Climate Change Reporting and Policies? University of Colorado Denver working paper.

Contributor Biographies

John Byrd is Senior Instructor in the Finance and Managing for Sustainability MBA programs at the University of Colorado at Denver.  He has been involved in population, environmental and sustainability issues since attending the UN Conference on Population and Development in Cairo, Egypt, in 1994.  His teaches courses in corporate governance and business and climate change. He is on the board of The dZi Foundation, which does development work in rural Nepal. With his family, he lives in Durango, Colorado.

Kent Hickman is Professor of Finance at Gonzaga University, where he initiated the school's first course in sustainable business.   Dr Hickman has published in the area of behavioral economics in Journal of Economic Behavior an Organization.  He and Dr. Byrd have co=authored a textbook in Corporate Finance, and they team-teach sustainable business courses at the Rouen Business School, in Rouen, France.

The Covert Power of Creativity

By Alyce Santoro Because conceptual art can exist in non-material forms, one could argue that it is not only one of the most sustainable forms of creative practice, but also one of the most radical in its potential to challenge conventional thinking. To a tremendous extent, commercial media—whose primary function is to persuade its audience to consume—influences current prevailing thought. Conceptual art, by contrast, is often non-commodifiable; the value of an idea can supersede conventional methods of quantification, lending it a subtle, subversive, status-quo-defying kind of power.

The notion that all ecosystems, cultures, disciplines and systems are interconnected, and that we can cultivate a more efficient, healthy and satisfying existence by appreciating more and consuming less, run counter to the mainstream. In spite of the relentless promotion of the consumer mindset, one can find ample evidence of the tremendous human impulse to freely share and exchange information and other commodities simply by perusing the internet (the most culture-altering, wisdom-liberating development since Gutenberg introduced moveable type to Europe in 1439). Practical knowledge—including instructions on permaculture design, DIY, open source and appropriate technologies, petitions and calls for political and social action—is disseminated free of charge by those who, knowingly or not, describe a new social paradigm based on reciprocity, fair exchange and mutual benefit.

German artist/activist Joseph Beuys (1921 – 1986) believed that when individuals contribute to the betterment of society by infusing everyday actions with creativity and reverence for nature then "everyone is an artist." He considered the fruits of such labor "social sculpture."

I didn’t know about Beuys when I first set out to combine art and science by seeking a degree in marine biology, then going on to study scientific illustration. As the detrimental effects of reckless human activity on the environment have become all the more obvious, my urge to express the intangible, profound mysteries contained in the natural world has intensified. My technical renderings have morphed into multimedia "philosoprops," works that challenge conventional boundaries between disciplines and spark dialog around social, political and ecological topics. While most of these pieces have a physical component, their essence is really the ideas behind them—and these are free for the taking.

For example, the concept behind my "sonic fabric"—a textile woven from cassette tape overdubbed with intricate collages of sound—alludes to the ultimate interconnectedness of everything. While I wholeheartedly embrace opportunities to repurpose materials, sonic fabric was not intended as a statement about recycling, per se. Rather, the project was inspired by theories in quantum physics suggesting that everything, at the most basic level, is composed of little more than vibration. When all the vibrations are woven together, the result is one exquisite, unified cacophony.

Like Beuys, I believe that by cultivating a relationship with nature and by honing and engaging personal creative aptitudes, everyone can become a catalyst for social transformation. While the powers-that-be wage an insidious war on the freedom to share information, the subversive force of cooperation and exchange is vastly underestimated, even by those with the potential to wield it. Shifts in the course of our culture depend on the quality of our thoughts. Everyone is a catalyst.



Contributor Biography

Alyce Santoro is an internationally noted conceptual and sound artist, writer and lecturer. Her written work has appeared in and, and her interdisciplinary art has been exhibited at London’s Victoria & Albert Museum, the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego, Trinity College Science Museum in Dublin, and the Gwangju Design Biennial in South Korea. She has been a visiting artist at the Cidade da Cultura de Galicia in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, and Lang College of the New School for Social Research in New York. Alyce’s ongoing Synergetic Omni-Solution project was presented by Ballroom Marfa in Marfa, TX as part of the 2011 Texas Biennial. Her work will be included in the 2012 ISEA (International Symposium of Electronic Art) in Albuquerque, NM. She affectionately refers to her studio as the Center for the Improbable & (Im)permacultural Research. Please visit for more information.

The Plant is Present, 2011

Organized by Meghan Moe Beitiks with Sabri Reed and Liliya LifanovaSansevieria trifasciata is an epic performer. Commonly known as "snake plant" or "mother in law’s tongue," the plant is ubiquitous and unique at the same time. Over the course of its career, it has gone for months without water, made fiber from its own body, and collaborated with NASA to remove toxins like benzene and formaldehyde from the very air we breathe. In Sansevieria trifasciata’s seminal work, "The Bedroom Plant," it converts carbon dioxide into oxygen at night.

Sansevieria trifasciata performed "The Plant is Present" at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago’s New Blood Performance Festival, November 19th and 20th, 2011, and at the First International Science Art Conference in Moscow, Russia, from April 3-5, 2012.

