By Jesse Teel*
I attended The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) annual conference in Boston at the end of October. The timing was perfect for a visit to Boston, with many trees displaying vibrant autumn colors, a hint of winter in the air but not overpowering, and the city’s full academic prowess evident as students moved from Halloween parties to classes through the historic streets.
I represented the Waste Reduction and Recycling Department to learn about how other schools are handling their waste. I connected with students and staff from Auburn University’s Office of Sustainability, meeting as a group at the conference’s opening ceremony and enjoying a delightful Italian dinner with a Cannoli dessert afterward.
Monday morning kicked off with a networking event for waste and recycling professionals. Following the event, a breakout session drew around 80 people from universities across North America to discuss goals like zero waste. The workshop focused on strategic planning and visioning, providing a structure for waste reduction and a higher diversion rate. Messaging and holistic assessments were recurring themes throughout the conference. The importance of telling a cohesive story to move the entire institution toward a more sustainable future was emphasized. Collaboration across campus and with partners is crucial to creating a sustainable and equitable system.
I also participated in a regional colleges networking event and an industry dinner on Monday night with a group focused on incentivizing and gamifying recycling for students. The dinner offered a chance to exchange ideas about successes and challenges in student engagement with professionals from various educational institutions, including larger universities.
On Tuesday, I met with Gunther Wellenstein, Zero Waste Program Manager, Recycling & Materials Management, from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), toured the campus and observed their operations. While similar to Auburn’s operations, some key differences, likely due to their urban location, were noted. The tour was enlightening, providing insights into potential program improvements.
Tuesday night, I joined AU’s Office of Sustainability for a self-guided tour of Harvard, engaging with students to learn about their experiences. At dinner we discussed the many insights gained at the conference. The experience resulted in new connections with peer institutions and a deeper understanding of the nationwide state of sustainability and waste management. These connections and insights will guide me as we continue to develop programs and initiatives for a more sustainable Auburn.
*Jesse Teel works within Facilities Management as a Coordinator for the Waste Reduction and Recycling Department