Nicole Darnall is Associate Dean of Faculty Success in ASU's College of Global Futures and Associate Director and Professor of Management and Public Policy in ASU's School of Sustainability. She is co-founder of ASU’s Sustainable Purchasing Research Initiative and Distinguished Sustainability Scholar at the Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability.
Her research assesses non-regulatory sustainability governance approaches: voluntary programs, strategic alliances, certifications, and information-based initiatives. Her work investigates whether the absence of state coercion, combined with appropriate incentives, can encourage organizations and individuals to behave more sustainably.
Professor Darnall is an elected Fellow in the National Academy of Public Administration, an Abe Fellow, an Economic and Social Research Council and Social Science Research Council Collaborative Visiting Fellow, an Erasmus Mundus International Scholar, and Spanish Ministry of Education International Fellow. She has received the Academy of Management's Organizations and Natural Environment Best Paper Award. Her research on business-government collaborations received the Academy of Management Public and Nonprofit Management’s Best Journal Article Award, and her scholarship on environmental audits received the Decision Science Institute's Distinguished Paper Award. She has served as a senior editor of Production and Operations Management and associate editor of Business & Society and Organization and Environment. She is on the Editorial Review Board of Cambridge University Press, Public Administration Review, Business & Society, Organization & Environment, and Business Strategy and the Environment. She is a founding member of the Group of Organizations and Natural Environment (GRONEN), a network of European and North American scholars focused on organization sustainability. Prior to her career in academia she worked as an economist for the U.S. Forest Service.
What motivated you to work on the sustainable use of natural resources and addressing Climate Change?
My interest in sustainability stems from the small southern New Mexico farm in which I was raised. I spent many hours harvesting pecans, tending to livestock, and developing an appreciation for the environment in which I lived. My leap from farm to Associate Dean has involved numerous turns. Prior to my academic career, I was a data analyst in a manufacturing facility that built industrial wastewater treatment systems, an economist for the U.S. Forest Service, and a researcher at Resources for the Future, a DC environmental policy think tank. All of my career choices have had a common sustainability thread that is tied to my small farm roots.
How would you describe the government's role in the sustainable use of natural resources and addressing climate change?
In considering government’s role in the sustainable use of natural resources and addressing climate change, I am reminded of a quote from Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax: “It’s not about what it is, it’s about what it can become.” If every organization and individual worldwide adhered to existing U.S. environmental regulations, the planet could not sustain our current lifestyles. Current science shows that we are depleting natural resources and changing the climate beyond our planetary boundaries. We need bold regulatory proposals that shift our path and science advisors to guide each step. While recent policy trends have emphasized voluntary environmental approaches over regulation, these approaches are insufficient on their own because they only affect the behavior of volunteers – who represent a small proportion of the affected community. For government to promote a sustainable society, an enterprising regulatory approach is needed. This approach necessarily involves investments in science and technology and incentives that catalyze entrepreneurial creativity. It deemphasizes fossil fuel production and encourages renewable energy innovations. An enterprising regulatory approach combines traditional regulation with market- and information-based regulations and leverages private sector partnerships to address our complex sustainability problems.
What, according to you, is(are) the biggest challenge(s) when it comes to the sustainable use of natural resources and addressing climate change? What could be the solution(s)?
I believe that the biggest challenge to addressing the sustainable use of natural resources and climate change is the politicization of environmental problems and the pervasive belief that sustainable behaviors require significant sacrifice. Americans have lost faith in private sector ingenuity, believing instead that sustainability solutions come with significant cost. The reality is that sustainability solutions need not compromise the health of our economy. We can address environmental problems AND improve economic health, well-being, community, justice, and public health. Shifting this narrative will require leadership, sustained messages about the importance of sustainability, K-12 education, and private sector collaboration. Related to the latter, many private sector firms, including those in the Business Roundtable, Business Climate Leaders, and the American Sustainable Business Council are eager to advance sustainability solutions. Partnerships with these businesses will be vital towards pivoting the public debate around the importance of pursuing sustainability solutions and how these solutions can promote economic development.
What are some projects or recent developments in this field that you are most excited about?
In the last four months, the new administration has signed a suite of Executive Orders that put the United States back on the global stage towards addressing sustainability issues. These recent developments are what have me most excited. They include: rejoining the Paris Climate Agreement, prioritizing environmental justice, establishing the “President’s Council of Advisors on Science and Technology,” making climate-readiness a matter of national security, and leveraging the purchasing power of government to encourage sustainable public procurement. Related to public procurement, government purchasing has a carbon footprint that is nine times greater than its combined impacts from vehicle fleets and buildings. This impact along with government’s sizable purchasing power creates significant opportunity to shape supply chains globally by introducing sustainability criteria into public sector procurement processes. This opportunity is what has led me to partner with NAPA Fellow, Dr. Stuart Bretscheider, and Dr. Justin Stritch to establish the Sustainable Purchasing Research Initiative (SPRI) at Arizona State University. SPRI is leading groundbreaking research on sustainable purchasing policies and initiatives in local governments across eight countries. Our goal is to learn more about the successes and limitations of sustainable green purchasing so government can more effectively leverage its massive purchasing power to encourage sustainable production globally.