2018 AASHE Conference - Highlights and On-Site Interviews

2018 AASHE Conference - Highlights and On-Site Interviews

Episode Transcript

Meghan Fay Zahniser – AASHE Executive Director

This is always an exciting time for me and I hope for all of you as well. To start off, I wanted to offer a special recognition of the land and acknowledge that the history in Pittsburgh started with centuries of native American civilization throughout this region. Thank you for having us. We are grateful to be here and excited to be back in Pittsburgh. In the year since we last gathered, we face increasing challenges and it's easy to feel overwhelmed by them. But despite these global and local challenges, the AASHE community, those who are working day in and day out to advance sustainability in higher education, students, faculty, administrators, and staff are still making significant progress. We have more institutions being recognized for their sustainability achievements through STARS than ever before. We now have four STARS Platinum institutions. Congratulations to Colorado State University, University of New Hampshire, Stanford and UC Irvine.

To emphasize the important role higher education case in advancing the sustainable development goals, I'm excited to share that the next version of STARS, version 2.2 slated for the launch next spring, will align each credit with the sustainable development goals. This will be a great opportunity to connect to the campus community, not just with a specific achievements noted in STARS, but also to advancing the global goals. After the conference, we'll be excited to launch a new STARS website and benchmarking tool. The ladder is something we've been working on for quite some time and we know has been of interest to many of you. Good news...it's coming. In addition to the progress on STARS, we have more resources in the hub AASHE online resource center than ever before. Thousands of case studies and examples of best practices and lessons learned from our community are there.

We also have more ways to engage and connect with you throughout the year with centers for sustainability across the curriculum, various workshops and webinars, the mentorship program and our online community, which just launched this past spring and been incredibly well received by our members. We're working to help connect each of you with the tools and resources you need to achieve your institution's sustainability goals. AASHE's also working to advance diversity, equity, and inclusion throughout our organization and movement. We have a new diversity, equity and inclusion statement that demonstrates how and what we will be working on, including looking at all of our programs to identify ways to better integrate diversity, equity, and inclusion in everything that we do. As Heather Hackman our closing keynote speaker from last year said "We cannot have a sustainable campus without addressing equity and social justice." In addition to improving our programs and offerings, we're also working to expand our partnerships and connect with organizations and efforts that will help strengthen sustainability in higher education education.

Ann Erhardt – AASHE Board Member and CSO at Michigan State University

We're now joined by Ann Erhardt, chief sustainability officer at Michigan State University and also a board member. So, tell us about the work of AASHE. As a board member, I'd love to just hear your thoughts on the importance of AASHE in Higher Ed and what the organization is working on.

I've been a board member for two years and recently elected vice chair of the board. I'm really excited about being a part of AASHE and being a part of the board and helping shape the future of sustainability in higher education, and what we can do as a community across the country. So the work that AASHE's doing right now, everyone's enjoying our conference this week and learning a lot and we reach a broad audience of institutions, whether you're a small college or a major institution. We have something for everybody and I think the real value of the conference comes in coming together and having conversations with each other, sharing information, finding those connections and having a collective nature to it. And I think that's the future of our evolution is working more together towards the future.

You're going to be speaking on a couple of panels today. Tell us just a little bit about what you'll be talking about just to give the listeners an idea of some of the sessions that are underway here.

One session was with Consumer First Renewables and they are a partner that MSU has had to help construct our large solar carport installation on campus. We have a 10 megawatt system and a Customer First Renewables has been with us through the whole process as an excellent partner. And so, the panel we're on discusses how to get the green light to get solar on your campus or a large scale renewable system, and how that context fits different types of campuses. So, we had a lot of good questions. The other panelists was from Brown, so we had a really good discussion with the audience. Today, I am on a panel with the ISSP, which is the International Society for Sustainability Professionals, talking about the certification programs that ISSP has. They have a sustainable associate as well as a certified sustainability professional. We talked about that and growing that community to really help sustainability professionals really get some leverage and have people understand that this isn't a phase and that this is a science, this is a skillset and people who are sustainability professionals, or employee sustainability as part of their job, it's definitely a value add skill-set to have at any organization.

