(Re)Imagine How We Connect ASU’s Sustainability Solutions Festival

By Bharat Venkatesh

Every February, the world’s top sustainability events and organizations convene at Arizona State University’s Sustainability Solutions Festival to discover and explore how we can reimagine our lives and our planet. According to the website, the 2018 event aims to (re)imagine how we connect “through education, communication, innovation, transportation and recreation.” The platform inspires engaging conversations, celebrating innovations and their innovators across the three pillars of sustainability: economic prosperity, social justice and environmental stewardship. An invaluable resource for the community, the Festival does this for audiences of all ages and from all backgrounds, aiming to catalyze our connections “to ensure that we have economic prosperity, social well-being and environmental health.”

“No other event in the world is able to bring together so many integral leaders across so many sectors to discuss sustainability in such a holistic way,” said Jason Franz, senior manager of Strategic Marketing and Communications for the Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives at ASU. “Our goal is to show that each and every one of us can be an agent of change, but that efforts through collaboration that can scale to regional, national and global scales make immense impact.”

So, what’s new at the ASU Sustainability Solutions Festival this year? According to Franz, they have held a contest with Bear Essential News for Kids for students from across Arizona to submit their favorite healthy recipes to Chef Mona, a celebrity child chef connecting her community through sustainability. The winners of the contest will have their recipes featured on sustainability index cards given out at the festival’s public events such as ASU Open Door and Family Day at the Arizona Science Center. The dishes will also be made by a local catering company with tastings at the Family Day event.

The Festival will also have a stronger presence at the GreenBiz 18 conference, showcasing ASU’s work around circular economy, leadership and energy innovation at a special lounge area. GreenBiz is a founding partner of the Sustainability Solutions Festival and a core part that allows Phoenix to become the epicenter of sustainability each February. Another new element is the Second Nature Higher Education Leadership Summit’s focus on cross-sectoral collaboration and grand solutions to climate change through a partnership with the Intentional Endowments Network. ASU is a charter member of this summit.

The Festival now enters its fifth year, allowing partnerships to develop and projects to take hold that would otherwise not have been possible without a convening event like this festival. It has recognized and celebrated young innovators and entrepreneurs and brought them into the ASU family where they are now pursuing their projects and businesses with the support, expertise and facilities of what is reputed to be the country’s most innovative university — for three years running now, according to US News and World Report. From the free sustainability prizes like reusable lunch bags and sporks to the international projects that help address and measure against the Sustainable Development Goals, this Festival allows for a great and positive impact.

The Rob and Melani Walton Sustainability Solutions Initiatives at ASU were established to solve global challenges, educate future leaders and engage the public, and the Sustainability Solutions Festival is designed to do all three of these things with a focus on engagement. In five years, the Festival has directly engaged 79,000 attendees at 68 events. They have reached more than one million people globally through year-round programs tied to partnerships with groups like the International Science and Engineering Fair, Future City of Arizona, Arizona Science Center and other science museums and programs around the world, and organizations like GreenBiz, Global Reporting Initiative and World Business Council for Sustainable Development.

“By being a convener, the Festival is able to drive substantial change,” Franz said. “And we also measure impact through the tools we are able to distribute at various events. Two years ago, we gave away 2,300 reusable water bottles that would save more than 5,000 liters of water if they were used just once! Last year we handed out 2,500 sustainability kits that included a reusable bag and shower timers that saved more than 125,000 gallons of water and reduced driving impact by 208 miles from plastics saved. This is real impact that benefits everyone.”

Despite their astonishing achievements, however, Franz acknowledges that it would not be possible to have this kind of impact and drive such change without the partnership of the Festival’s presenting sponsors at SRP and the City of Phoenix, “two committed community leaders that continually demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and to make Phoenix and Arizona a leader on this front.”

For more on the ASU Sustainability Solutions Festival and a schedule of all the exciting events taking place this month, visit sustainability.asu.edu/sustainabilitysolutions/programs/solutionsfestival.

Bharat Venkatesh is a Tempe journalist who believes spreading awareness about the importance of sustainability should be part of every journalist’s ethical goal to seek the truth and report it.

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