The plant sat silently while visitors took turns sitting in a chair opposite it, staying in its presence for as long as they liked. All guests were photographed, and asked to record their experience in a comment book. Responses ranged from "I felt a connection to the plant and was able to live in the moment" to "It was awkward" to "So good! I loved every second of it!" to "Marina was exactly as interesting." Many visitors expressed a new appreciation for the work of the plant, a sense of respect, and a change in perspective. Some expressed a desire to find a "snake plant" of their own and keep it in their homes.

Visitors could also read a biography of the plant, explaining its achievements, and listen to a docent clarify parallels between the plant and the famous performance artist Marina Abramovich, whose 2010 work "The Artist is Present" at the New York MoMA garnered much publicity and acclaim. Organizer Meghan Moe Beitiks gave lectures on the performance and artistic career of the plant.

The question becomes: if we are willing as a public, to wait in line for hours to sit in the presence of a famous artist, what else could we be devoting our attention to? If the act of sitting silently with someone gives us a new appreciation for them, gives us a feeling of connection, of enlightenment, why not bestow that attention on something worthwhile—like the important ecological work of a common houseplant?

Photos by Joshua Slater, Carolina Gonzalez, Meghan Moe Beitiks, and Emerson Granillo. More information about the project and the full text of the comment book can be found at:


Contributor Biography Meghan Moe Beitiks does ridiculous things with plants. In her performance work, she explores our relationship to the environment and its greater meaning to pollution, bioremediation, and ecological catastrophe. She can be seen jogging with plants, researching uranium-reducing bacteria, and flinging oyster mushroom mycelium over fences. She has a BA in Theater Arts from the University of California at Santa Cruz, where she focused on acting, playwriting, and scenic design. Following those studies, she spent a year and a half studying Theater and Scenography in Riga, Latvia on a Fulbright Student Fellowship, focusing on the meaning of place in site-specific work. The past several years she has worked as a freelance theater artist and technician in the San Francisco Bay Area, working in institutions like the Magic Theater as well as out on the street in her own site-specific work. She is currently pursuing her MFA in Performance at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago.

Innovation + City = Prosperity

By Rider Foley For thousands of years thriving cities have fostered inventors and creators from which wealth is generated (1). Yet, in some cases, once prosperous cities have receded into the annals of history by turning inwards, threatened by change (2). There are lessons here to be learned for Phoenix.

Metropolitan Phoenix emerged from innovations in large dam construction that both generated electricity and provided a consistent supply of water to the desert landscape (3). Initially, the young city’s broad boulevards gave wide berth for horse drawn carriages to turnabout. This feature, coupled with the one-mile by one-mile grid of agricultural plots gave rise to a quilt-like pattern of uniform construction practices making inexpensive homes available to many newcomers (4). Combined, these innovations generated prosperity for land owning farmers, land developers and production-oriented home builders (5).

In the last thirty years, the construction industry drove cyclical booms and busts with higher highs and lower lows than almost every other city in America (6). The urban fringe was pushed outward, forcing citizens to cover more miles in their daily journeys to and from the suburbs. Phoenix’s economy followed the construction industry’s lead causing the enrichment of some and cyclical elation and suffering for all others (7). In 2006, 244,000 people worked within the construction sector, that dropped to 115,000 in the last quarter of 2011, across Arizona (8). In Maricopa County this translated into the lowest unemployment rate of 3.6% in the summer of 2006 and the highest unemployment rate of 10.3% in 2009 (9).

There are a number of ways to respond to a recurring problem. One is to ignore the lows and focus efforts on climbing back up to the peak. If you were here in the early 1990’s, you might remember a similar story of collapse in the construction sector written in the city’s history. By allowing the construction industry to boom and expand further afield to the exurbs of Maricopa, Buckeye and Surprise the crash in 2006 was steeper and more painful than the first time around.

So, will Phoenicians get back on the construction industry’s bucking-bronco ride? Sure, some may jump back on for a quick thrill, risking another painfully abrupt crash. For the rest of us I want to discuss an alternative, an alternative to the complete reliance on residential construction as the single most powerful factor in the economic sustainability of Phoenix.

To foster sustainable economy we need to assess the resources available upon which we can build. To take a lesson from history, we must not turn inwards and isolate our community from diverse and innovative ideas, inventions and creations. A wealth of smart, talented people in Phoenix need to be educated and supported in their entrepreneurial efforts. How do we do this? There are 39.5 million square feet of empty commercial space—16.8% of the total commercial/industry space—in metro Phoenix (10). Our cities must partner with private landowners to incubate small entrepreneurs. An example of this proposal can be found in the incubator space for small businesses in Chandler created from the skeletal remains of an old Motorola facility. Yes, it cost $5.7 million in renovations, but it drew talented and creative people to that city (11). Chandler is not alone, Scottsdale partnered with ASU at SkySong, offering mentoring, coaching and space for talented entrepreneurs to grow (12). Chandler and Scottsdale are not competing along the 101 corridor; metropolitan Phoenix is competing with San Diego, Boston, London, Shanghai, Mumbai, the world.

