Webinars, Documentaries, & Professional Development Opportunities Expanded

To support faculty, staff, and students during this time, we have updated our online resources. 

OUR CALENDAR

We now feature online events and webinars, instead of in-person events.  If you know of any upcoming sustainability-related webinars you think others would be interested in, please email them to sustain@auburn.edu

SOLVE CLIMATE BY 2030 WEBINAR

Schools Participating in the National Power DialogPlease join us for the Solve Climate by 2030: National Power Dialog, in support of the Solve Climate by 2030 project. In an effort to inject optimism and spur action in conversations about solving the climate change challenge, on April 7th, 2020 all 50 states will participate in this nationally-coordinated event. This event will consist of a nationwide webinar followed by a state-based webinar focusing on specific solutions for Alabama. There will be an opportunity to submit comments and questions. Please join us:

Tuesday, April 7th

6:00 – 7:30 PM

Please register.

We are co-sponsoring this event with the Caroline Marshall Draughon Center for the Arts & Humanities. The webinar will be recorded and shared on our website, but please register to participate and to receive the recording directly.

WORKING@AU

Visit our Working @ AU page and find:

  • Professional development courses,
  • Educational resources,
  • Documentaries to incorporate into your courses,
  • TED and other short talks
  • Dr. Katharine Hayhoe’s presentation at Auburn, “Faith, Climate Change, and Our Culture in the US,” complete with transcription and sign interpretation.

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Director’s Corner: Humanity’s growing ecological footprint: “the only measure which tracks how much nature we have – and how much nature we use.”

“If we did to our bank account what we have been doing to the Earth’s natural capital we would have been bankrupt long ago.”

~Christina Figueres, former Executive Secretary, United Nations Frameworks Convention on Climate Change

Planet Earth has over eons generated a vast endowment of natural capital, which the World Forum on Natural Capital defines as “the world’s stocks of natural assets which include geology, soil, air, water, and all living things.”

Natural capital is the source of human existence and our capacity for thriving. Everything we do is ultimately derived from the endowment of natural assets generated and sustained by the Earth.

Endowments can last forever if they are managed properly. A fundamental tenant for managing an endowment that needs to last forever is to live off interest generated and avoid dipping into interest-generating principal, and in the case of natural capital, avoid contaminating it as well.

The reasons for this are obvious: spending more than the limits of our income puts us in debt. Reducing the size of an endowment reduces its capacity to generate income; contaminating the stocks of air, water, soil, and other living things weakens the endowment even more. Keep this up long enough and, no matter how large and productive, the endowment will eventually weaken and collapse.

This is the situation we are now facing. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution, and as the population has correspondingly exploded, humanity has been tapping and contaminating our natural capital endowment at an ever-increasing rate. We are now at the point where evidence is starkly clear that our seemingly immense and inexhaustible endowment is in fact very limited and under extreme duress.

Ecological Footprint Image
Credit: Global Footprint Network

Since 1970, humanity has been accumulating deficits of natural capital. Each year since and at an ever-increasing rate we have taken more resources than the Earth can regenerate, and produced more waste than the Earth can absorb – the most globally damaging waste being excessive greenhouse gas emissions – annually reducing Earth’s capacity to support life as we know it.

We know this because of an accounting tool known as the Ecological Footprint, “the only measure which tracks how much nature we have – and how much nature we use.” The Ecological Footprint was developed in 1990 by Mathis Wackernagel and William Rees at the University of British Columbia and is managed by the Global Footprint Network (GFN).

To draw attention to humanity’s overuse of nature, GFN created Earth Overshoot Day, which “marks the date when humanity’s demand for ecological resources and services in a given year exceeds what Earth can regenerate in that year…. Earth Overshoot Day is computed by dividing the planet’s biocapacity (the amount of ecological resources Earth is able to generate that year), by humanity’s Ecological Footprint (humanity’s demand for that year), and multiplying by 365, the number of days in a year:

(Planet’s Biocapacity / Humanity’s Ecological Footprint) x 365 = Earth Overshoot Day”

Earth Overshoot Chart
Global Footprint Network National Footprint Accounts 2019

The chart to the right shows the inexorably growing natural capital deficit since 1970, as Earth Overshoot Day occurs earlier and earlier during the year. In 1979, Earth Overshoot Day occurred in late October. 40 years later, in 2019, it occurred on July 29.