I'd love to hear your thoughts, because you’re on the AASHE board as well as leading sustainability at a university. How do you think these universities, or sustainability professionals and faculty, can most utilize AASHE? How can they really get value from that organization rather than just being a member of the organization? What are some ways that universities can really realize value from AASHE?

There definitely has been value since AASHE's inception, which has been over 10 years and I'm really happy to have been this doing this work for this long. Going forward, AASHE will be looking for feedback from our members, and we continually do that, but definitely letting audiences that come to the conference and our members know that it's a two way conversation and we want to know what you need and what value do you need from us, so that we can work that into the value that we provide. So whether you're a university, or a business that's a member, or a student group, or any organization affiliated with higher education, it's a two way conversation and we want to know what value you need from us. So please come and talk with any of the board members or any of the AASHE staff, and let us know what you think and what you need and we'll work on that.

Solutions for Evaluating Projects: Quadruple Bottom Line and Financial Models for Carbon Neutrality

I'm from the Sustainability Office at Cornell and will be talking to you today about what we call our quadruple bottom line analysis - building off the triple bottom line for sustainability - and how with this analysis we try to use mission alliance with sustainability impact areas to strengthen our carbon reduction project assessment process. So, rather than focused strictly on the single financial bottom line, or some sort of non-rigorous reputational factors and letting those drive our decision making, we try to do a purposeful metrics framework to assess projects across the traditional people, prosperity and planet, and then also our academic purpose. So one way where we applied this at Cornell, we had a proposal from all the assemblies at the university that we should have advance our carbon neutrality goal from 2050 to 2035. So, there was much more of an in depth process and I'm skimming over a lot of it at the moment, but there was a group that got together and said, "Okay, what are some strategies we could use to do this? Is it technically possible and are the tools even out there for us?" We thought there probably were, but what's it going to cost us? Can we do this from a financial and from a real mission perspective without really undermining the other goals of the university.

So, a high-level senior leaders group was put together to take a look at that and create what we call the Options for Achieving Carbon Neutral Campus report. It's a detailed technical analysis of what we thought were all the feasible technical options, mostly around energy needs of the campus and particularly how we were going to heat an institution in upstate New York - a major research institute in kind of a harsh climate - without burning something. Not that easy. So, we did an updated financial analysis and we also introduced new tools, one of which is this quadruple bottom line analysis. We also looked at the potential impact of upstream leakage of the fuel source and what might be the risk factors of attributing a social cost to that carbon. What if we have a carbon price in the future? So, we think about all of these things that sort of changed our decision making.

Cheryl Wanko – Professor of English at West Chester University

Tell us a little bit about yourself and what you're doing at the conference.

So, I'm a professor of English at Westchester University, which is a mid-size regional state institution in Pennsylvania. I've been teaching there since 1993. I was hired teach 18th century British literature, I had a scholarly midlife crisis and I'm now slowly turning my research and teaching interests to teaching sustainability. So that's why I'm here.

You're speaking at the conference as well and you're talking about incorporating sustainability into the curriculum. Tell us a little bit about that and how you're working on that at Westchester.

So, a group of folks back in 2016 decided that they wanted to build on some prior efforts of bringing in experts to talk about sustainability in the curriculum and we wanted to then do it in house. So. We designed this program that we called the Brandywine Project. Brandywine is our region, and there's the Brandywine River that runs through it, so it's place-based education. We decided to design a two day workshop for faculty, in which faculty would work on their syllabus and then submit them at the end of the semester so that we would make sure that we're infusing sustainability content across the curriculum. So my colleague, Eliza, and I ran this two day workshop in January and then reviewed the syllabus at the end of the summer. So, this is one of the ways in which we're trying to infuse sustainability and one of the major ways in which I'm involved campus wide in this effort.

A lot of great work happening around incorporating sustainability into the curriculum. AASHE obviously is a great resource for that. I understand this is your first time at AASHE conference. What are your impressions on the conference and are you learning anything else about how others are doing what you're trying to do?

