Arizona State University Sustainability Walking Tour

SustPack attendees toured Arizona State University’s downtown campus, led by University Sustainability Practices Program Coordinator Lesley Forst, to learn about the how the university’s waste, energy, water, and green building program initiatives contribute to cutting-edge sustainable design. Diverse sustainability efforts were illustrated by Forst and several student employees at ASU’s Office of Sustainability who expertly answered attendee questions and provided a peek at the inner workings of sustainability decision making and implementation.

An ASU student employee of the Office of Sustainability showcases Campus Metabolism, ASU’s website that tracks and measures the heating and cooling loads of every building, as well as their associated greenhouse gas emissions and use of renewables generated on campus. Right now, the tool displays current and historic metrics from the buildings of ASU’s downtown, Polytechnic, Tempe, and west campuses, and will be expanding to include their latest campus acquisition, Thunderbird, soon.


Have you ever winced at the sight of a trash bin all alone with no recycling bin in sight? Or a single blue bin, begging passers by to toss in a contaminate or three? Rest assured that at all ASU campuses, bins are always arranged in pairs. While accompanying signage uses pictures instead of words to reflect items that are accepted in each stream, the visual prompts change based on the items and packaging sold in the vicinity, ensuring passers-by have the most relevant information.


“Walk-Only Zones” cut through ASU’s campuses. The zones were designed to not only protect pedestrians from vehicles, but also the fleet of golf carts that staff use to get around the expansive campus.



A student traverses one Walk-Only Zone across ASU Downtown’s central artery. Not only are motorized vehicles unable to use these thoroughfares, but bicyclists and and skateboarders must walk, as well. While not a huge concern during off-hours like the mid-morning pictured here, cyclists and skateboarders are very hazardous to pedestrians when thousands of students pour from buildings onto the generous sidewalks.


Before installing solar arrays as shading devices, the pavilion outside of ASU Downtown’s student union was virtually unusable during the summer; the pavement contributed to an excruciatingly hot environment (and urban heat island effect!). Now, not only do the arrays generate huge quantities of renewable energy for adjacent buildings, but also provide a cool place for students to walk through or hang out in. The arrays were intentionally variegated to allow light to stream through, much like light through tree branches and leaves.


Before the solar arrays were installed overhead, these smaller, potato-chip shaped structures were the only source of shade in the area. Placed directly over tables and chairs, they were insufficient in changing air temperature and shading from indirect light. However, the structures were kept during construction to avoid creating unnecessary demolition debris and also retain placemaking references for students.


SustPack attendees listen to Lesley Forst, University Sustainability Services Program Coordinator, explain how students are engaged in the planning, execution, and ongoing maintenance and operations of green building on campuses. For example, Forst illustrates, ASU is currently running its first student design competition focused on biophilic design to incorporate into future planning strategies.


A glimpse at ASU Downtown’s current student union, which the student population has overwhelmingly outgrown. To reinvent their student center, ASU is currently constructing the biggest net-zero energy building on an adjacent site to serve as a new hub for student life, including hundreds of student organizations. Despite the enormous size of the new building, only two non-student staff will work in the building and the entirety of operations, offices, and programming will be directed by ASU students.


In the courtyard of many academic buildings, like this one here, a shading device cum art installation protects passers-by from direct sunlight and cools air temperature 10 degrees or so. ASU provides these spaces to maintain natural, but filtered light, critical to facilitating healthy circadian rhythms, and also reducing the cooling load for the offices and lecture halls bordering the space on all four sides.


One of ASU Downtown’s central quads is bordered by beautiful and shade-providing trees. While maintaining a lush green space is more water-intensive than xeriscaping, which is present elsewhere on campus, ASU balances the hard numbers of sustainability metrics with the need to preserve a historic site on campus and provide students with recreation spaces typical to collegiate life.

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