According to GFN’s Public Data Package, humanity is using the equivalent of 1.75 Earths; and if everyone lived like the average American the estimate is that it would take 5 Earths to support the human population.

Human population – 2.5 billion in 1950, 7.8 billion today – combined with increased consumption and degradation of natural capital explain why we face a climate crisis, why so many ecosystems are under duress, and to a large extent why there is so much societal turmoil globally.

The Global Footprint Network has calculated each nation’s ecological footprint, and offers an ecological footprint quiz that each of us can take to determine our individual footprints. We have the information and tools at hand to understand individually and collectively how much nature we use, and how much nature we can use and stay within the ecological limits that allow life to thrive.

As GFN points out, “The current trend is not our destiny.” We know everything we need to do to reduce our ecological footprint and restore Earth’s capacity to generate natural capital, which are the same things we need to do to reverse global warming and stabilize the climate.

Furthermore, doing what is necessary does not require sacrificing our quality of life. On the contrary, reversing these trends will create jobs and enhance quality of life across the globe. Not doing what is necessary threatens life as we know it.

GFN has identified five key areas of impact and opportunity:

  • Cities: How we design and manage cities
  • Energy: How we power ourselves
  • Food: How we produce, distribute, and consume food
  • Planet: How we help nature thrive
  • Population: How many of us there are

These five areas mirror the solutions to reversing global warming found in Project Drawdown, and in the internationally adopted Sustainable Development Goals. They are in so many ways the same solutions, solutions that offer extraordinary opportunities.

The Ecological Footprint is a practical accounting tool for understanding “how much nature we have, and how much nature we use.” With this ledger, we can be responsible stewards of our natural capital endowment. We can learn to save. Most importantly, we can learn to respect and live within the laws and limits of the finite Earth, the only source of wealth and wellbeing there is. We have no choice. As Donella Meadows reminds us with this sobering observation: “There will always be limits to growth. They can be self-imposed. If they aren’t they will be system-imposed.”

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New AU Course on Personal Resilience & Sustainability

Post Contributed by Dr. Nanette Chadwick, Academic Sustainability Programs Director

“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” ~Mary Oliver, A Summer’s Day

Academic Sustainability Programs is offering this semester a new 1-credit course, SUST 4900 Personal Resilience and Sustainability. This course arose out of an understanding among our sustainability instructors that Auburn students would benefit from this type of course offering. In this course, students will interact with each other and an experienced instructor to develop and celebrate aspects of personal resilience in the face of major local to global-scale changes that are confronting human society now and in the near future.

This new course will meet for an hour each week, with the timing to be determined by the schedules of enrolled students. It will focus on What is Resilience?, and will offer training in taking care of ourselves and others on a changing planet, in building community around the intention to live sustainably, resourcing in nature, creativity, and ourselves, and in learning deep ecology and practical skills.

If you have space in your course schedule to take 1 more credit this spring, consider this unique course that will explore individual wellbeing at it relates to the sustainability compass. Sustainability Compass Poster

This course can be used as a free elective, or as elective credits toward the Minor in Sustainability Studies in the area of Environment. It could be combined as an elective with our other 1-credit courses or, with study abroad or other types of credits, to create 3 minor elective credits.

We are excited about this new course offering. Contact the instructor Dr. Marilyn Vogel if you have questions, or to receive a copy of the draft syllabus.

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Director’s Corner: Solar Power & Climate Change–Closing the Emissions Gap

“We are like tenant farmers, chopping down the fence around our house for fuel, when we should be using nature’s inexhaustible sources of energy—sun, wind, and tide.”  Thomas Edison in 1931, as quoted by James D. Newton

On November 26th, 2019, the United Nations Environment Program released its Emissions Gap Report 2019.  The gap the report describes is the one between where greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions are, where they are headed, and where they need to be to maintain a stable and safe climate.

