Pitchfork Press

Cronkite Summer Journalism Institute 2012

ASU Dean Honored With Prestigious U.N. Award

Sander van der Leeuw

Dean Sander van der Leeuw dedicates his Champions of the Earth Award to the new generation of the nations.

While searching through his e-mail, Arizona State University (ASU) School of Sustainability Dean Sander van der Leeuw learned that the United Nations chose him to be the 2012 Science and Innovation Champion of the Earth for his research regarding the precautionary principle. The official letter stated that he was one of six men from around the globe to receive this honor arrived the very next day.

“I was quite surprised. I never [even] thought about anything like this,” van der Leeuw said.

At the School of Sustainability, van der Leeuw manages academic content, curriculum and internships for his students. Sustainability, or the quality of supporting a balanced environment and not depleting Earth’s natural resources, is something that van der Leeuw and Director Nicholas Brown try to implement at not only the school, but also to the entirety of ASU.

Solar panels, dual-flush toilets and a recycling program all contribute to the university’s effort in the sustainability field. But sometimes, inventions created to benefit the earth and its many societies cause negative consequences.

Take the automobile, for instance. Innovated as a faster way to transport people, products and information, its creators never could have imagined the dire consequences it would have on the earth’s atmosphere and air quality.

These consequences are what fuel van der Leeuw’s studies as well as his teachings to the students at the School of Sustainability. Because of the limited understanding humans have on the complexities of most systems around them, it is key to look at every decision in a wider context.

“I want students to graduate with understanding that every decision they make in their lives have consequences for not only them, but also sustainability,” he said. As van der Leeuw accepted the Champions of the Earth award on June 4 in Rio de Janeiro, he dedicated the honor to the new generation of people in the nations, hoping that they will take a long-term perspective on every decision to find new solutions in the field of sustainability.

By asking what kind of future and what kind of society the new generation wants before making these key decisions, van der Leeuw hopes that they will not repeat some previous mistakes made in history.

“[I hope for] a generation that aims to transform our society into a truly open system, where all countries, people and institutions accept the challenge to interact and, together, design a more appropriate society – a sustainable world,” he said in his acceptance speech.

-Alexandra Dersch, Text Editor

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