Blog Post

Conversations About Not Attempting the Impossible and Then Achieving It: The ASHEE Conference

ASHEE Conference 2019 - Leaders discussing integrated planning around sustainability.

I’m paraphrasing the well-known author Pearl Buck, but she maintained that the young do not know enough to not attempt the impossible, and that’s exactly how they achieve it, generation after generation. The thought certainly came to mind when I had the pleasure of attending the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s (AASHE’s) annual conference in Spokane a few weeks ago.

It was no surprise that I was with a number of folks who have made far fewer journeys around the sun than I. After all, AASHE 2019 was focused on the relationship between our economic system and the continued rise in carbon emissions – a topic that certainly resonates with a new generation. I was struck by the focus on future thinking by the younger professionals I encountered. I found them less geared toward what they could absorb from others and more about a desire to create solutions, together. That manifested itself in how they challenged me about SCUP as well – they were far more interested in where we are going than where we’ve been.

But at the same time, the conference was designed to showcase and strengthen higher education’s contributions to the movement for a sustainable economy. In other words, it was every bit as concerned with social sustainability as environmental. The synergy here, given SCUPs participation in the national dialog on sustainable practices in higher education, was welcome and in perfect alignment with the daily concerns I hear from our members.

I also had an opportunity to engage on sustainability topics with representatives from several higher education associations including AASHE, NACUBO, and CSHEMA (Campus Safety, Health, and Environmental Management Association). Session after session I heard from many institutions on how they were tying integrated planning to sustainability initiatives. It became more apparent that higher education is acting on and recognizing the importance of developing cross-campus relationships that span (and move beyond) traditional boundaries. As one example, I participated in a session discussion with representatives from the USEPA on the Energy Star program and its importance on campuses. While the obvious pull to facilities was front and center, I had countless conversations around how vital space management and utilization of existing buildings are to sustainability initiatives – something many of our SCUP members tackle each day.

As SCUP looks to enhance and expand opportunities to advance higher education, that means challenging campuses, organizations, and our strategic partners to join with next generation voices to create integrated planning solutions. We can only do that if we keep sustainability questions front and center. Like SCUP, success here is about connection and continued conversation.