In a nutshell, the gap is way too big and it is growing.  According to the report, global temperatures could rise as much as 3.9 degrees Celsius, or 7 degrees Fahrenheit, by the end of the century.  The internationally stated goal for global temperature rise is 1.5 degrees C, or 2.7 degrees F.  The stated absolute upper limit of temperature increase that we can reasonably tolerate is 2.0 degrees C, or 3.6 degrees F.

Areas in the northern latitudes have already seen temperature increases above 2.0 degrees C.

Accompanying the report was a statement released by Inger Andersen, executive director of the U.N. Environment Program. In part, that statement reads: “Our collective failure to act early and hard on climate change means we now must deliver deep cuts to emissions.  We need to catch up on the years in which we procrastinated.”

So now what? I have written before about Project Drawdown, which identifies the top 100 solutions to global warming.  Project Drawdown’s research discovered that humanity is already doing – on a small scale – everything we need to do to reverse global warming and draw down GHG concentrations to a safe level.  We just have to dramatically and quickly scale up what we already know how to do.  Viewed through this lens, Project Drawdown sees the climate crisis to be an opportunity to do things differently and in the process restore a safe and stable climate while creating millions of new and sustainable jobs.

Several ready-made solutions identified by Project Drawdown relate to solar energy.  At least three of them present great opportunities here in Alabama.

One is building more large-scale, or utility-scale, solar farms for large-scale energy users like Auburn University.   According to Drawdown: “When their entire life cycle is taken into account, solar farms curtail 94 percent of the carbon emissions that coal plants emit and completely eliminate emissions of sulfur and nitrous oxides, mercury, and particulates….Currently .4 percent of global electricity generation, utility-scale solar PV grows to 10 percent (by 2050)  in our analysis…. That increase could avoid 36.9 gigatons (36.9 billion tons) of carbon dioxide emissions, while saving $5 trillion in operational costs…—the financial impact of producing energy without fuel.”  And solar energy has become very inexpensive.  Wow!

Another solar solution is rooftop solar for homes and small businesses. If rooftop solar deployment can grow to 7 percent of global electricity generation by 2050, a reasonable expectation, that would reduce GHG emissions by 24.6 gigatons.  It would cost $453.14 billion to implement and save $3.46 trillion net operational savings.  Wow!

Solar thermal, or solar water heating, is a third solution.  According to Drawdown, heating water consumes 25 percent of home energy use and 12 percent of energy use in commercial buildings.  This simple technology has been around for a long time and can be easily installed.  Drawdown’s impact assessment: “If solar water heating grows from 5.5 percent of the addressable market to 25 percent, the technology can deliver emissions reductions of 6.1 gigatons of carbon dioxide and save households $774 billion in energy costs by 2050. In our calculations of up-front costs, we assume solar water heaters supplement and do not replace electric and gas boilers.” Wow!

The Southern Environmental Law Center reports that Alabama ranks 13th nationally in raw solar energy potential, and 8th in potential economic benefit from solar generation of electricity.

What are we waiting for?  Thomas Edison saw the future nearly 90 years ago.

By developing state policies that facilitate the rapid development of unlimited, pollution-free solar energy we can do our part as Alabamians to reduce emissions now, and in the process reap significant economic benefits in terms of lower energy costs and substantial job growth.

One important step is for Alabama to establish renewable energy portfolio standards, something a majority of states have already done. From a November 1, 2019 post at the National Conference of State Legislatures website:

States have been very active in the past year revising their Renewable Portfolio Standards (RPS), which require that a specified percentage of the electricity that utilities sell comes from renewable resources. States have created these standards to diversify their energy resources, promote domestic energy production and encourage economic development. Renewable energy policies help drive the nation’s $64 billion market for wind, solar and other renewable energy sources. These policies can play an integral role in state efforts to diversify their energy mix, promote economic development and reduce emissions. Roughly half of the growth in U.S. renewable energy generation since 2000 can be attributed to state renewable energy requirements.