Well, this is my first day at the conference and I have to admit looking at the agenda of all the sessions, it's overwhelming but then it's just so encouraging to see so many people in so many ways at so many institutions working on sustainability projects. So, that's my initial response to the conference - it's just an embarrassment of riches. I'm so looking forward to spending the next two days exploring this. We were assigned to present with another group from the University of Kentucky, and so they were in our session and it was so wonderful to hear this completely different way of approaching training faculty and helping faculty see how sustainability can work in their disciplines and their classrooms. So, we were able to and contrast, share strategies and share results in order to improve both of our workshops at our two campuses.

Sustainability Employee Discussion on Carbon Offsets and Sequestration

Is anybody right incorporating sequestration into their greenhouse gas inventory?

Not in our inventory but we do it through our carbon offset projects. So, I work within the Office of Sustainability for Carbon Offsets Initiative and we've enabled like 6,000 to 10,000 trees to be planted throughout the US and we've developed our own offset protocol to try to keep these projects local. So, the way we do the measurement is we engage a peer institution to come take a look at our projects. So, we planted a thousand trees in Durham partnering with Delta Airlines last year and we had American University come verify the number of trees that were planted. As those trees grow, we get other peer institutions to come verify and evaluate the growth of those trees. Duke has a massive forest, I think it's about 6,000 or 7,000 acres of forest and we've actually developed guidance material on carbon sinks that is on our website that I'd invite you to take a look at. We don't count the forest in our emissions footprint, because to do that inventory would be pretty substantial and expensive and we don't consider that to an additional impact on climate change.

So, there's no plan for removing that forest and there's a lot of academic value that's gained from having that forest currently. So, when we were initially looking at our climate action plan we were considering, "Well if we just count this forest, we're carbon neutral already, but nothing was going to happen to it." So, there's sort of two different options that we present in this guidance document. One is the tree replacement policy and keeping track of how many trees you have on campus, and then if you're replacing trees that are removed for aesthetic reasons, new buildings being constructed or what damage or a storm or something like that. If you're replacing those, that would occur in the business as usual scenario and any trees you plant above and beyond that, you can count those against your emissions footprint. The other option is, you don't have to do a whole campus inventory of all the trees and track that going forward. You can just designate a plot of land and create a learning forest there. So, you have to show that learning forest wouldn't have occurred in business as usual scenarios and then you can measure how much carbon is there and that will actually count as a carbon sink, because it's additional.

Daita Serghi – AASHE Manager of Educational Programs

Tell us a little bit about what you do at AASHE.

So, I am the education programs manager at AASHE and oversee all of our education and professional development offerings. So, everything from the weekly webinars every Wednesdays at 3:00 PM EST, to the in-person workshops, as well as all the sessions at the conference. So, I managed the call for proposals all the way through review, scheduling and then actually being at the conference.

That sounds like a lot of work that you're in charge of and we all see the webinars and all of the great educational material that you guys are putting out. So, excellent work on all that. Let's talk a little bit about the conference here - AASHE 2018 in Pittsburgh. Tell us a little bit about what you guys have put together and what people will be experiencing over the next couple days here at AASHE 2018.

We're excited to be in Pittsburgh for the second time. This is the first conference where we're coming back to a city. For AASHE 2018, we have over 340 concurrent sessions, twenty workshops and eight films in the film festival - this is a new type of session that we're offering this year. The students enjoyed thirty-four concurrent sessions for the student summit, which is specifically just for students. We had over 400 students attend that today. We're expecting a total of about 2,000 attendees, and 800 of those will be presenters for all those sessions. So, we're excited to be welcoming them. There will be also about 200 posters for the poster session.

A lot of stuff, a lot of information, a lot of schools being represented here and a lot of faculty, sustainability professionals and I've seen a lot of students running around. Looks like it's going to be a great week. How about AASHE in general and the work that you're leading at AASHE? What kind of programs are you leading in the educational space and what can we expect in the next year or so from AASHE?