In Phoenix’s financial center, our bankers, lenders, venture capitalists and angel investors need to avert their longing gaze from the siren’s song of real estate investment. They must open themselves to the opportunities inherent in supporting the creatives, the innovators, the entrepreneurs that are fighting to have their ideas heard. A small investment would further an entrepreneur’s efforts, providing them the space to expand, and hire additional talent to produce, refine and ultimately sell their creations.

These resources (space, government commitment and funding) are dispersed throughout metro Phoenix and need to be marshaled for economic growth. I propose that we focus on developing the existing community assets to encourage the birth and growth of small businesses and in turn, redesign our future economic model. We can try to attract corporate divisions to Phoenix. Those types of efforts should not stop. But our emphasis should be on demonstrable support for local entrepreneurs. The future challenges for the Greater Phoenix Economic Council (and their municipal counterparts in economic development) might be to keep our local companies here, rather than working so hard to bring in another distribution center. Retaining local companies, already embedded in the social, cultural and talented pool of local employees, might just be an easier task than always seeking to lure in large corporations.

One society here already faded into the Valley’s desert sands: the Hohokam (13). Communities often turn insular, closed to new ideas or unable to adapt to stress, when faced with internal or external pressures, and fade into history (14). Phoenix could vanish once again.

The world has changed. Your neighboring cities are not the competition; they are a source of future prosperity. Investing in our regional community will enable the most creative citizens to overcome today’s challenges, while taking the lessons learned from the past, and building our capacity to invent the future.

Contributor Biography

Rider W. Foley, a Graduate Student at the School of Sustainability and Research Assistant at the Center for Nanotechnology in Society at Arizona State University


1. Kotkin, J. 2005. The city: a global history. Random House Inc. New York, New York.

2. Kennedy, P. 1987. The rise and fall of the great powers. Random House Inc. New York, New York.

3. Dutton, A.A. 2002. Arizona now and then. Westcliffe Publishers. Boulder, CO.

4. Gober, P. and Trapido-Lurie, B. 2006. Metropolitan Phoenix: place making and community in the desert. University of Pennsylvania Press. Philadelphia, PA.

5. Gammage Jr., G. 1999. Phoenix in perspective: reflections on developing the desert. Herberger Center for Design Excellence. Tempe, AZ.

6. The Economist. 2005. The south-western economy: dreams in the desert. Published Nov. 24.

7. Henig, C. 2010. Real-estate boom-bust: lessons learned. Phoenix Business Journal. Published March 26.

8. Bureau of Labor Statistics. 2011. Databases, tables, and calculators by subject. Retrieved from:

9. Arizona Department of Administration. 2011. Arizona’s workforce employment rate – employment & population statistics. Retrieved from:

10. Colliers International. 2011. Q3 2011 Industrial: Phoenix research and forecast report. Retrieved from:

11. Scott, L. 2011. Chandler business incubator is nearly full at 95%. Arizona Republic. Published May 7.

12. Casacchia, C. 2008. SkySong Arizona State University Scottsdale Innovation Center celebrates first building opening. Phoenix Business Journal. March 27.

13. Redman, C. 1999. Human impact on ancient environments. University of Arizona Press. Tucson, AZ.

14. Tainter, J.A. 1988. The collapse of complex societies. Cambridge University Press. NY, NY

Re-establishing ancient agricultural practices: Lessons from the recent past (Part Three)

By Jennifer Huebert In this three part series, several recent efforts to re-establish forgotten or fading agricultural practices were reviewed. The first instalment presented key criteria to consider for an effective revival of these food-production technologies. Three case studies were profiled in the second instalment: runoff agriculture in the Israeli desert, forest gardening in Central America and raised-bed agriculture in the Andean highlands. Each example illustrated a distinct problem with a unique history to consider. In this final instalment, I review how each revival effort addressed these criteria and reflect on the importance of studying the distant past to make informed decisions about the future.

Discussion The three case studies presented—raised-bed agriculture at Lake Titicaca, El Pilar forest gardening and runoff irrigation in the Negev Desert—represent a wide variety of environments and distinctly different agricultural practices. Each project was undertaken at a different point in time, spanning the better part of the past fifty years. To aid in comparing these varied projects, and to contemplate their effectiveness, a list of key points was compiled and will be subsequently discussed.

Cost-benefit considerations Each project attempted to resurrect a forgotten or fading agricultural practice. These methods involve widely varying degrees of time, effort and technology. It is important to consider whether there was a clear benefit for the costs related to these projects (1). In the case of raised-bed agriculture near Lake Titicaca, techniques involved simple tools and uncomplicated practices that required a significant initial investment in labour. At El Pilar, traditional Mayan forest gardening did not require special tools or an intensive labour investment but did require participants to learn very involved techniques. Desert farming in the Negev was more complex than the other two case studies on several fronts; the project would have involved a significant amount of labour and engineering skills if the initial wadis had not already been present. These practices also rely on much planning and precise timing, and are the most technically involved of the three case studies.