Twenty-nine states, the District of Columbia, and three territories have established RPS.  Eight states have established voluntary renewable energy goals.  Alabama is one of only twelve states that have neither renewable standards nor voluntary goals.

The Yale Program on Climate Change Communication conducts opinion surveys on climate change and renewable energy and maps the results.  The September 19, 2019, Climate Opinion Map for Alabama reveals that at least half of Alabamians want the governor and local officials to do more to address global warming and a majority of Alabamians support the state requiring utilities to produce 20% of the electricity they generate from renewable sources.

Again I ask, what are we waiting for?  As climate science makes clear, we need to act quickly and on a large scale.  Making the transition to utility-scale and rooftop solar energy will help us do what we must to address the climate crisis while, as the National Conference on State Legislatures says, diversifying our energy resources, promoting domestic energy production, and encouraging economic development.

 

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Plant Ahead Tree Project: Planting with Purpose

Contributed by Allison Foster, School of Forestry and Wildlife Sciences

Coming into Auburn, I had an idea of what I wanted to do but I wasn’t completely sure. My freshman year I took a Conservation Biology Learning Community class and I was exposed to ideas I didn’t really know much about, but I was interested in learning about.

I ended up changing my major to Wildlife Ecology and Management because the people I had met in that major seemed so dedicated and cared about what they were doing. This past summer I was part of a Research Experience for Undergraduates at the University of South Florida, and it focused on Weather, Climate, and Society. We had a variety of guest speakers and one that stuck out to me was Dr. Kim Cobb, from Georgia Tech. Her presentation was about little ways that you, as an individual, can lessen your carbon footprint. She mentioned an organization called Trees Atlanta and I decided to look into it.

I found out that planting trees is one of the best things you can do for the environment. There are so many different ways to reduce your carbon footprint, from the way you travel, what you eat, and what you buy. These are little things that can add up to so much more. Planting trees affects carbon emissions by removing carbon that is already in the atmosphere.

I became inspired to put on something like this at Auburn. I’m so excited to announce that at Auburn, we are having an event called PlanT Ahead where the Auburn community will come together to plant trees. This event will not only impact us locally but will hopefully bring awareness and spread elsewhere.

Learning about climate change can be overwhelming, and it can often feel like there’s no way to help. Small things can do wonders, and that’s why I invite all of y’all to join us in this event and make a difference in your community! Plant Ahead: A Tree Planting Event is taking place at the Mary Olive Thomas Demonstration Forest on January 22nd.

Register to receive pre-event safety details and to get pizza at the event.

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Constructing a Gold Standard on the Field & in the Future

Contributed by Auburn Athletics Student Communicator

Phelps Gambill ImageThe world is ever-changing as we advance with new technologies and the industries that support it. With this comes even more construction for renovations and new buildings.

How does that change co-exist with the world around us as we strive to keep the Earth green and sustainable for the future? Junior tight end Phelps Gambill is one of the many Auburn student-athletes who can help us understand our move forward into how these projects go green for a cleaner job site.

“My background is in the construction industry and I am a building science major here at Auburn,” he said. “I have had a couple classes on sustainable construction, and I have worked on multiple jobs in my career focused on different ways we can get LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certified, which is how you get the accolades to be a green company.

“One important thing could be something as simple as ordering local materials for your job site,” he said. “You would not order parts from California if you were doing a job in Florida. You order from the same local area where your building site is, not only helping out the local community but also not burning as much fuel to transport those materials.”

Gambill is hands-on with this material and knows the cost of wasteful sites that do not consider the proper procedures to be a green company. That is why he plans on moving into this business space, eventually run a green-certified company of his own.

“I want to start my own contracting and general building/development company,” he said. “I have already had a goal set that I want every single one of my jobs to be LEED (Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design) certified gold standard. That is my main goal and something I will always fight for as I move towards my future.”

