Highlighting the Role of Students as Key Stakeholders in Campus Sustainability: A Statewide Multi-system Conference Approach

March 5, 2013
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By Olivier Sinoncelli, Event Coordinator and LEED Project Intern, UCSB and Katie Maynard, Event Manager, CHESC  (This article appears in the February, 2013 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

The California Higher Education Sustainability Conference (CHESC) presents an exciting model for encouraging and expanding student leadership in statewide and local partnerships.  The event is organized by all four systems of higher  education in California: The University of California, California State University, California Community College, and private colleges. Last year it was attended by over 1,000 people (including 200 speakers) representing almost 90 campuses! This year, it will be hosted once again by the University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) was the first institution to host the conference twelve years ago, and both the UCSB Sustainability Program and the conference have grown tremendously since. There are over 30 student organizations at UCSB that relate to environmental stewardship. Additionally, students are active on and off campus teaching at risk youth in the community about energy efficiency and sustainability, helping departments and businesses to be green certified, and working with campus foundations on socially responsible investment policies. CHESC provides these active students with the opportunity to meet head-honchos, to be recognized for their work, and to take an active role  in steering sustainable action in campuses throughout California.  The conference also presents students with many unique opportunities to become active and engaged stakeholders in their respective fields.

The year that CHESC was founded, student organizations had partnered with Greenpeace at several University of California campuses to launch a campaign called UC Go Solar! This campaign lobbied for a statewide policy that would set energy efficiency and green building design standards for every UC campus.  At the time, Los Angeles Community College District had put in place a district-wide sustainability policy, helping to inspire the UC system’s move towardStudents work together at CHESC 2012.s a system-wide policy.  The conference acted to convince key stakeholders that the policy would be feasible by highlighting best practices from peer institutions.  Shortly after the inaugural conference, the policy passed and has grown into the existing UC Policy on Sustainable Practices.  Inspired by the LACCD and UC Policies, the CSU System and the CCC Board of Governors passed similar statewide policies on energy efficiency, green building design, and sustainability.  Each year new best practices are highlighted at the conference, many of which have inspired expansions of new practices in these statewide policies.  Students advocated for the inclusion of best practices in procurement and business services in 2005 and shortly after the conference, sustainable purchasing was added to the UC policy on sustainable practices.

CHESC also helps build local campaigns through statewide best practice sharing. The Alliance to Save Energy’s PowerSave Green Campus program uses CHESC as an anchor for their summer meeting to convene students from their 16 participating campuses.  As a direct result of this conference the students were moved to organize themselves to put on a 4-campus energy competition in the fall.  This initiative saved over 225,000 kWh. To highlight student leadership in campus sustainability efforts such as those mentioned above, the CHESC Best Practice Awards recognize student groups, organizations, or programs that exhibit an outstanding practice relating to the categories of Energy Efficiency and Sustainability. Last year, for example, California State University (CSU) Long Beach won the CSU Energy Efficiency Best Practice Award for their Green Campus Program’s “Campus-Wide Energy Efficiency Campaign.” This campaign consisted of installing data loggers to detect malfunctioning lighting equipment, conducting an energy competition within university housing (against CSU Fullerton), and installing plug load occupancy sensors in offices throughout the campus.

Students are encouraged to present their work on sustainability, putting them alongside faculty and operational and administrative staff. This also facilitates great networking opportunities.  The Alliance to Save Energy’s PowerSave Green Campus program weighed in on the California Higher Education Sustainability Conference, saying that “CHESC was invaluable for the PowerSave Campus Program to convene faculty members and curriculum developers to discuss infusion of sustainability into courses and other for-credit opportunities.  In-person networking and brainstorming like this is vital as a launch pad for collaborative efforts and we plan to reconvene this group in summer 2013.” The conference also organizes educational ‘field trips’ to local places that display sustainable practices or potential. Students get to tag along and learn about what entities within the community are doing to benefit the environment

This year’s conference will be held from June 23rd-27th, right next to the ocean on the sunny Santa Barbara campus. Oh, and bring your canteens!