May 22, 2020 marked our Three Year Anniversary of the Arizona Sustainability Alliance (AZSA). We celebrated our three year anniversary with a digital event to commemorate our successes these past three years and the future of sustainability. The event focused on leadership in sustainability, collaboration of organizations and individuals, and opportunities for the future. We had incredible panelists and moderator:

  • Michael Hwang – Supply Chain Sustainability Program Manager for Intel
  • Jim Hanna – Director of Datacenter Sustainability at Microsoft
  • Kelly Barr – Chief Strategy, Corporate Services and Sustainability Executive for Salt River Project
  • Elizabeth Fretheim – Head of Business Development at Nikola Motor Company
  • Moderator: Colin Tetreault – Corporate Sustainability Practitioner, Public Policy Expert, Senior Sustainability Scholar, and Global Sport Scholar.

We had a very engaging conversation that gave new insights for our audience on what it means to be truly sustainable, the evolution of sustainability, and what the future of sustainability may look like in corporate companies. If you didn’t get the chance to attend, we recorded the event which is now live on YouTube.

Since our first few projects across the Valley in 2017, we’ve been working hard to create and support cutting-edge, project-based sustainability solutions in Arizona through civic engagement, collaboration, and education. And now, it’s time to celebrate! It’s because of our team, volunteers, partners, and donors that we’ve been able to achieve this great accomplishment. Here’s a round-up of the recent sustainability successes we’ve had across our top three priorities: Sustainable Food Systems, Urban Forestry, and Renewable Energy.

Sustainable Food Systems

AZSA is dedicated to creating and supporting regenerative local food systems. Through community engagement, education, and project-based assistance, we’ve worked hard to empower increase food security, provide local farm support, and encourage education for Arizonans on best practices for growing, eating and recycling healthy foods.

Our Sustainable Food Systems priority wouldn’t be possible without our amazing partners.


  • Maricopa County Food System Coalition (MARCO)
  • Vitalyst Health Foundation
  • Creighton Community Foundation
  • Alhambra School District, Phoenix
  • Fowler Elementary School District, Phoenix
  • Los Ninos Elementary, Tempe
  • Kyrene del Norte Elementary, Tempe
  • Microsoft

Project: Sow It Forward; Vertical Gardening

The aim of this project is to introduce K-8 students to sustainable food systems through vertical gardening. To date, we’ve so far positively impacted the lives of over 2,200 Arizonan students and have grown over 580 plants alongside them!

Here’s the breakdown of where things stand today with our vertical gardening projects:

  • Kyrene Del Norte: 100- shared by two 1st grade classrooms for two school years (~25 students per class)
  • Kyrene De Los Ninos: 100- shared by two 1st grade classrooms for two school years
  • Fowler Elementary (2018/2019)- 1,284 students

FESD classroom breakdown per school:

  • Santa Maria Middle School- Science classroom utilized by 6th, 7th, & 8th graders ~75 students
  • Tuscano Elementary- 5th grade classroom ~ 27 students
  • Sunridge Elementary- 1st grade classroom, shared by 2 classes ~60 students
  • Western Valley Middle- 6th grade science classroom ~80 students
  • Western Valley Elementary- 4th grade classroom~ 30 students
  • Sun Canyon Elementary- 1st grade classroom, cared for by 3rd grade Student Council, and one in cafeteria ~ 340 students
  • Fowler Elementary- 1st grade classroom ~30 students

Additional gardens:

  1. Desert Willow Elementary ~30 students: Cave Creek Unified District
  2. W.T. Machan Elementary ~500 students: Creighton Elementary School District
  3. Basha High School ~ 180 students: Chandler Unified School District
  4. Lookout Mountain: Washington Elementary School District
  5. Wellton Elementary School: Wellton Elementary District
  6. Local First Community Kitchen ~20 students

Students have had the opportunity to grow and taste:

  • Kale
  • Swiss Chard
  • Butter lettuce
  • Basil
  • Mint
  • Tomatoes
  • Green onions
  • Bok Choy
  • Peppers
  • Cilantro
  • Spinach
  • Arugula

Ways that classrooms have utilized the fresh produce:

  • Classroom salad party
  • Making their own salsa
  • Bringing food home to families
  • Harvesting and sharing produce with other classrooms

STEAM educational concepts that teachers have used the gardens to support in their curriculum:

  • Plant biology
  • Ecology
  • Aeroponic gardening technology
  • Art (drawing plants)
  • Math (measuring plant parts and calculating growth rate)
  • Engineering (students creating ways to support plants when they grow too big for their cages)

Project: Food Tech For the Future

The Food Tech For the Future: Growing Digital Farmers Project introduces students, teachers, volunteers, and the community to the world of food computers. This project is meant to educate, engage, and inspire young adults into thinking critically about sustainability issues and creating solutions based on well-founded science, research, and technology.