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Plan to Power Down for Break

Post originally published in 2016 and contributed by Kenzley Defler, Office of Sustainability Intern 

The holiday break for Auburn University is just around the corner, so there’s no doubt people’s thoughts are filled with travel plans to see family and friends. Much of campus is vacant during the winter weeks of December and January, as most students go home and many faculty and staff aren’t in their offices for part of the break. Have you ever considered what goes on in empty residence halls and offices when no one is living or working in them? In terms of human use, there may not be much activity, however, lots of energy is still being used when there’s no one there to enjoy it. Given the large amount of money Auburn University spends on powering campus per year, around $13,555,000 for electricity and $4,841,000 for natural gas, any actions we can take will help the university save money over winter break. In addition, energy production and consumption from non-renewable sources is a main emitter of greenhouse gases, which are contributing to climate change. By being aware of how you leave your residence hall, office, or apartment for a long break, you can help the Auburn community save money and energy this winter. So this year, before you start packing to leave campus, take a minute to check out these tips to power down during the holiday break!

Picture of Electrical Cord PlugUnplug appliances
  • Computer monitors, printers, scanners, televisions, gaming systems, space heaters, fans, lamps, toasters, and coffeemakers are great places to start, as these appliances won’t be used if no one is in the building over a long break. Appliances such as these consume a phantom energy load, meaning they pull energy even when not turned on or in direct use. Annually 75% of electricity used to power homes is consumed when products are off1. By unplugging over break, you can get rid of phantom energy loads throughout your residence hall, apartment, or office building.
Unplug and clean refrigerators and freezers
  • The electricity used by larger appliances is significant, and reducing it can greatly increase savings if not in use for a month. If you can completely unplug, be sure no food is left inside, so you won’t come back to a spoiled mess. If it’s not possible to unplug, cleaning refrigerators and freezers is still beneficial. Dust and dirt that build up on coils located under and behind the unit cause it to work harder for longer cycles. Energy consumption can be reduced 6% by removing dust from the outside of the appliance 2-3 times a year5. In addition, frost build up increases the amount of energy needed to run. Before leaving for break is a perfect time to clean, defrost, and unplug.
Turn off lights
  • In a typical campus building 31% of energy use comes from lighting,2 making turning off lights an easy way to save both money and energy. Before walking out of the office or residence hall for break, do a quick walk through and flip the switches off.
Lower blinds and close curtains
  • Heat transfer occurs from warm to cool areas, meaning a warm house in the winter is subject to lose heat as it flows to the cooler outside temperatures. Even when all windows appear to be completely closed, heat is still lost through a building’s walls, roof, and floor. About 35% of the heat produced by a building will be lost through gaps in and around windows and doors3. By closing curtains and blinds before leaving, you can decrease the amount of heat wasted from your residence hall or office building.
Turn thermostats down
  • In an apartment you have direct control of your unit’s heating and cooling system and can adjust accordingly for the time you will be gone by turning your heating system down. In an office setting, even if you only control your individual room or you have a limited range of control, remember every degree counts and even small efforts can cause big changes. In fact, lowering the thermostat by 1 degree results in monetary savings of 3% off your bill4. Not only will this save you money, it’s environmentally-friendly because fewer resources will be used for heating an unoccupied building.

These small actions are good habits to develop every time you leave a building, and are especially important before leaving for an extended amount of time. Make this holiday break more sustainable and give a gift to the environment by powering down your residence hall, apartment, or office building before leaving campus!

 

 

Sources

1 Associated Electric Cooperative Inc. Take Control and Save. http://www.takecontrolandsave.coop/documents/PhantomLoad.pdf

2 National Grid. Managing Energy Costs in Colleges and Universities.  https://www9.nationalgridus.com/non_html/shared_energyeff_college.pdf

3 The Green Age. Where am I loosing heat in my home? http://www.thegreenage.co.uk/where-am-i-losing-heat-home/

4 US News- Personal Finance. 9 Ways to Save on Your Utility Bill. http://money.usnews.com/money/blogs/my-money/2014/02/21/9-ways-to-save-on-your-utility-bill

5 Horizon Services: Plumbing, Heating, and Air Conditioning. Frugal Fridge Maintenance Can Save You Energy…and Cold Hard Cash. https://www.horizonservices.com/about-us/blog/frugal-fridge-maintenance-can-save-you-energy-and-cold-hard-cash/

 

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Director’s Corner: The Necessary & Inevitable Transportation Transformation

“The industrial age of energy and transportation will be over by 2030.  Maybe before.”  Tony Seba, Clean Disruption of Energy and Transportation

Is it possible that a transformation to sustainable energy and transportation systems is right around the corner?

