Post contributed by Taylor Craft, Office of Sustainability Intern
For a few days each year since 2006, folks from all over North America have come together to discuss one thing – sustainability. This year the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) held its annual conference in the beautiful city of Minneapolis, Minnesota. The attendees of this conference were given the chance to hear from some of the world’s best and brightest in the field of sustainability.
Each day provided a wealth of knowledge brought to us in the form of lectures, workshops, panels, and open discussion forums on everything under the sun. Want to learn video editing? Check. How about a discussion on racial inequality in the U.S.? Check. The learning opportunities at AASHE truly reflect the diversity of sustainability as a concept.
The mission during my time at AASHE was to absorb as much information as possible, particularly in the topics of which I knew little (or nothing) about. Of course, I may have indulged occasionally and poked my head into some sessions involving my true love, water resource management (don’t judge). But what I really wanted, and needed, to learn about was the kind of stuff that can’t be found in my degree plan: systems thinking; the value of emotional intelligence; how to tell a story to inspire. I came away with all this and more, and I’m deeply appreciative of all the good folks at AASHE who truly put the entirety of their hearts and minds into their lessons. And here is the really cool thing – now I get to do the same, and hopefully inspire others to be a force for good in the world. And that’s exactly how the dynamics of the educator-learner relationship should work.
As for specifics, some of the key lessons I took away from the sessions I attended included:
Day 1- During my first ever AASHE conference session, I was treated to an interactive learning experience, taught by two graduate students. We went over the power of a well-edited video, and how multimedia can be used to inspire others. Fast forward a couple of hours, and I’m part of a group skit about cooperatives. Never had I known, until the session I attended on cooperatives, the economic and social good that can be brought forth by cooperatives, and how everyone from producer to consumer can get benefit.
Day 2- Nothing like a lively discussion on racial inequality right after breakfast. This session introduced me to the idea of individualism, which in this context means how some folks of various ethnicities are viewed collectively, while others are afforded the privilege of being seen as individuals. We also discussed the fairness (or lack thereof) of the criminal justice system in the U.S., and how the poor are penalized for…. well, being poor. Next, I decided to hear about how to reach out to the nay-sayers of sustainability. Growing up with an ultra-conservative family, I found this session to be very appropriate because I have seen firsthand how the typical “go-green” approaches rarely work with those crowds. What I learned was to try to empathize with them and speak their language.
Day 3- My last day at AASHE started with a few facts and figures about bottled water; like the fact that it cost about 500 times as much as tap water and is usually the exact same thing. And yet, we still pay beau coups of money to these companies, while they privatize a basic human right. After the session on bottled water, I was fortunate enough to hear about modern-day societal ethics from an indigenous Aleutian. He explored topics like childhood, climate action, and transforming sustainability education. The last session I attended gave information on Georgia Tech’s remarkable wastewater treatment and management project. Fit with innovative technology, an engaged student population, and a cooperative faculty, the project being showcased truly impressed me.
At AASHE 2015, folks came and left with ideas and the will to make a difference. This isn’t merely a conference to discuss how to get folks to recycle and start bicycling to work. It’s a collaboration of teachers, students, businesses, and all others that desire to see a real, systemic change in the world.