The innovative nature of this project has inspired local engagement from tech industries and also global support from giants like Google.

Through this project, students have had the chance to build their own food computer, conduct plant growth experiments, share the data globally, and learn about biology, genetics, technology, and robotics through first-hand experience. It’s our hope that these students will continue studying food technology in college and continue to ensure that global food needs are being met. Here’s the breakdown of where things stand today with our food computer projects:

So far, around 300 students have been exposed to food computer education.

  1. Glendale High School ~20 students: Glendale Union High School District
  2. Cesar Chavez High School ~180 students: Phoenix Union High School District
  3. Basha High School ~30 students
  4. Basha Middle School (through mentorship program) ~30 students: Chandler Unified School District
  5. SanTan Junior High (through mentorship program) ~30 students: Chandler Unified School District

Notable survey results:

  • 23.7% increase in interest pursuing future education in food technology
  • 54.8% increase in knowledge of sustainability concepts
  • 71.4% increase in ability to identify sustainable desert agriculture
  • 83.3% increase in ability to describe the technology used to run a food computer

The students also mentioned that they enjoyed the following aspects of the project:

  • Working with aeroponics
  • Building the computer
  • Checking pH
  • Watching the seeds grow
  • Installing the raspberry pi

Project: Food Desert Educational Campaign

Food deserts are defined by the USDA as being low-income neighborhoods that lack access to affordable produce. There are a staggering number of these food deserts that exist within Maricopa county.

This is not only a matter of sustainability but also of social justice. AZSA firmly believes that access to healthy food should not be dependent on income or zip code.

In an effort to create change and help abolish food deserts in Maricopa County, the Food Desert Educational Campaign connects volunteers with local agriculture and support farmers through donated community labor.

Over the past year, we have donated almost 400 hours of community labor, engaged approximately 200 volunteers, and worked with the following local farms:

  • The Farm at Agritopia
  • The St. Vincent de Paul Urban Farm
  • The Farm at South Mountain
  • The Arizona Worm Farm
  • LEHR Gardens

Urban Forestry

Our mission with the Urban Forestry priority is to engage our volunteers in projects that sustainably contribute to increasing urban forestry in Arizona and to educate the public on the benefits of urban forestry, including carbon capture, decreasing the heat island effect, and cleaning the air.

Thanks to our partners, we’ve been able to increase the tree canopy in low income, low canopy areas throughout Arizona and provide education to Arizonans on best practices for tree maintenance and the benefits of urban forestry.


  • Trees Matter
  • City of Tempe
  • City of Apache Junction
  • City of Phoenix
  • South Mountain Environmental Education Center
  • American Forests
  • The Urban Forestry Roundtable (a partnership between AZSA, American Forests, and the City of Phoenix)

Trees Planted

  • New School, Tempe (April 2018) – 19 trees
  • Tempe neighborhood (November, 2018) – 25 trees
  • Apache Junction (October, 2019) – 26 trees
  • Concord, Tempe (November, 2019) – 24 trees
  • GreenBiz (February 2020) – 35 trees
  • GreenBiz Penny Howe 2019 – 9 trees
  • Penny Howe pollinator garden planting – 34 trees and 134 shrubs

Renewable Energy

The Arizona Sustainability Alliance approaches the Renewable Energy Priority in a hands-on manner. Instead of pure advocacy, we apply sound research to the projects we focus on. In a state where a majority of energy is produced by non-renewable resources, it is our goal to demonstrate successful applications of renewable energy in the community.

As of today, we expect to install 91.5 kW-DC of solar capacity in Arizona with the aid of our partners. Over their lifetime, these solar installations will produce roughly 2.7 million kilowatt-hours of electricity. This is the equivalent of around 1,900 metric tonnes of CO2 avoided.


  • City of Phoenix
  • Solar United Neighbors of Arizona
  • Maya’s Farm
  • Arizona State University
  • Solar United Neighbors

All in all, we’re extremely proud to have made these impacts in Arizona and are looking forward to many years of sustainability work and advocacy to come!