Second Nature at AASHE 2011

October 18, 2011

A team of students and faculty from Alfred State College pose with electric car at AASHE 2011.*

The 2011 AASHEConference, held in Pittsburgh Oct. 9-12, was a great success.  Second Nature was very involved, delivering plenary talks, panel sessions, and more, that highlighted our work supporting the ACUPCC.

The following members of the Second Nature staff, fellows and board were in attendance: Peter Bardaglio, Sarah Brylinsky, Tony Cortese, Georges Dyer, Bill Johnson, Nilda Mesa, Steve Muzzy, Toni Nelson, Andrea Putman, and Mitchell Thomashow.  As were our friends from the following ACUPCC Sponsor organizations: Organica,SiemensTraneWaste ManagementGreenerU and the American Meteorological Society.

Below are brief summaries of Second Nature’s main activities at the conference.  And here are links to presentations from some of Second Nature’s sessions:

Sunday, Oct. 9

Student Summit: The 2011 AASHE Student Summit hosted more than 600 attendees with a keynote from Bill McKibben founder of, and several motivating peer-to-peer presentation sessions.  Sarah Brylinsky represented the Second Nature team by facilitating breakout discussion groups for networking and action planning with the students, and provided an overview of the ACUPCC to students interested in climate action and sustainability education work on campus. Sarah also led a breakout networking session Tuesday evening with Steve Muzzy and members of the AASHE team for 30-40 students, focused explicitly on connecting students working on similar issues, including signing the ACUPCC and regional climate action.

Northeast Campus Sustainability Consortium (NECSC): Nilda Mesa, Assistant Vice President of Environmental Stewardship at Columbia University, and Second Nature Board member,  participated in the NECSC Steering Committee meeting on Sunday and the NECSC networking meeting on Tuesday.  At both, the Steering Committee continued their planning process for the NECSC spring conference, which will be in April 2012 at Syracuse University, and will focus on the theme of community.

Monday, Oct. 10

Plenary — Tony Cortese provided all conference attendees with an update on the ACUPCC, underscoring why this sector-wide initiative is so important, and necessary in addition to the good work being done on individual campuses.  He shared recent data and statistics on the cumulative impact of the ACUPCC, which can be seen in his presentation here.

Plenary Keynote — Dr. Timothy White, Chancellor of UC Riverside, and Chair of the ACUPCC Steering Committee delivered the plenary keynote on Monday, stressing the importance of the ACUPCC and the role of presidential leadership in supporting and making possible leadership from all levels of the institution to foster the kind of transformational change needed to achieve climate neutrality.

Representatives from some of the 32 institutions of the Billion Dollar Green Challenge's Founding Circle

Billion Dollar Green Challenge launch — Georges Dyer and Toni Nelsonrepresented Second Nature and the ACUPCC on stage as members of the Advisory Council for the Billion Dollar Green Challenge – an exciting new initiative that was launched at the conference by the Sustainable Endowments Institute. The BDGC encourages colleges and universities to invest a combined total of $1 billion in self-managed green revolving funds to finance sustainability projects on campuses.  So far 32 institutions are participating, with $65 million in funds.

Straight to the Top: Why Sustainability Officers Should Report to the President — Mitchell Thomashow, director of the Second Nature Presidential Fellows program and Jesse Pyles, Sustainability Coordinator from Unity College, presented on the importance and function of the direct report of a sustainability officer to the president. According to AASHE’s 2010 Higher Education Sustainability Staffing Survey, 28 of the 433 respondents report directly

Representatives from some the Billion Dollar Green Challenge Advisory Council organizations

to the president. We maintain that successful sustainability work in higher education requires a pan-organizational view and the proper mix of grassroots and administrative support – all gained by a direct report to the president. The president is charged with maintaining the overall health of the organization – an institution-wide perspective increasingly demanded of sustainability professionals charged with tasks in administration and planning, academics, operations, student affairs, outreach, and more. The president sets the process and governance agenda at his or her institution and can ensure that sustainability perspectives are included in campus decision-making bodies through appointment of or counsel with his or her sustainability officer. The president also sets the tone of the college or university and can influence sustainability from the bottom up by emphasizing sustainability in internal communications and external relations. By reporting directly to the chief campus executive, sustainability efforts gain internal validation, external visibility, and institution-wide perspective.