According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, in 2017 the transportation sector accounted for the largest portion of U.S. greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, at 29%.  Electricity generation was a close second at 28%.

Internationally, transport accounts for about 20% of global GHG emissions however globally emissions are on the rise as increases in passenger and freight volumes are growing and are expected to continue to grow through 2050.

So transportation is a significant contributing source of GHG and is projected to grow at a time when the world must do all we can to stop GHG emissions and reduce atmospheric concentrations well below current levels.  In October 2018, the Washington Post published a story on a recent Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change report that humanity has about a decade to make drastic changes to reduce GHG emissions before the climate reaches cascading tipping points beyond which our current way of life would not be possible.

Something has to happen.

Enter Tony Seba, Silicon Valley entrepreneur and instructor in Entrepreneurship, Disruption and Clean Energy at Stanford University’s Continuing Studies Program. He is convinced we are on the cusp of what he calls a “clean disruption of energy and transportation,” which is the title of the book he wrote in 2014.  You can watch a talk Seba gave on this subject in 2018 in Boulder, CO.

He presents a compelling case.  Regarding automobile transportation specifically here are just a few of his observations and predictions:

  • Electric vehicles (EVs), ride-sharing, and autonomous vehicles mean that the world of everyday auto transportation will look entirely different in ten years.
  • Electric vehicles are 5x more energy efficient than those powered by internal combustion engines (ICE); 10x cheaper to “fill up”; 10x cheaper to maintain.
  • EVs will contribute to grid storage of electricity.
  • Individual ownership of autos will plummet.
  • By 2025, ICE vehicles will no longer be competitive with EVs.

Seba explains that cell phones, personal computers, and the Internet started as distinct products serving different markets. Their unforeseen complementary natures became interwoven and accelerated mutual adoption in society and together they transformed the world.  Mostly for the better.

In the same way, according to Seba, solar energy, electric vehicles, and self-driving cars are disruptive technologies that will interweave to exponentially amplify each other and completely change auto transportation – and energy production – to be much more sustainable across society, including making transportation more affordable for everyone. Within the next ten years.

Of course, Seba has much more to say and goes into significantly more interesting and promising detail in his book and lectures.  And because this column is about transportation I am not going to address what he has to say about the near-term transformation of the energy market away from coal, oil, natural gas, biofuels, and nuclear, and the rapid widespread adoption of solar, wind, and other renewables.

All of this is driven by market forces, not government regulation.

Seba’s book leaves unaddressed long-haul trucking, ocean freight, and air travel, which have significant GHG impacts.  But the prospects he does describe are credible, exciting, and heartening, some much-needed positive forecasting during a particularly dark time on the sustainability front when so many trends are headed the wrong way, and amplified by wrong-headed policies at the federal level.

And let’s be clear: market forces alone will not save us.

We need thoughtful policies and programs coordinated at every level of government, nationally and internationally on our interconnected world, to solve the planetary emergency of climate change and the social, economic, and environmental crises related to it.  Which means we need policy makers who represent the public interest and the common good.  Which means electing policy makers who serve the common good.

We need a social contract with each other to act from our common humanity and our shared values, working across difference using the processes of deliberative democracy to envision our desired future and commit to creating it.

Change can happen quickly, for better or for worse.  If change emerges from our shared values and commitment to the common good then the future holds great promise.  Which is why it is essential that we stay engaged over the long term, inspired by our “better angels,” laser-focused on achieving the outcomes we want, and nothing less.