Thank you, Josh. That's a great question. I also want to mention one more thing about this year's conference, and that is that we have attendees coming from almost 20 different countries and I think that speaks to the theme of this year's conference that we went global, addressing the sustainability development goals. For next year, we don't know what the theme will be yet, but we do know that we are going to the west coast in Spokane at the end of October next year. So, I'm looking forward to seeing you and everyone who's listening next year. We will have another great conference and hopefully at least as many sessions and people attending. AASHE in general, we have another full schedule of webinars. We are continuing to plan for the Centers for Sustainability Across the Curriculum Workshops. We have partnered with fourteen different institutions to run curriculum workshops for faculty. Anyone is welcome to attend and this will be posted on our website shortly. We have centers from Hong Kong to Hawaii to Canada and throughout the US. So, this is definitely a good resource for faculty to look into. We also have regular in-person workshops. There is also a curriculum leadership workshop that AASHE is running, as well as a workshop for diversity, equity and inclusion and the connection with sustainability. Another one that we invite sustainability professionals, staff or faculty to come to is a three day retreat that hopefully will be hosted in Boulder, Colorado next summer.

You had one of those last year, is that right?

Yeah, we have had this for three or four years every summer.

What kind of things can people expect at that retreat? I've heard a lot about that retreat. Just take last year for instance. What did you guys talk about and what kind of programs are led at that retreat?

Yeah, it's a three-day retreat that combines sessions and workshop type of activities with some retreat activities. So, we're trying to also have people relaxed and especially network with a small group that is coming, which is small compared to the conference. It's about 40 to 50 people in general. It's led by Aurora Winslade, director of sustainability at Swarthmore College, and Leith Sharp, who is running the executive program at Harvard. So, they are the ones who designed the agenda, but we do some sessions on how to transform sustainability from the bottom up and top down, and some strategies on working within your institutions to transform our institutions. Everything is on our website. Go under events and education.

Dr. Amy Tuininga – Director of the PSEG Institute for Sustainability Studies at Montclair State University

Why don't you start by telling us a little bit about what you do at Montclair State?

I'm the director of the institute as you mentioned. I oversee programs and initiatives for students to engage with faculty and community members and a large range of organizations around sustainability issues involving food, water, energy, any number of different kinds of sustainability initiatives. Some of them include things like our Green Business Recognition program support system. So, in the state of New Jersey there's something called Sustainable Jersey and municipalities can get points and become certified Sustainable Jersey. One of the ways that they can get points is through initiating a green business recognition program that serves small businesses within communities. So, our students go out into several communities throughout the state of New Jersey and help to support those small businesses in becoming more sustainable and identifying initiatives that they can undertake to be more sustainable. We have logos and they get window clings and things that they can market their business as a green business. So, it benefits the business, it generates cost savings for them and then the municipality gets points towards their certification which allows them to apply for other grants for things like solar and EV charging stations in town.

You're here promoting some work in the poster program - your Green Teams program. Why don't you tell us a little bit about that?

Our Green Teams Program started in 2016 when I started at Montclair State University. We partner teams of undergraduates with corporations and other organizations. The students come from a range of different universities. Last year we had 18 universities participate in the program and students coming from 42 different degree programs. So, it's students from a variety of different disciplines working together on a team, a transdisciplinary team, to address sustainability challenges that corporations like Honeywell and Stryker and Hackensack Meridian Health face. So, the companies apply to the program and they give us a list of deliverables. In some cases, that's a nonprofit or a municipality that's applying. And then we construct the teams. We have a multi-institution review panel, so we have faculty and staff coming from different universities that review the applications. Then there's a cut and certain applicants that make the cut are invited to interview. Then, we have this same team interview the students and the students are offered a position.

So, those students that are offered a position, we then construct teams and we maximize diversity. So, diversity in their academic background, in their ethnic background, cultural, in the languages that they speak, the universities that they come from and the disciplines that they represent on the team. Then, we make sure that the composition of that team also has the background to address what it is the companies are asking for. So, some examples of the kinds of things that companies ask us for are helping them put together a dashboard for waste reduction and tracking their waste and waste reduction rates. We did that for Honeywell. We have companies like Earth Friendly Products ask us for assistance with water reduction and reducing the amount of water that they're using in their manufacturing, treating their wastewater and coming up with new methods.