Presidents’ Lunch Meeting — Mitch Thomashow, Tony Cortese, and Georges Dyer worked with AASHE to coordinate a lunch for college and university presidents, hosted by Esther Barazzone, president of Chatham University on the Chatham campus in Pittsburgh.  Presidents heard from Dr. Thomashow about the Presidential Fellows program and the need for presidents to work together in leading change for sustainability.  They heard from Dr. Cortese about the latest news from the ACUPCC and Second Nature’s efforts to support presidential leadership on sustainability.  And they heard from Dr. Barazzone about Chatham’s efforts to promote education for sustainability, including founding the School of Sustainability and the Environment and the green development of their new Eden Hall Campus. Presidents then held an engaging dialogue on the president’s role in leading for sustainability, and they successes and challenges faced on their own campuses.

The Eden Hall Campus will also be the new home of Chatham's new School of Sustainability and the Environment. Programs at Eden Hall Campus include an environmental learning lab, initiatives in sustainability and environmental studies, food studies, landscape architecture, and women's studies.

Tues. Oct. 11

The Next Big Thing: Sustainability as a Core Strategic Initiative — Second Nature’s Andrea Putman and Peter Bardaglio, along with Dave Newport, Director of the Environmental Center at University of Colorado, Boulder, presented on the need for a shift in the campus sustainability movement from an itemized list of ad hoc actions taken in the areas of curriculum, research, facilities, campus operations, and community outreach, to a more sophisticated framework that views sustainability as a core strategic imperative that drives broad campus outcomes. As noted organizational experts David Lubin and Daniel Esty of the Yale School of Management observe, “sustainability is an emerging megatrend” requiring corporate leaders “to adapt and innovate or be swept aside.” Thus higher education institutions that hope to flourish in the 21st century need to see sustainability as not only the right thing to do, but also the smart thing. The session explored what it takes to adopt a more integrated approach that focuses the institution on long-term strategy rather than short-term gains, encourages systems thinking, generates a culture of innovation and efficiency, promotes institutional alignment, strengthens campus governance, and fosters sound risk management processes. It examined howSTARS informs a more robust sense of campus sustainability and how the emerging doctrine of “Total Sustainability” builds on STARS to identify how and why campus sustainability activities should be advanced in a systematic, comprehensive fashion. In addition, the session showed how effective engagement with the community can strengthen an institution’s sustainability strategy, reinforce systems thinking, and build valuable social and political capital.  Peter Bardaglio’s slides can be accessed here, and Dave Newport’s slides are available here.

IL Networking Session — Toni Nelson, Steve Muzzy, and Sarah Brylinsky hosted a networking sessions for Implementation Liaisons (ILs) from ACUPCC institutions.  The IL Networking meetings are an opportunity for signatories of the ACUPCC to meet and share best practices and challenges they are facing in regards to fulfilling the requirements of the Commitment. The meetings provide a space for dialogue amongst colleagues and sharing of information to help facilitate peer learning. These meetings are held twice annually at sustainability in higher education conferences where there will already be a large number of signatory schools in attendance.

Plenary — Mitchell Thomashow delivered an excellent and lively plenary session that focused on his new work directing the Presidential Fellows program at Second Nature and supporting the Billion Dollar Green Challenge, as well as his work leading sustainability and organizational change as the president of Unity College, highlighting the Nine Elements of A Sustainable Culture, which provides a framework for advancing sustainable living and teaching in a variety of campus environments, and is the knowledge basis for his workshops on Organizational Leadership and Sustainability.  His presentation can be viewed here.

Weds, Oct. 10

Mastering the Climate Action Plan — Steve Muzzy moderated a panel withBonny Bentzin of GreenerU, Sally DeLeon of the University of Maryland, Brittany DeKnight of Furman University on climate action planning.  In the last two years, over one-third of those institutions that signed the ACUPCC have submitted their Climate Action Plan (CAP). These plans range from CAPs focused on operations to more comprehensive Sustainability Master Plans that have CAPs embedded. The panel shared lessons learned from implementation and tracking programs at their respective institutions. By including three very different institutions on the panel, each with its own unique approach to climate action plan tracking and implementation, the discussion informed a wide array of schools. For each institution, implementation and tracking processes have helped to keep carbon reduction goals on the radar of the responsible parties on campus. Since CAPs and Sustainability Master Plans are living documents, the information gathered from these processes have also helped them to assess the needs and timeline for the on-going revision process.

* About the electric car photo: In the fall semester of 2010, a class of seventh semester seniors in a mechanical engineering technology program at Alfred State College successfully produced a road legal, all electric vehicle from a 1981 Volkswagen Rabbit.  The project spanned 10 weeks and comprised the lab component of an alternative energy engineering course.  Student responsibilities included researching electric vehicle components and costs, presenting their findings to colleagues, producing models to predict vehicle performance, removing unnecessary components from the door car, installing all new electrical components, and test driving the car to collect performance data.

Add new comment