Wednesday, August 13, 2014

Julie Wrigley puts her money where the green is

Ketchum resident makes $50 million donation to Global Sustainability Institute

Express Staff Writer

Philanthropist Julie Wrigley takes a break at Thunder Spring in Ketchum to talk about her $50 million donation to Arizona State University. Photo by Roland Lane

    The Wrigley family name has long been associated with chewing gum and a famous sports stadium in Chicago.
    The name Wrigley could soon become synonymous with sustainability initiatives aimed at addressing some of the more transcendent issues of our time: global warming, energy and food security, and depletion of the environment.
    Longtime Ketchum resident and philanthropist Julie Ann Wrigley has donated $50 million to Arizona State University’s Global Institute of Sustainability (GIOS), which was recently renamed in her honor.
    The Julie Ann Wrigley Global Institute of Sustainability is home to ASU’s School of Sustainability, the first of its kind in the U.S. to offer bachelor, master and doctoral degrees in sustainability.         
    Wrigley, whose family has strong ties to Arizona (the Wrigley Mansion is located in Phoenix) was inspired to make her contributions by ASU President Michael Crow, author of “The New American University Reader.”
    Crow is known for aggressively pursuing partnerships with private industry and pioneering online studies. During his 12-year tenure, the university has tripled research expenditures and completed an “unprecedented infrastructure expansion,” including 78,000 solar panels across its campuses, states the ASU website.
     Starbucks recently offered free ASU online degree courses to all of its employees.
    “Arizona State is what a university has to look like to solve 21st century problems,” said Wrigley, who keeps a busy office at Thunder Spring in Ketchum, not far from her home on the Bigwood Golf Course. She said most institutions of higher education in the United States are based on an outdated model from the United Kingdom that is hundreds of years old.

The fact is that in order to succeed,
sooner or later you have to come back
to the middle to make partnerships.”
Julie Ann Wrigley

    “Under the old model, one part of the university has no reason to work with another part,” she said. “At ASU, sustainability is a value system campus-wide, not just a single field of study.”
    Wrigley, 65, grew up in Newport Beach, Calif. She studied anthropology at Stanford University and earned a law degree from the University of Denver. In 1981, she married Bill Wrigley, the heir to the Wrigley chewing gum fortune who died in 1999.
    As a kid, Julie Wrigley found abalone on the beach and enjoyed a clear view of Catalina Island 20 miles away, until sea pollution and the smog of Los Angeles took both away. She worked with Bill Wrigley to place 90 percent of the family-owned island into a conservancy, protecting it from development.
    “There were some people who wanted to develop Catalina like Coney Island,” said Wrigley. She has held board and chair positions with The Nature Conservancy, the World Wildlife Fund, Keep America Beautiful and The Peregrine Fund.
    Today, Wrigley co-chairs (along with Rob Walton, CEO of Walmart) the GIOS Institute, sponsoring an interdisciplinary team of scientists, researchers and teachers working together with the business community to solve human-created ecological problems.
    “I remember when environmental activists were burning ski lodges in Vail, Colorado, to make a point,” Wrigley said. “The fact is that in order to succeed, sooner or later you have to come back to the middle to make partnerships.”
    The ASU School of Sustainability, founded in 2007, has graduated 550 alumni employed in fields such a government, finance, nonprofits, NGOs, recycling, energy, food and farming.
    In 2013, the ASU campus invested $52 million in sustainability projects for transportation, dining, energy efficiency and renewable energy projects, drawing 43 percent of its peak electricity load from solar power.
    “The fact is that local communities are more active in this area than the federal government, including the city of Hailey, which is leading the Wood River Valley.”
    Wrigley said GIOS is committed to using academic resources to build models for communities in transition from using fossil fuels to renewables.
    Those communities include the islands of Hawaii and the U.S. Virgin Islands, where, despite an abundance of sun and wind, electricity has for many years been generated by high-cost, diesel-powered generators.
    “The utility companies have invested untold billions of dollars in infrastructure, so change can be slow” Wrigley said. “But electricity costs 33 cents per kilowatt hour in Hawaii, compared to about 8 cents per kilowatt hour in Idaho, so there is more incentive to push the public utilities commission there to make changes.
    “Idaho gets 40 percent of its energy from coal-fired plants, and those plants are not going to pass the new regulations,” she said.
    Wrigley keeps up with current events, yet defers to leading scholars, researchers and entrepreneurs at ASU and elsewhere to provide solutions to global problems.  
    Some of the innovations coming down the pike are very desirable indeed, including Wrigley’s sleek, red Tesla S electric car, designed by Tesla Motors founder Elon Musk.
    Wrigley smiles brightly when the Tesla’s computer tablet-style console lights up with displays of the output of her car’s batteries, and a Google Earth navigation screen.
    “Elon Musk is the Thomas Edison of our time,” she said.
    The Tesla glides away without a sound, leaving no smoke and zero carbon emissions.

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