The Global Institute of Sustainability at Arizona State University

For the past few months Tony Cortese and I have been conducting a high-level assessment of the Global Institute of Sustainability (GIOS) at Arizona State University for its Board of Directors.

It's been about ten years since ASU's president Michael Crow and his team conceptualized GIOS, and the progress they've made since has been impressive.  I don't know of any other large university that is tackling the challenge of education for sustainability (EfS) in such a comprehensive way.

A few data points to highlight ASU's progress on EfS from their latest AASHE STARS report:

  • 5 sustainability degree programs
  • 33 departments offering sustainability courses
  • 101 departments engaged in sustainability research
  • 120 sustainability focused courses
  • 457 sustainability related courses
  • 762 faculty involved in sustainability research
As one of the largest universities in the US with more than 72,000 students, ASU is working at scale.
There are lots of ways to count and measure how many of those students are receiving meaning EfS experiences, but one way we measured it -- looking at the undergrad and graduate students in the School of Sustainability, as well as those earning certificates or minors in sustainability through other schools, and those in sustainability-related majors -- we found that there are over 3,100 students enrolled in sustainability programs.  While that's a long way from all 72,000 students at ASU, it is more than the total enrollment of about two-thirds of all of the colleges and universities in the country.

GIOS has worked to foster cross-disciplinary research and collaboration.  More than 265 faculty members are affiliated with GIOS as Sustainability Scientists or Scholars.  This program provides support and helps bring faculty together to work on tough sustainability challenges from the perspective of many disciplines.

ASU gives strong emphasis to access, affordability, diversity and inclusion.  It aims to have its student population reflect the demographic mix of the state.  ASU is also driven by President Crow's vision of the "New American University" -- a concept guided by eight design aspirations which include engaging globally, leveraging place, conducting use-inspired research, enabling student success, and transforming society.  In short, it's about academia breaking down barriers internally and with the surrounding world to by more deliberate and intentional about solving the pressing, real-world challenges of the times. 

This type of transformational change is incredibly challenging.  It will necessarily take decades to fully realize.  But it is exciting, and absolutely critical -- because we won't be able to create a sustainable society if higher education doesn't re-orient itself so that doing so is a fundamental goal, integrated into all aspects of the institution.