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Co-Creating a Sustainable Economy–Our Conference Takeaways

Here in the Office of Sustainability, the goal of our internship program is to transform our student interns into sustainability practitioners who are equipped to lead others in solving the sustainability challenges our world is facing. One of the most powerful professional development experiences we provide is the opportunity to attend the premier conference for sustainability in higher education. Hosted by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), the 2019 conference’s theme was Co-Creating a Sustainable Economy. The diversity of interests from those in our office resulted in a wide range of takeaways from the conference, which we would like to share with you.

Benjamin Boehle: Design Specialist, Student Staff

The greatest takeaway I got from attending the AASHE conference was the amount of support for sustainability and like-minded peers I met. This incredible opportunity to hear from world-class speakers and countless people I could learn from was such an eye-opening experience. While there may be much resistance in areas that are still with deep ties to the fossil fuel industry, there is also a feeling of hope that was left upon me. This feeling of striving to do better to correct these global climate issues is a powerful, life-changing amount of inspiration and drive. The takeaways given back from AASHE and the attendees were wonderful and I hope each year there is a growing number of advocates and activists for sustainability.

Beatriz Carmona: Data Analyst, Student Staff

Prior to attending AASHE, I wasn’t aware of how widespread campus sustainability offices are around the nation. Interacting with other sustainability interns, from offices in small community colleges or large land grant universities like us, was incredibly refreshing. I focused my sessions mostly on zero waste packaging ideas and food waste repurposing, and it was great to learn how other campuses have implemented fresh, student-sparked ideas in their spaces. Both of the keynote speakers also charged me with change-making energy. Varshini Prakash spoke about her experience as an undergraduate that led her university’s successful fossil fuel divestment campaign, and more recently co-founded the Sunrise Movement which has helped raise tremendous public support for the Green New Deal. Bill McKibben, author and co-founder of the first planet-wide climate change movement “350.org,” shared touching images of people from all corners of the world who feel the impact of climate change much more quickly and severely than many of us here do. The conference has provided me with a multifaceted testament to the saying “one person can make a difference”, and a reminder that if we all do our part, what we can accomplish is insurmountable.

Taylor Kraabel: Employee Engagement Coordinator, Student Staff 

Perhaps the most thought-provoking and worthwhile session I attended was “Green in a Red State: Working in Conservative Environments”. Initially, I assumed this session would be a haven for sustainability advocates from conservative environments to air our grievances and frustrations. However, I found this to be largely untrue. Instead of griping about all the things we could not do or change, the session focused on appealing to our audience and methods to reduce the many stigmas around sustainability. One of the major topics of discussion was the general miseducation we encounter when we talk about sustainability. It is a common misconception to think sustainability is simply about recycling, reusable water bottles, etc. when in fact that does not even begin to cover sustainability’s scope. Brainstorming and sharing with others on how to promote the wellbeing, economic, and social aspects of sustainability was incredibly beneficial.

We also discussed the idea of utilizing the systems already in place at our respective institutions to promote sustainability in a way that appeals to our cultural climates. For instance, several universities have adopted creative ways of promoting the Sustainability Compass and giving students a say in what sustainability initiatives the university undertakes. The opportunity to discuss our sustainability efforts with like-minded individuals provided new perspectives to problems and innovative ways to incorporate sustainability in our conservative environments.

Patience Ray: Communication Specialist, Student Staff

At AASHE, I learned that sustainability isn’t only about the environment or saving the planet. It’s also about renewable energy and savings, healthy economies and individuals, protecting our agricultural resources and staying ahead of the competition. Pursuing renewable technologies as a university will give us the education and “the knowledge to work wisely and train [our] minds and [our] hands to work skillfully.” Sustainability is Auburn’s path to a bright future. AASHE helped me understand that sustainability should be at the root of every decision. Our research and what we invest in as students and as a university is what will make us leaders and changemakers in the ever-evolving social and financial markets. And if what we invest in builds a better world for all, we will be known for our “honesty and truthfulness.” I’m inspired to believe in a university that sustains its community and looks to the future. Because we can be a university that truly “believe[s] in [our] Country, because it is a land of freedom and because it is [our] own home, and …[we] can best serve that country by “doing justly, loving mercy, and walking humbly with [our] God.” We believe in sustainability–it’s in our very creed. “And because Auburn men and women believe in these things, I believe in Auburn and love it.”