We have companies that ask us to help them with their energy such as New Jersey Manufacturers Insurance and Hackensack Meridian Health hospital systems. So, the students do a lot of research. They put together a lot of information for the companies and the companies actually use it. So, you can find on ADP's website or Honeywell's website, information that the students have put together in marketing materials or infographics. We've worked with Prudential Financial global investment management real estate group, to help them put together a Get Green Guide for their property managers. Some of these resources that we've put together now are available on our website, on our resources page. The companies have said that this would be a good resource for other organizations to use and so they've opened it up and made it available to others and so that's growing right now as well.

Where can people go check that out online?

So, you can go to our website: www.montclair.edu/csam/iss. You'll find information on the green teams and other initiatives that we have there, but our resources page is there as well. You can also find the student application and the corporate organization application is also there.

It's great that you're here and able to share that with everyone because that could be a great program for any school. Tell us a little bit about what you're seeing at the conference. We're on the last day of the conference now. What have you experienced and maybe a highlight from the event?

I've met a lot of people that are doing similar work. It's a cross cut of people coming from facilities and training programs and administration and faculty, and so it's nice to have that mix. I've been able to network with people at other universities, similar universities that have programs where aspects of them might be things that we want to think about or we can share ideas. So that's great. Then networking pieces is fantastic, and being put in touch with individuals doing similar kinds of things. One of the sessions that I was just at was about Second Nature and the CRUX network, and the campus community partnerships. They discussed how they developed some tools to assess needs within the community, and that's something that we're doing in the city of Newark in New Jersey. So, I'm very interested in the methods and they've made it open source as well. So I'm excited to learn more about CRUX.

Approaches to Carbon Offset Procurement

Matthew Arsenault – Duke Program Manager of the Carbon Offsets Initiative

Sounds like your job specifically relates to the carbon offset initiative and you’re not part of the sustainability office, right?

Well, we are in the sustainability office.

That seems great because this takes a lot of energy and attention to even learn what is out there. I'm curious if institutions that have set a carbon neutrality goal ever wish they had set some other kind of goal that doesn't require offsets? Maybe this applies to you. You're prioritizing this last chunk of emissions with offsets. Do people feel like their efforts could be better served elsewhere?

It's a great question. I think if given the choice for Duke to have our current status quo, which is carbon neutrality by 2024, knowing we're going to lean heavily on offsets in the early term - to have that or the alternate scenario of having a much later carbon neutrality goal, where maybe we can reduce to net zero internally on our own. Given that choice, I think I would have to choose the situation we're in now. We're going to invest in offsetting projects where we're very confident in their legitimacy and doing our due diligence in making sure that we feel really good about them. We're developing some of our own projects that are developing offsets, so we obviously feel very comfortable about those projects. For Duke, I'm happy we have an early neutrality goal, even if it means using offsets, I'm still happy that we have it.

John Pumilio – Director of Sustainability at Colgate University

The scope one and scope two emissions are pretty straightforward, right? You can measure that with a high level of confidence. When you start getting into the scope three stuff, you're doing surveys and you're doing estimates, and it gets quite murky. We've experienced this over the past 10 years. With our first greenhouse gas inventory, I'm fortunate because I did the first greenhouse gas inventory and now I'm doing year number 10. So I've seen the maturation of how we acquire data and I remember the glazed look in people's eyes when we first came to them, asking for air travel data. The institution had no idea how much we were traveling collectively, not in dollars spent and not in air tickets issued or anything. It was all over the place. We've come a long way since then to get more accurate data. So, our footprint isn't apples to apples.

We've gotten a lot better at measuring our data now. I have the economists that I talk to on our campus who vehemently argue that we should not be responsible at all for our scope three emissions. It's scope one and scope two, and we would be crazy to spend any money on offsets or otherwise trying to offset scope three emissions. Then you can imagine people on campus on the other side of things, who want embedded emissions included or the nitrogen footprint included and all of that. So yeah, the perfect can't stand in the way of good. You need to start somewhere and we are higher ed institutions, and we need to be open and welcome to those criticisms and try to figure out the best way forward as leaders.