Reflections on a Sustainability Conference

I recently returned from Baltimore where I attended the annual conference and expo hosted by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. As I told people about the conference, the immediate response was a puzzled expression followed by, “Okay…so what’s that?” I must admit, the name is a mouthful and the intent is perhaps opaque, so will spare the verbose name and instead use its acronym, AASHE.

So what is it?

AASHE is a multinational association that aims to engage, empower, and connect higher education institutions to enable them to achieve their sustainability goals and initiatives. The conference was well attended by a diverse population of educational institutions and organizations. Participants offered an array of knowledge, ideas and opportunities through presentations, exhibits, sessions and networking events.

One university in particular sparked my interest with an innovative card game focused on emission reduction through carbon offsets. The game’s goal is to educate students, faculty and staff on the economic challenges of becoming carbon neutral. Participants were given a budget, carbon goal, and various methods to reduce carbon emissions, while linking real world obstacles (such as a natural disaster). The game is a great way to engage stakeholders to address the real sustainability challenges faced by universities. This unique approach was insightful, as it sparked strategic carbon reduction discussions with other sustainability leaders.

Other topics of interest included zero waste initiatives, social sustainability, communication strategies, fostering inclusion and diversity, and the challenges facing the future of sustainability.

As a seasoned conference attendee, I found the AASHE conference experience to be quite unique, especially when compared with other conferences. For example, AASHE provided recycling, composting, reusable mugs, both vegan and vegetarian options and even an entire Meatless Monday!

It was an incredibly immersive sustainability experience. The conference was clearly committed to incorporating core sustainability principles. I left feeling an elevated level of drive, passion and energy to continue our efforts on our campus. The University of Houston is a microcosm of the growing and thriving field of sustainability that AASHE embodies Sustainability is a journey, and together, we are making tremendous headway, pushing the University’s Tier One vision to new limits.

-Melissa Halstead

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