Today’s environment In order to establish whether the practices were appropriate for the current environmental conditions, the teams that initiated the raised-bed agriculture and desert wadi farming projects performed background research and experimented to ensure that the forgotten techniques were still viable in these areas. In these projects, teams of specialists first gathered data to evaluate soil conditions, water supply, climate, potential plant species and other factors that would influence crop growth. After viability was established, experiments were undertaken by planting test crops in the fields and studying their growth rates and yields. The experiments were repeated over the course of several years, and techniques were then refined. After demonstrating a measure of success, the methods utilized in these two case studies were taken to a wider audience and other local communities, or other societies, were trained in the practices.

Modern-day communities Several project teams considered the agricultural techniques in relation to the cultures they were working with while planning and implementing these practices. In the El Pilar case, the community was involved at all stages of planning as the practices they were attempting to promote were still in use by indigenous peoples in the area. This project focused on goals set by the community, namely to preserve and promote indigenous Mayan culture and to encourage agricultural practices which they believed were in harmony with the natural environment. People in this area participated in the project willingly and continue to support it (3). Researchers in the Titicaca basin case study had a more difficult task because they were bringing their methods to a community who had seen disappointing results from previous outsider attempts to introduce new food-production technology (as summarised in 2). Because the Aymara and Quecha people of the altiplano had no memory of the techniques the researchers wanted to implement, there was little reason for people to embrace raised-field agriculture as their cultural tradition. Kolata, an anthropologist, performed a significant amount of research studying the indigenous cultures of the region in order to understand their group motivations and learning pathways (4). Both Titicaca Basin teams employed multiple training methods to try to ensure community involvement. They also spent time calculating the labour investment required to practice these methods, and invested much time and energy demonstrating that the techniques would be productive. However, their plans were ultimately received with some resistance and varying degrees of enthusiasm (5).

Sustainability All project teams considered whether the practices had been initially sustainable, and uncovered the reasons they were initially forgotten or disappearing. In the Titicaca basin, archaeological excavations at the ancient capital of Tiwanaku and around the raised beds in the area have led archaeologists to conclude that they were largely used to raise surplus crops for the state. Once these polities declined, the agricultural practice waned and was eventually abandoned (6). However, there are additional concerns regarding the productivity and high labour costs associated with the form of cultivation that these project teams failed to appropriately consider (7). In the Negev desert, the immense effort and skill required to initially build walls and terraces throughout the desert in ancient times is thought to have involved labour coordinated from a state centre (8). Once these structures were in place, no extraordinary amount of labour was needed to farm the desert. However, life in this remote area was abandoned when borders or pilgrimage routes through the desert no longer needed to be maintained. In the case of the Mayan forest gardeners at El Pilar, the sustainability of this cultivation method is evident in the extensive and largely anthropogenic forests of the region (8). This method is only under threat of extinction today when socio-political forces have seriously disrupted the indigenous population’s methods of survival.

Where are these projects today? Over twenty years on, the Negev desert farms were reported to be productive, though the farm at Avdat is no longer actively cultivated. In his concluding remarks on the Negev project, Evenari mused that it would have been ideal to turn the desert into a productive environment for the Bedouin nomads while preserving their cultural heritage (9). While it is not clear that this aim was ever achieved, the model farm that was constructed is now a worldwide teaching and research centre for the study of agronomy, plant and soil sciences in arid environments. It has effected change in arid farming practices in ten different countries (10).

After much media and political attention, several non-governmental organizations were formed around the raised agricultural beds of the Lake Titicaca basin. These practices were hailed as a solution to poverty in the region, but when the leadership organizations fell apart and financial incentives to participate were withdrawn the practices were largely abandoned with high labour input given much of the blame. An extensive post-mortem study of these projects was reported in several books and a number of academic writings that called into question the assumptions and tactics used to try to resurrect these agricultural techniques (7, 11, 12). Kolata has revisited the project in his subsequent research, reconsidering issues of state politics and individual agency in regards to the organization of ancient field labour (5). In his own review, Erickson (13) noted that some farmers in the Titicaca region do continue to practice raised-bed farming techniques, and he has conducted similar experiments in other places with success (e.g., 14).

The El Pilar forest gardening project is still very much a work in progress and criteria to evaluate the success of the revival effort are difficult to estimate at this stage. The cultivars used in forest gardening are recorded in detail, but the specific techniques were not reported and no benchmarks could be located to evaluate progress. However, it is acknowledged that the principles of forest gardening are essentially those of agroforestry, which is a well-established, cost effective and sustainable agricultural practice (15, 16). Evidence that these techniques have been used in the region for thousands of years further reinforces the fact that they are sustainable and productive. A concentrated revival effort may make them flourish again. Ford (3) believes a successful project will ultimately encourage ecotourism to attract and educate a wider audience in the methods and benefits of this type of cultivation.

Conclusions Each of the techniques reviewed has been shown to be productive and sustainable. However, as it was argued earlier, re-established agricultural practices must fit not only with the environmental but also the social and economic systems of the cultures for which they are intended. This is evident in the breakdown of the raised-bed agriculture revivals in the Titicaca Basin. These initiatives did not affect large-scale change in food production practices in the region because they did not fit within the current structure of the societies that were involved. The foregoing hypothesis is also supported by the successes of the Mayan Forest Garden Network. Mayan agricultural traditions endured for millennia and have only recently been threatened because of the breakdown of traditional society. The revival effort to educate people in forest gardening methods is supported, and led in part, by the indigenous population of the area and it has great potential to succeed. The Negev desert farming initiative, the most mature of the case studies presented, provides evidence that ancient agricultural practices can actually be leveraged to solve some of today’s global food production problems.

