Post Contributed by Crystal Boutwell, Office of Sustainability Intern
The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education holds a conference and expo every year that the Auburn University Office of Sustainability attends and graciously brings their interns along with them to learn new things and engage in discussions around sustainability with students and employees from other universities. This year, my first time attending, the conference was held in San Antonio, Texas, in the Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center and nearby buildings. I was impressed with how easy the conference made it for us to participate in sustainable practices while we were there. From waste reduction to smart meal choices, the conference made sustainability feel like I wish it did every day no matter where I am: normal.
The conference itself partnered with Duke Carbon Offsets Initiative, the Offsets Network and Urban Offsets Inc. to mitigate all estimated greenhouse gas emissions associated with travel to and from the conference, as well as on-site energy use, allowing the three-day event to achieve carbon neutrality. They also distributed free reusable cups to everyone at the event to reduce waste. Even the plaques presented to Sustainability Award Winners were from a company that consciously attempts to minimize their carbon footprint by using recycled materials. There were no printed schedules distributed, but instead attendees were encouraged to use the mobile app. Additionally, nametags and other materials from the conference were made using recycled products and collected for reuse next year. A new practice the conference introduced this year was a completely meatless diet, which strived to use as much vegan, gluten-free, fair-trade, organic, and locally-sourced items as possible. All unused food was donated to the San Antonio Food Bank.
The convention center itself makes significant strides towards environmental stewardship.The building has multiple water filling stations for reuse, all restrooms have dual valve flush, many of the purchased products are recycled, and is a member of the Convene Green Alliance. San Antonio as a city is also dedicated to sustainability. A major way the city is striving towards sustainability is through their SA2020 nonprofit. SA2020 aims to improve the city in areas such as civic engagement, community safety, education, environmental sustainability, health and fitness, and transportation. Additionally, the city has a thriving Office of Sustainability that introduces projects and programs to continue the community down a path of innovation and positive change.
While at the AASHE conference I learned an abundance of things about how different campuses are striving towards a better future. Being able to discuss with other students about ways they use their leadership positions on campus to enact change was empowering. I know Auburn also has the power and passion within our students to make meaningful changes on campus for the betterment of society and the earth. Coming home from the conference, I am all the more excited to see what happens at Auburn this year to promote sustainability.
“To make a difference at the larger level, one must start at the local level. The big changes start one community at a time.” –Lydia Avila, the Powershift Network