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5 Things I Learned at AASHE 2014

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Erin PresentingThis week I was lucky enough to attend the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) 2014 Conference in Portland, Oregon.1)This trip was supported by funding from PAPIIT. Erin and I presented on our experiences integrating sustainability into higher education in Mexico and on some preliminary results from our waste research in Leon. But really the exciting part was participating in this Sustainability gathering where I learned many things, but if I had to pick five…

  1. Sustainability is not a passing fad: Clearly this is what all of us dearly hope is true in our hearts but my belief in the durability of Sustainability was greatly reinforced by AASHE. Everywhere you looked there were signs of acceleration-more degree programs germinating and sprouting, campus sustainability practices growing in scale and scope as well as a multiplicity of new and exciting activities.
  2. There is no type of University that can’t move towards Sustainability: Skeptics on whether Sustainability can truly be integrated into all the aspects of higher education always try excuses such as, “It can only work at small schools…or “green” schools…or because of some lucky confluence of funding, university president…etc.” These excuses look weaker and weaker when one sees the incredible variety of universities attending and sharing their successes at AASHE-schools of a couple hundred students, private, public, giant universities and many from the reddest of red states. Your university has no excuse for not being part of the Sustainability movement.
  3. Aaron Presenting
  4. There is no RIGHT approach to Achieving Sustainability at Universities: Rather it should be said that there are many different approaches whose rightness can be judged by their success. For example we heard two large public institutions discuss their approaches to food waste composting. One institution ran their own composting operation and managed almost everything internally while the other contracted out virtually all aspects of the operation-both were successfully keeping more and more food waste out of landfills.
  5. Universities are surveying their members to collect data on values, attitudes and motivation as well as the typical knowledge and awareness: There were at least a half-dozen different institutions which shared results from surveying their campus communities in independent but related fashions. This is exciting for at least three reasons:2)There is the definite potential for a meta-study here which Erin and I will be exploring.
    1. A transition from a focus solely on the system’s techno-infrastructure to a perspective which includes and recognizes the importance of all the thousands of individual human agents which make up the system.
    2. A real focus on actually collecting data to be used in designing Sustainability strategies and then using it to assess progress. Rather then hiring an ‘expert’ to guess and then relying on some anecdotes to decide if it worked-that was not getting us anywhere.
    3. All of these studies explicitly recognized that knowledge and awareness were not sufficient to motivate the necessary behavior change by the human actors–a long overdue but key advance in on-the-ground Sustainability thinking.
  6. Achieving Sustainability is a process and we are still only taking the first, tentative steps forward. We can’t stop now!

    Aaron Redman [3]


    Aaron Redman is the founder of Achieving Sustainability and what passes for an administrator in these parts. Currently he is working on his Sustainability PhD at ASU while raising a baby daughter and taking advantage of nap time to foment discussions on this here blog.

    Footnotes   [ + [5] ]

    1. This trip was supported by funding from PAPIIT.
    2. There is the definite potential for a meta-study here which Erin and I will be exploring.