We have a lot to learn from the past, and archaeology provides a unique perspective on the long-term sustainability of various food production practices. It has been demonstrated that local as well as global communities can succeed in the preservation (or revival) of traditional food-production techniques. Agrarian landscapes are cultural landscapes, and ultimately, part of our world heritage.

Contributor’s Biography Jennifer Huebert is a doctoral candidate in archaeology at the Department of Anthropology, University of Auckland, New Zealand. She is an archaeobotanist with a particular interest in the identification and analysis of archaeological wood charcoal. Her primary research topics include the study of human palaeoecology and the development of arboriculture in the archipelagos of East Polynesia.

The author urges you to become more informed about UNESCO World Heritage designations and the importance of agricultural landscapes in this initiative (see 13).

References Cited

1.         Uphoff NT (2002) The Agricultural Development Challenges We Face. Agroecological Innovations: Increasing Food Production With Participatory Development, ed Uphoff NT (Earthscan, London), pp 3-20.

2.         Erickson C & Chandler K (1989) Raised Fields and Sustainable Agriculture in the Lake Titicaca Basin of Peru. Fragile Lands of Latin America: Strategies for Sustainable Development, ed Browder JO (Westview Press, Boulder), pp 230-248.

3.         Ford A (2004) Human Impacts on the Maya Forest Linking the Past with the Present for the Future of El Pilar, Report on the 2004 Field Season. Accessed: April 20 2008

4.         Kolata AL (1996) Tiwanaku and its Hinterland: Archaeology and Paleoecology of an Andean Civilization (Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington).

5.         Kolata AL, Rivera O, Ramirez JC, & Gemio E (1996) Rehabilitating Raised-Field Agriculture in the Southern Lake Titicaca Basin of Bolivia. Tiwanaku and its Hinterland : Archaeology and Paleoecology of an Andean Civilization, ed Kolata AL (Smithsonian Institution Press, Washington), Vol 1: Agroecology, pp 203-230.

6.         Janusek JW & Kolata AL (2004) Top-down or bottom-up: rural settlement and raised field agriculture in the Lake Titicaca Basin, Bolivia. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 23(4):404-430.

7.         Bandy MS (2005) Energetic efficiency and political expediency in Titicaca Basin raised field agriculture. Journal of Anthropological Archaeology 24:271–296.

8.         Haiman M (2006) ADASR - Ancient Desert Agriculture Systems Revived. Accessed: 19 April 2008

9.         Evenari M, Shanan L, & Tadmor N (1982) The Negev: The Challenge of a Desert (Harvard University Press, Cambridge).

10.       Lange OL & Schulze E-D (1989) In memoriam Michael Evenari (formerly Walter Schwarz) 1904–1989. Oecologia 81(4):433-436.

11.       Morris A (2004) Raised Field Technology. The Raised Fields Projects Around Lake Titicaca (Ashgate Aldershot).

12.       Swartley L (2002) Inventing Indigenous Knowledge: Archaeology, Rural Development, and the Raised Field Rehabilitation Project in Bolivia (Routledge, New York) pp xii, 210 p.

13.       Erickson C (2003) Agricultural Landscapes as World Heritage: Raised Field Agriculture in Bolivia and Peru. Managing Change: Sustainable Approaches to the Conservation of the Built Environment. The 4th Annual US/ICOMOS International Symposium 6-8 April 2001, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, eds Teutonico JM & Matero FG (Getty Conservation Institute, Los Angeles), pp 181-204.

14.       Erickson C (1995) Archaeological methods for the study of ancient landscapes of the Llanos de Mojos in the Bolivian Amazon. Archaeology in the Lowland American Tropics, ed Peter W. Stahl JA (Cambridge University Press, Cambridge), pp 66-95.

15.       Singh P, Pathak PS, & Roy MM (1995) Agroforestry Systems for Sustainable Land Use (Science Publishers, Lebanon, N.H.) pp viii, 283 p.

16.       Elevitch C & Wilkinson K (2000) Agroforestry Guides for Pacific Islands

Sonatas for Sustainability: How musical training imparts important qualities and skills for sustainability

By Chrissie Bausch Sustainability addresses urgent, multi-scalar problems that cut across social, economic, and environmental domains, have long-term implications, and high potential for damage (1). Sustainability researchers and educators are continually discussing the content of and approach to sustainability education. They agree that it must foster a unique set of skills and qualities, including creativity, empathy, system analysis, interdisciplinary thinking and collaboration. All of these skills are developed and fostered in musical instruction, which suggests that music can contribute to sustainability education.

