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  • Writer's pictureD. Pataki

Introducing the Southwest Sustainability Innovation Engine

It took almost two years, but I'm very excited to announce our new Innovation Engine aimed at transforming the Southwest U.S. into a national and international leader in carbon, water, and energy solutions.

When the U.S. National Science Foundation announced their Regional Innovation Engines program, I thought it was the perfect opportunity to put our ideas for innovative sustainability solutions into practice. But I needed a green light from Arizona State University (ASU) to lead a proposal. Thanks to the visionary Julie Ann Wrigley Global Futures Laboratory (GFL) and the Knowledge Enterprise, I received it! Engine proposals need a high ranking administrator in the university leadership to serve as the project Principal Investigator and Interim CEO, which is GFL director and Vice Provost/Vice President Peter Schlosser. I was the ASU co-PI, along with Brenda Bowen of the University of Utah, Sean McKenna of the Desert Research Institute, and Jeremy Babendure of the SciTech Institute. But there were more than 100 additional participants.

A special shout out to ASU's Scott Barclay, now the Engine COO, Zach Miles and Jacimaria Batista from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, Hank Courtright at the Salt River Project, Julie Stiak at Maricopa County Community Colleges District, John Albert at the Water Research Foundation, and many others. ASU provided amazing support from within and beyond the University, consistent with its charter of "assuming fundamental responsibility for the economic, social, cultural and overall health of the communities it serves." Also special thanks to the remarkable, transdisciplinary and collaborative community of sustainability teachers, scholars, and practitioners at the ASU School of Sustainability.

My vision for a regional engine encompassed a multi-state ecosystem of academic, industry, NGO, and government partners who are all committed to achieving ambitious sustainability goals for a thriving Southwest. We soon found that some reviewers assumed that regional engines had to be smaller in extent and more localized than the true scale of the Southwest desert region. But in the Southwest, water and energy delivery systems span large distances, and our population is spread out over the Sonoran, Mojave, and Great Basin Deserts. As a result, Arizona, Utah, and Nevada face very similar challenges AND opportunities to develop innovative solutions to water scarcity and net zero carbon. The potential for cooperation, coordination, and co-production of solutions and implementation is enormous. We must succeed in this task - if we can't solve sustainability challenges across the rapidly growing states of the Southwest U.S., we will not be able to do so at the global scale! By including experts in both technology and governance solutions for carbon, water, and energy sustainability, we can anticipate and address the drivers, barriers, and potential pitfalls to large scale changes in water, energy, and carbon capture infrastructure.

The newly created Southwest Sustainability Innovation Engine (SWSIE) will convene organizations and communities for three major activities: research & development, knowledge translation, and workforce development. We'll be supporting co-production of new STEM-enabled approaches to securing the water and energy supply, translating these into better social and economic outcomes for the region, and working with job creators to train the new green workforce in the Southwest, with special attention to previously underserved people, places, and communities.

Our next steps are to hire a permanent CEO, complete our strategic and implementation plan, initiate the first round of research and workforce development programs, and convene regional participants to advance a daring and transformative vision for the future of our region.

You can find more information at our website, and stay tuned for updates.

NSF Southwest Sustainability Innovation Engine


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