Ferrell Sullivan: Outreach Coordinator, Student Staff

This was my second year attending AASHE. Just like last year, it is a burst of energy, ideas, and shared goals. One of my favorite things I felt enlightened by was the constant stream of new and interesting ideas to reach out to students and the community. Whether it’s catapulting pumpkins after Halloween into a compost, starting a Free Store to encourage students to reuse and donate rather than landfill their own items, or creating a vulnerable conversation on campus about what students think, know, and feel about climate change. AASHE gave me excitement instead or nervousness to speak up to our very conservative board of trustees about changing how our campus implements sustainability and how they need to be transparent with their spending. I feel back up by hundreds of others that it is possible that I can make a difference on my campus especially with student power. This year also inspired me to get more creative with diversifying our events, reaching out to certain niches of people within our campus such as an idea of giving out menstrual cups to the women on our campus to start a conversation on waste. This year really gave a sense of clarity that everything we do, everything we shift, every conversation we start really does matter, but we need to do more.

Mike Kensler: Director 

Each year when I attend the AASHE conference, I am struck by the collegial, collaborative, mission-driven energy that permeates the conference.  Sustainability work requires facing many deeply troubling conditions and trends for people and the planet. At the same time this work requires resilience and openness to finding new ways of thinking and acting that can transform our world for the better.  This conference provides the opportunity to openly acknowledge our deepest concerns, and mutually acknowledging our fears is a healing experience.  At the same time, I always leave reminded of this community of colleagues and learn of exciting innovations and accomplishments on campuses and in communities around the world.  I leave buoyed with a new sense of possibility and resolve.  AASHE Executive Director Meghan Fay Zahniser reminded us, “Just because it seems impossible today doesn’t get us off the hook.”  Exactly.  Staying on the hook has for many brought new realities into being that were once deemed impossible.  Nelson Mandela is one who would know.  He said “It always seems impossible until it’s done.”  The conference theme this year was Co-Creating a Sustainable Economy, one that creates wellbeing for all.  All of us in the office returned re-energized to stay on the hook, contributing what we can to make a sustainable economy a reality.

Jen Morse: Outreach and Communications, Staff

One of the most inspirational sessions for me was a panel on ‘Cutting Through the Noise’, or how to get your sustainability-related stories heard by a broader audience. One of the panelists was from SUNY Geneseo’s top communications office. Similarly to Auburn University, they have many stories to share related to their work around the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Their communications office compiled videos, news, projects, and initiatives of the college and alumni from across campus and throughout the world, dating back to 2011. Using ArcGIS they created an interactive storytelling map where visitors can view stories and media by location around the globe or by the SDGs. While hearing initiatives and results from a multitude of universities at the conference was very uplifting, I especially found inspiration from those of SUNY Geneseo. The effort of framing their accomplishments around the SDGs was executed by their central communications office. While their sustainability office did have a role to play, this amazing interactive interface would not have come to be without the insight and support of upper their administration and central communications office. Here at Auburn we are also working to address the SDGs by becoming a member of the United Nations Sustainable Development Solutions Network (SDSN). More about Auburn joining the SDSN and connections to the university’s strategic plan are shared in the March 2019 Director’s Corner: The United Nations Sustainable Development Goals are ‘No Little Plans.’

Amy Strickland: Program Manager, Staff

I had the opportunity to participate in a special type of session at this year’s AASHE conference called a “Deep Dive.” In this session, we spent about 4 hours hearing from and brainstorming with leaders from Procurement offices at two major research universities. By spending so much time on one topic and with subject matter experts, those in attendance gained a nuanced understanding of the role and responsibilities of Procurement professionals and how sustainability can enhance and support their work. Given the many intersections between sustainability and matters related to procurement, like the supply chain, costs of ownership, and disposal concerns, it’s easy to see how our office can work hand-in-hand with our Procurement professionals to advance both Auburn’s economic interests, but also support key advances around the Sustainability Compass.

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