"Music," wrote poet Walter Savage Landor, "is God’s gift to man, the only art of Heaven given to earth, the only art of earth we take to Heaven." Music is among humanity’s most splendid, inspiring, powerful forms of communication. But music is not just an aesthetic pleasure. Studies show that musical training during childhood correlates with improved motor and auditory skills, and improves the brain’s capacity to reorganize neural pathways. Research shows that music education contributes to personal development, cultivating confidence, listening skills, diligence, persistence, self-discipline and self-expression. It is not surprising, then, that it cultivates many of the skills and qualities required for thinking about and solving multifaceted challenges, including those tackled in the field of sustainability.

Perhaps the most obvious contribution that musical training can make to sustainability education is nurturing creativity. Wals and Jickling (2) tell us "there are no recipes" in sustainability: the field requires creative solutions for complex problems. Every process of music is creative, from practicing a piece to dancing to it. Describing music’s virtue of rousing creativity, Beethoven said, "Music is the wine which inspires one to new generative processes." The creativity stimulated by musical study is not limited to art forms; it can permeate any endeavor, including problem-solving for sustainability.

A musical work is a system of relationships among components such as rhythm, key, harmony, melody and instrumentation. Peretz and Zatorre (3) describe the systemic nature of even a simple tune, "which is defined not by the pitches of its constituent tones, but by the arrangement of the intervals between the pitches" (p.90). Music trains its students to recognize patterns and anticipate change, both important elements of systems thinking. Although music operates within a framework, it is about using that framework creatively; bending, stretching or even breaking away from it. Music unfolds, teaching students to anticipate change. Musical training prepares students to analyze dynamic systems, as well as recognize and conceive of creative adaptations, a skill that can be useful for developing sustainability solutions.

Underpinning the layers of music is the foundation of mathematics. Mathematician and philosopher Gottfried Wilhelm Leibniz said, "The pleasure we obtain from music comes from counting, but counting unconsciously. Music is nothing but unconscious arithmetic." Some of the basic components of music—rhythm, intervals, melodies and harmonies—are essentially arranged fractions. Music students must therefore learn to use quantitative, historical, cultural and linguistic information together, all while processing the music visually, aurally, physically and emotionally. In other words, music is an inherently interdisciplinary endeavor, like sustainability. Vocalists sing in many tongues, and instrumentalists partake in the feast of languages that comprise music’s vocabulary. Music is multicultural, encompassing a tremendous variety of instruments, qualities and formats, such as Argentina’s tango, Indonesia’s gamelan or Poland’s mazurka. All compositions have a cultural and historical context. Tchaikovsky’s "Overture of 1812," today known from the climax of the 2006 film V for Vendetta, was written to commemorate a proud moment for Russia: the defeat of Napoleon in the Battle of Borodino. Musicians unwrap the fascinating layers of meaning, history, politics, culture and structure so elegantly packaged in song.

Many of these elegant musical packages are the result of collaboration—a rewarding challenge in science and music alike. To create music together, people must listen, restrain the ego, work with the strengths and weaknesses of themselves and others, and settle differences to achieve a goal. Participating in a transdisciplinary project is like playing in an orchestra: musicians—or scientists—who could be doing solo work come together to bring to fruition something they could not have created alone. Ensemble work requires patience, compassion and communication. Music students can transfer these qualities and abilities to group work in other domains, making them effective participants for challenging transdisciplinary projects.

An essential quality for collaborative success is empathy, which sustainability education strives to cultivate while promoting the principles of justice, intergenerational equity and intragenerational equity. Empathy is at the heart of what musicians do. Researchers believe that empathy exists when humans create "pretend" desires and beliefs to match the emotions they think others experience. Arguably, humans enjoy art because it provokes this interaction between real and imagined emotions (4). When a good musician writes or performs a piece she communicates emotion, evoking the empathy of her audience.

Scholars of sustainability have much to gain from the skills and characteristics that musical training imparts. As we develop sustainability education, we must teach ecosystem functions, intergenerational justice and systems thinking. We must also emphasize creative, expressive and collaborative activities, such as music, that develop the competencies needed to address today’s complex, multi-scalar challenges. If we succeed, perhaps we will also bestow a little more "heaven on earth."

Contributor Biography Chrissie Bausch is a graduate student at the School of Sustainability (SOS) at Arizona State University. Her research explores agricultural sustainability, sustainability assessment, and equity and justice in sustainability. She was inspired to write this piece at a SOS town hall meeting, when during an icebreaker it was revealed that the overwhelming majority of faculty, students and administrators in attendance played a musical instrument. She would like to thank Kathryn Kyle and the TSR editors for their insights on music and sustainability, and for bringing more Bach and Mahler to her writing. Finally, she is grateful to her music teachers.

References 1. Brundiers, K., Wiek, A., & Redman, C. L. (2010). Real-world learning opportunities in sustainability: from classroom into the real world. International Journal of Sustainability in HIgher Education, 11(4), 308-324. 2. Wals, A. E. J., & Jickling, B. (2002). "Sustainability" in higher education: From doublethink and newspeak to critical thinking and meaningful learning. International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, 3(3), 221-232. 3. Peretz, I., & Zatorre, R. J. (2005). Brain Organization for Music Processing. Annual Review of Psychology, 56, 89-114. 4. Putman, D. (1994). Music and Empathy. Journal of Aesthetic Education, 28(2), 98-102.

