Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Live From AASHE

On Sunday evening I arrived in Raleigh, NC to attend the annual conference of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. The conference is really impressive and sustainability has been thought through in every aspect of the planning. Let me share a few of the things happening here.

On the way to the airport I was telling my wife I felt a bit guilty flying 700 miles to attend a conference on sustainability. Flying is not really a sustainable action. However, when I arrived I discovered that conference planners used a company called Blue Horizons to offset all the travel of the attendees. Rather than asking conference attendees to consider paying to offset their travel, planners just did it and incorporated the costs into the conference fee. The fee now more accurately reflects the true cost of the conference by taking into account the environmental impact of flying.

When I entered the conference hall I was overly impressed with the recycling stations. They actually call them the Resource Recovery Stations and not recycling. At the stations there were five containers: paper recycling, plastic recycling, organics and compostables, liquids, and landfill waste. I loved the sign on the garbage stating landfill waste. Let's just make it flat out clear that what is put in this container is going to fill the landfill. The organizers are estimating they will generate 30% of the waste of a typical conference. The meals and snacks have all been served on washable plates and cups. If disposable products are used, they are starch based cups so they can be placed in the compostable bin. Again I'm sure the cost was more but this is what it is going to take to force people into making the right decision.

The meals did not have any red meat. In fact most of the meals were vegetarian based. I did see chicken served a few times but all the people I ate with were choosing meatless options. At one of the sessions I attended I learned that about 1/3 of global greenhouse gases are from agriculture and over half of that is due to livestock. Eating less meat is a great way to reduce your footprint. Some colleges are incorporating Meatless Mondays, which I think is a great idea to promote awareness of foodprints.

I have one more day of sessions and I will be back in Boston tonight. There is good stuff happening here, and I am excited to share with the Lasell community what I have learned. I have been impressed with the energy at the conference and I am hopeful that institutions of higher education will step up and meet the challenge to make our campuses sustainable places to live, work, and study.

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