There’s nothing new about being green.

Two millennia ago, Chinese Minister for Agriculture Tsai Lun in the first-century Han dynasty called for subjects of the emperor to boil old linen rags for papermaking. Professional recyclers in medieval England collected dust and ash left from fireplaces, then sold it to brick manufacturers as an inexpensive base material. More recently, World War II saw an uptick in recycling, with many common household items like clothes, scrap metal, and tires turned into new products for the war effort.

The same spirit of innovative recycling inspired Washington State University’s Taiji Miyasaka and David Drake to invent a construction block from gypsum drywall waste. Similar to a cinder block, the low-cost building material has insulating properties and great potential.

Another area of sustainable exploration at WSU, and one with some urgency, is finding replacements for rare earth elements and metals, such as cobalt and lithium, used in most of our tech devices. Not only are those materials expensive and difficult to extract, they’re often mined by children or gathered in exploitative situations. WSU’s JCDREAM seeks earth-abundant replacements for substances such as cobalt.

Of course, Washington is known for its green fields, and that includes the latest cash crop, cannabis. After recreational cannabis was legalized by an initiative in 2012, it opened the gates to sorely needed research into all aspects of the drug and related hemp. Almost 100 researchers at WSU are working to clear up misconceptions in this billion-dollar industry.

That’s a lot of money, and when you have greenbacks from sales, you have taxes. The Hoops Institute of Taxation and Research Policy in the WSU Carson College of Business keeps abreast of the latest issues, including illegal “tax zapper” software used to hide retail sales. The institute works with the state to identify and educate users about this method to cheat on taxes.

There are some evergreen problems that keep cropping up, such as the ongoing need for more women in engineering, mathematics, and other scientific fields. Thanks to work by WSU alumni and faculty, we might bring more girls and women into those areas, which we really need because, as Voiland College of Engineering and Architecture Dean Emeritus Candis Claiborn says, “the more people who look at a problem, the better the solutions.”