New Moral Problems and New Approaches: Millennials Compared to Baby Boomers and Generation X

By Jathan Sadowski, Thomas P. Seager, and Evan Selinger (Authorship of this article is in alphabetical order)

A recent article in the highly ranked Journal of Personality and Social Psychology reports that, contrary to commonly held beliefs, the Millennial Generation is better cast as "Generation Me" than "Generation We." The study by psychologist Jean Twenge et. al. (1) analyzed the results of two nationally representative surveys, one administered since 1966 and the other since 1976. The surveys ask high school seniors and college freshmen a wide range of questions about life goals, concern for others, and civic orientation/social capital. The authors compared answers from across generations and determined that overall Millennials are more individualistic, materialistically motivated, and less civically engaged than the Baby Boomers and Generation X – despite the commonly held view that the current generation of college students is deeply concerned about social and environmental issues (e.g., 2).

One of the sharpest declines across the three generations is support for environmentally sustainable actions. For example, "Three times as many Millennials (15%) than Boomers (5%) said they made no personal effort at all to help the environment…" Millennials were also less likely to take measures to cut electricity use, and less likely to reduce heat usage during the winter to save energy (1).

These findings are at odds with the apparent surging interest among Millennials in sustainability. Even a cursory examination of college campuses will reveal that American universities are increasingly marketing to Millennials on a sustainability basis. Many offer degree and certificate programs in sustainability; they’ve created special administrative offices in sustainability; built LEED-certified and net-zero buildings; opened "green" dorms, instituted composting programs for cafeteria waste, and published campus sustainability reports. If Twenge is right, then many modern U.S. universities have badly miscalculated what interests their most important stakeholders.

On the other hand, it’s possible that longitudinal studies designed decades ago are no longer capable of capturing the characteristics, beliefs or moral attitudes that are salient today. As a consequence, what Twenge represents as moral decline may simply be generational incommensurability.

To take Twenge’s conclusions at face value risks ignoring three important observations:

  1. Although longitudinal studies focus on the individual as the proper scale of moral analysis, Millennials work in network groups to a much greater extent than any of their predecessors. Particularly with regard to sustainability problems, it may be that individual action is the wrong scale at which to consider moral obligation (3).
  2. Although Twenge’s interpretation equates actions with beliefs, we know from other studies that people often fail to live up to their own moral ideals (4). Consequently, it may be that Twenge is not measuring the narcissism she purports to have found, but the growing complexity that Millennials face when putting ideals into action.
  3. New technologies create new moral problems, and the Millennials are, to a greater extent than any prior generation, defined by the technology in which they are embedded. The moral questions that face the Millennials may be qualitatively different than those faced by previous generations, and as a consequence, be entirely unexamined by longitudinal studies.

The first observation about scale becomes important in the context of social interaction. The Baby Boomer generation may have conceived of moral action as an obligation the individual has towards society, without extending that obligation to include any responsibility for the actions of others. The old maternal refrain, "If Johnny jumped off a cliff, would you jump too?" is meant to reinforce the idea that the right action for one individual is independent of the actions that others take. But the increasingly interconnected world of the Millennials’ asks, "Did Johnny post on Facebook that he was going to jump?" The implication here is that we have an obligation to be sensitive to the emotional state of others (partly because these states are more public than ever) and that Millennials are, at least in part, responsible for the actions of others within their network. Dharun Ravi’s recent conviction on hate-crimes charges for secretly recording and sharing video of his gay roommate kissing another man reinforces this point. While Ravi’s public defense was, "I wasn’t the one who caused him to jump," the jury’s verdict suggests some culpability. To Millennials, posting, linking, blogging, and Tweeting may all be understood as moral acts, to the extent that these activities are meant to influence those beliefs, attitudes, or actions of others that to Baby Boomers may seem like "none of their business." After all, the use of social media is deeply intertwined with the events of the 2011 Arab Spring and Occupy Wall Street, both of which required an unprecedented use of technology to coordinate political action and civic engagement. According to Allenby (5), in a complex, interconnected world, "The choice of the process by which the individual becomes engaged in a dialog with the system, rather than each individual choice, is what becomes ethically critical."

The second observation speaks to long-standing evidence that people tend to overestimate their own capabilities (6). Compared to other generations, Twenge sees a decline in moral values that is based on a culture of rampant narcissism. Others point to a veritable epidemic of misplaced overconfidence (7) that has turned Millennials into the "self-esteem generation" (8). It may be true that Millennials indeed exhibit this tendency to a greater extent than prior generations, but at worst this would merely make them bigger hypocrites, not amoral beings. However, this conclusion disregards the increasingly complex challenge of putting moral ideals into action. Consider, for example, the problems of the environment and how they have changed since 1966. The Baby Boomers faced air and water pollution that was visible and tangible. Their environmental issues existed within the realm of human sensation, and progress towards environmental goals was rapid and measurable. By contrast, Generation X came of age under an ozone hole that could only be observed with scientific instruments and understood by advances in complicated photochemistry. Nevertheless, new policy prescriptions that phased out certain chlorinated hydrocarbons stopped the expansion of the ozone hole, and evidence is now accumulating that 25 years after the Montreal Protocol, the hole is shrinking (9). But the Millennials face the environmental problem of global climate change, which is not directly observable, even with sophisticated scientific instruments. Nor is science capable of directly modeling global warming with the reliability of previous environmental challenges, nor can science track progress towards a climate goal on a temporal scale that is meaningful to a single generation. Suppose the Millennials do care deeply about global climate change. What exactly should they do that would make an observable and convincing difference? The gap between moral ideals and moral action for Millennials may be larger than ever before simply because they are presented with larger obstacles.

