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'Sustainability' gains status on US campuses

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Many institutions are proud of their innovations. At the University of Rochester in New York, a new optics lab will have stairwells designed to absorb heat and radiate into the building to reduce heating costs. At Berea College in Kentucky, sewage from an "Ecovillage" is treated in a series of tanks filled with plants and fish. The University of California at San Diego has identified campus rooftops where it can install 500 kilowatts of solar panels, which equals the power needed for 325 homes.

ASU's green efforts

But ASU has ratcheted up the effort with "a holistic approach" that is probably unique in the nation, says Mr. Roberts.

Any new building erected at ASU – a school adding facilities quickly – must be built to exacting environmental standards. Some professors in the university's labs are concentrating on understanding nature and then using the knowledge to solve problems. For example, a team of professors is growing a strain of bacteria that feast on carbon dioxide. The bacteria could then be used to convert emissions from a power plant into bio-fuels.

By the fall, the university hopes to integrate its work so that students in other schools, such as the law school, can minor in sustainability. Some students will come from China as part of an agreement in August to launch a Joint Center on Urban Sustainability.

In October, ASU hosted 650 academics, administrators, and students from AASHE who took part in a conference on the role of higher education in creating a sustainable world. The university is attracting donors and business people, including heiress Julie Ann Wrigley and Rob Walton, chairman of Wal-Mart, who last month agreed to chair the board of ASU's Institute of Sustainability.

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