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SPECIAL EDITION NEWSLETTER - Sustainability Initiative Undergraduate Interns share their responses to the national AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education) conference earlier in the semester

AUBURN'S NEW GENERATION OF SUSTAINABILITY PROFESSIONALS

 


In mid-October, the Sustainability Initiative’s five interns, Matt Williams, and I attended the AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education) conference in Tempe, Arizona. We were joined by a sixth intern who is working with the AU Farmers’ Market group. It was my third campus sustainability meeting so I knew what to expect, but for some of the students this was not only their first sustainability conference, but their first professional conference.

The sustainability conferences are more interesting than the usual academic meeting, but for me this one was very special because I got to watch the students learn more about sustainability and get very excited about what they were learning. They returned to Auburn a little bit wiser, each of them having gained something a little different. You’ll see what I mean in their comments that follow in this newsletter.

Lindy Biggs
Director
AU Sustainability Initiative

SUSTAINABILITY AS A SOCIAL JUSTICE ISSUE

 

Leanne Rickey
Senior, Interior Design
Auburn Sustainability Initiative Intern

We all saw from Hurricane Katrina that climate change and all of its adverse consequences really affect the poorest of us the most – even in a country as wealthy as America. So just imagine, for example, what could happen if global warming continues unchecked and the water levels rise all around the world, leaving people in places like New Orleans, Bangladesh and India without a home. Millions of people around the world could lose everything and have nowhere to go, because they are the poorest of the poor.

Throughout our three days at the AASHE conference, issues such as this were repeatedly mentioned, making me think of sustainability like I never had before – as a social justice issue. These types of issues tend to get my attention and concern more than most other issues, but I had always thought of them as their own separate issue. The things I learned at the AASHE conference tied things together in my head that I had never actually considered to be related. Once I did connect them, though, it made perfect sense to me that social justice and sustainability are actually very closely related.

Sustainability and stewardship of the earth are not just things to pat yourself on the back about, but rather things that are your responsibility to your neighbors; and they are vitally important to us if we are going to create a sense of community within this enormous world. The speaker who made the biggest impression on me spoke the very first night. Bill McKibben, an environmentalist and writer, emphasized the fact that our world is in fact one big community and we should treat it as such. We must be good stewards of the Earth and whatever resources we may have, not only for our Earth’s sake, but also for our neighbors who could be hit the hardest by climate change and other environmental issues if we do nothing about them.

THE DEFINING ISSUE OF OUR TIME

 

Liz Clayton
Senior, Architecture/Interior Architecture
Auburn Sustainability Initiative Intern

“It is the defining issue of our time.” -Bill McKibben

I’m an architecture student getting ready to do a thesis project on the topic of sustainability on campuses. I went into the AASHE conference looking for ideas to help on my project, but I ended up finding out a lot more. Bill McKibben outlined several reasons why universities need to make a push, and quickly, towards sustainability. A campus is a small scale community where it is possible to see if the necessary transformations of human practices are possible. In addition, universities generally have more people on campus that understand the science behind sustainable practices.

Other universities have begun to address sustainability on many different levels. Campus environmental master plans can incorporate sustainable themes on a broad scale by addressing not only built form and water systems, but also social patterns throughout the campus. The adoption of a sustainability rating system for a campus can help encourage improvement. Multidisciplinary sustainability curriculum can be incorporated campus wide to help educate future professionals about the importance of sustainability. Student-led initiatives, such as recycling and composting, can show other students a way to make an immediate impact. However, what was most apparent from all the examples was that everyone is a very long way from reaching a sustainable campus.

Meteorologist James Hansen has predicted that the world has ten years to change the amount of carbon entering the atmosphere before we will reach a point of no return on climate change (if we even have that much time). Auburn University, which is currently developing a new master plan, has the opportunity, along with the other 150 member institutions of AASHE, to begin making immediate sustainable changes in an effort to help reduce the carbon. It is time for Auburn, which is fortunately beginning to take some strides in the direction of sustainability, to begin contributing, and I’m going to investigate how.

THE MOVEMENT

 

Zac Henson
Senior, Anthropology
Auburn Sustainability Initiative Intern/ Intern for AU Farmer’s Market

The movement. The movement. I heard it everywhere from everyone, and I learned that we are not alone in the battles that we fight for environmental justice. I saw a diverse crowd of students, businessmen, educators, and activists all preaching the same sermon – or message, believing that change can happen. The AASHE conference didn’t educate me as much as it allowed me to see the successes of other people in other parts of the country. Other campuses are implementing successful food-to-university plans and composting, land grant universities in some areas are beginning to focus on sustainable agriculture research, and some large corporations such as Interface, Inc. are concerned with becoming environmentally and socially responsible. It can happen.

THE LIGHT IS ON

 

Devin Dotson
Senior, Agricultural Communications
Auburn Sustainability Initiative Intern

A great conference is one from which an attendee returns excited, refreshed and with new ideas. The AASHE conference provided the perfect opportunity for my fellow student interns and me to learn more about environmental issues, how sustainability addresses them, and sustainability projects on other campuses around the U.S.

One area that really caught my attention was other campuses’ work in student residence buildings. Universities like UC-Berkeley are focusing on the large amounts of energy these buildings consume and working toward reducing it and making them more energy efficient. A student group there researched the number of incandescent light bulbs being used by students in their rooms and the number of hours used daily and calculated current energy use. They then figured the same number of lights as compact fluorescent lights and the energy they would use. Their calculations showed that after only six months, the cost of conversion would be covered by the energy saved and everything beyond that point was complete energy and monetary savings! The university immediately accepted their plan and the conversions were made. Simple ideas such as these show that real people in real situations can achieve positive change.

I returned excited, filled with fresh ideas and, most importantly, hope. New friends in sustainability and professional contacts are already proving helpful as we continue working at Auburn’s Sustainability Initiative toward a positive future. It’s time to work!

THE SUSTAINABILITY STORY

 

Sara Henry
Senior, English/Anthropology
Auburn Sustainability Initiative Intern

The AASHE conference at Arizona State University was an educational experience that helped me focus my interest in Sustainability and the environmental world. I went to several presentations that really hit home; they were interesting topics and gave me a new focus for graduate studies as well as a future career. The presentation that influenced me the most a session on eco-literacy, using natural history storytelling to educate a community about their local resources, and the overall impact of what shared information can do. Though our conference was only three days long, I came home inspired by the wealth of information that was shared from people from around the country, in multiple disciplines all working toward a common goal. I feel that my experience at this conference is responsible for my plans to go on to graduate school with the hopes of becoming an educator of environmental awareness and the importance of sustainability throughout the world.


Visit Auburn Sustainability Initiative for more information about Auburn's environmental stewardship efforts.
 
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