Lastly, we must consider that technologies and their concomitant moral issues evolve more quickly than longitudinal studies. For example, the moral questions faced by the Baby Boom generation certainly included military conscription (i.e., the draft) and the birth control pill. By contrast, the all-volunteer Millennial military has fought America’s longest running foreign wars, where the critical moral question does not regard the military service of young adults – it concerns the use of drones. In reproduction, the moral issues are no longer whether women should be free to have sexual intercourse outside of marriage (although some conservative commentators no doubt are reliving the arguments of their own youth), but what constitutes paternity in cases of sperm donation, the legal status of frozen embryos (e.g., ownership), and cloning. Alternatively, consider civic engagement. Here, Twenge points out that the Millennials’ trust in government has declined considerably in comparison with their predecessors. However, this conclusion may conflate government with governance. Certainly, Millennials’ trust in Google (e.g., to curate personal data) or Wikipedia is extraordinary. That is, governance requires more institutions--systems of social order and cooperation that shape human interaction--than just government. It’s not enough to only ask questions that gauge attitudes towards the government because that misses out on all the contemporary institutions that help people manage their lives. A civil society includes corporations (profit and not-for-profit), markets, schools, and now social networks.

Although the issues we raise herein should clearly concern Twenge, it may not be obvious why the Millennials themselves, or the universities that serve them, should care at all. Nevertheless, consider that Twenge’s view of the problem evokes a particular kind of solution. If the Millennials are found to be morally deficient and are, by virtue of their place in history, nevertheless required to confront social problems like sustainability that have profound moral dimensions, then clearly universities have an obligation to attempt to correct the Millennial deficit. In Twenge’s view, this would require returning Millennials to the ideals and actions that properly characterized the Baby Boomers.

We disagree. If universities, and more specifically programs of ethics education, continue to focus on the moral issues that plagued previous generations, Millennials will no doubt be woefully unprepared to tackle the unfamiliar ethical dilemmas emerging from the technologies that define them. Effective ethics education must adapt to the networked way that Millennials address complex problems. It must empower students to use the technologies at their disposal to put their ideals into action, and it must take into consideration the moral problems these technologies create.


This material is based upon work supported by the National Science Foundation under Grant No. 1134943. Any opinions, findings, and conclusions or recommendations expressed in this material are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the National Science Foundation. The Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics at Arizona State University also provided support.

Contributor Biographies

Jathan Sadowski is a research technician in the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics at Arizona State University, Phoenix Metropolitan Area, AZ, USA. Thomas P. Seager is a professor at the School of Sustainable Engineering and the Built Environment and a Lincoln fellow of ethics and sustainability at Arizona State University, Phoenix Metropolitan Area, AZ, USA. Evan Selinger is an associate professor of philosophy at Rochester Institute of Technology, Henrietta, NY, USA.


1. Twenge, J. M., Campbell, W. K., & Freeman, E. C. (2012). "Generational Difference in Young Adults’ Life Goals, Concerns for Others, and Civic Orientation, 1966-2009. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. Advance online publication.

2. Howe, N. & Strauss, W. (2000). Millennials Rising: The Next Great Generation. New York: Vintage.

3. Seager, T.P., Selinger, E. & Clark (Spierre), S. (2011). "Determining Moral Responsibility for CO2 Emissions: A Reply to Nolt." Ethics, Policy & Environment 14(1), 39-42.

4. Sadowski, J. (2011). Experimental Analysis of the Gap Between Moral Beliefs and Moral Actions. B.S. Thesis. Rochester Institute of Technology: USA

5. Allenby, B. (2006). "Macroethical systems and sustainability science." Sustainability Science 1, 7- 13.

6. Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.

7. Klink, W. (2010). "Don't I Wish My Professor Was Hot Like Me." Review of Education, Pedagogy, and Cultural Studies. 32: 431-446

8. Bahr, N. & Pendergast, D. (2007). The Millennial Adolescent. Camberwell: ACER Press.

9. Crow, J.M. (2011). "First signs of ozone-hole recovery spotted." Nature. Retrieved from

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.

[aslideshow play=false playframe=false width=640 height=480 nextclick=true controls_hide=true]


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

Click on the image to advance to the one. Point the mouse at the bottom of the image to see additional controls.

[aslideshow play=false playframe=false width=640 height=480 nextclick=true controls_hide=true]



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.

    Click on the image to advance to the one. Point the mouse at the bottom of the image to see additional controls.

    [aslideshow play=false playframe=false width=640 height=480 nextclick=true controls_hide=true]

    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.