Freshly returned from the bright, sunny land of Minneapolis (not joking, actually), ASWC Sustainability Chair Dani Hupper and I have plenty of new ideas from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Conference.
Our abode for the trip was none other than the Ice Man’s loft. Seriously: the proprietor, well known around the local bar scene for his frosty craft, owns an ice sculpture company. We crashed at his place for our stay, and he provided some much-needed tips for places to go in the area. One night we took a short bike tour (shouts out to urban bike share programs!) around the uptown area to see some newer parts of the city. We also took a brief sojourn to St. Paul to visit Macalaster College, where some friends cooked us a lovely dinner.
The AASHE Conference was a whirlwind of at least 2000 people: mostly college students, but also some professors, administrators, and representatives from the private sector as well. The first day focused on the Student Summit, with sessions only for students, and speaker Dr. Eban Goodstein doing his best Al Gore impersonation. Throughout the day we talked to other students about banning plastic water bottles (Whitman, it turns out, is one of very few schools to have already done this) and fossil fuel divestment.
The workshops over the next couple of days taught some useful skills for interacting with both students and administrators. Dani and I will be sure to use these in our work with the Whitman community. Specifically, the conference inspired the internal carbon tax legislation that ASWC just passed. The tax will be implemented next year: students who seek money from the Travel and Student Development Fund will also include a calculation based on their distance and mode of travel in their request. ASWC will move the money earned from the tax to the Green Fund, a source for sustainable projects on campus. In addition, Campus Climate Challenge ran a Spring Break trip to the Navajo reservation last year to give some of its members personal experience with the real effects of the fossil fuel industry. I attended a session all about how to plan these kind of trips and ensure participants get the full experience from them. I hope to use these strategies for our return trip this year, and hopefully make it an annual event for CCC.
Throughout the conference, we were able to speak in depth with the Whitman Campus Sustainability Coordinator, Tristan Sewell, who was also in attendance. He gave us much-needed perspective on what has been tried already at Whitman, and what programs were feasible to complete. We also explored the exhibition hall, which meant talking to more than 50 different vendors of various sustainability-related products and programs. After hearing about recyclable graduation gowns from Oak Hill Cap & Gown, Dani and the ASWC Sustainability Committee investigated the possibility of using this material for Whitman’s graduation gowns. It turns out we already do! With the Living @ Whitman initiative in mind, I spoke to a group that trains cleaning staff to use safer products and methods in campus buildings. A trained custodial staff gets a building a free LEED point, so this could potentially be used in the new residence and dining halls, should they be approved.
AASHE provided Dani and me with lots of skills and ideas that will make their way into our campus work both immediately and in the long-term. We can’t thank the ASWC Executive Council enough for funding us to go, and we’re really looking forward to what else might come from this experience. Who says it’s not easy being green?
Mitchell Cutter, CCC President