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Professor speaks out on sustainability

Arizona State University engineering professor Brad Allenby will help lead a major international effort to broaden public awareness and understanding of sustainability and the technological and social evolution it is sparking.

Allenby has been named chair of the newly founded Presidential Sustainability Initiative of the Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE), the world’s leading professional association for the advancement of technology.

Leaders of the IEEE, which has more than 375,000 members from 160 countries, say the sustainability movement is poised to have broad impacts on environmental protection, resource management and related societal issues. They want the organization to take an active role in promoting a “more rational and informed public dialog” on issues revolving the movement.

There’s an increasingly urgent need for communication and deliberation on the topic among and between engineers, scientists, public policy makers, educators and the public at large, according to a statement from the organization’s board of directors.

“The IEEE recognizes that sustainability requires an international dialog, but also that there is a lack of information regarding emerging technologies and their potential social, cultural and environmental implications,” says John Vig, IEEE president and the moving force behind creation of its Sustainability Initiative.

“We are committing the IEEE to an active role in supporting a responsible, informed discussion about sustainability, and the role technology systems will play in helping to achieve it,” Vig says.

Sustainability is broadly defined as a long-term approach to development, management and growth that meets present human and environmental needs without depleting the resources or ability of future generations to meet their needs and improve or maintain their quality of life.

Sustainability is becoming an integral concept in guiding endeavors such as urban planning, land development, public infrastructure engineering, agriculture, architecture, environment and ecology management, economic policy making and energy planning – among other areas.

The initiative committee is being established with 10 members chosen from around the world for their expertise. The group is to lay groundwork for increasing contributions from the IEEE membership as a whole. Much the organization’s work – from research on the creation of a “smart electrical grid,” renewable energy resources, computers and virtual travel systems – already provides a substantial information resource on sustainability.

“The initiative reflects both the vision of John Vig, and a recognition of the substantive strength and leadership that Arizona State University can bring to the intersection of technology and sustainability,” Allenby says. “ASU is increasingly being recognized as an important national and international resource for such work.”

Allenby came to ASU in 2004. He is a professor in the Ira A. Fulton School of Engineering’s Department of Civil, Environmental and Sustainable Engineering. He also is a professor of law and the Lincoln Professor of Engineering and Ethics in ASU’s Joan and David Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics.

Previously he was a director of Energy and Environmental Systems at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, and a vice president of Research, Technology and Environment for AT&T Corp. He’s considered one of the pioneers of industrial ecology.

He earned an environmental science degree from Yale University, a law degree from the University of Virginia Law School and master’s degree and Ph.D. in environmental sciences from Rutgers University.

Allenby has taught at the University of Virginia’s School of Engineering and Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.

He recently was named winner of one of the 2008 U.S. Professors of the Year Awards from The Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching and the Council for Advancement and Support of Higher Education.

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