University of Vermont

Students on the Lawn

AASHE Conference - sustainability learning and systems thinking in higher education

by Steve Posner, M.S., Sustainability Fellow and Eco-Reps Program Coordinator

With the AASHE 2011 Conference now two months behind me, it's a good time to reflect on the lasting insights and connections that the experience provided.

Perhaps most exciting was the space that the conference provided for informal, focused conversations with colleagues at UVM and other campuses. I learned a great deal from others about sustainability change stories, barriers to improving institutional operations, and ingredients for success when teaching and learning about various sustainability topics. This has translated into new research project conversations and improved teaching plans for an environmental studies course in Campus Sustainability that I will again help teach this Spring.

A few highlights from sessions I attended:

  • Lewis Johnson, Director of Environmental Health & Safety at Florida Gulf Coast University shared impressive stories of balancing lab occupant health with building energy use. Lab buildings use disproportionately large amounts of energy per square foot, and the EH&S community is well-positioned to help address these specific sources of greenhouse gas emissions on campuses.
  • Mike Shriberg, Education Director of the Graham Environmental Sustainability Institute at University of Michigan, co-presented on developing transformative sustainability leaders on campus. Cultivating leadership with students can enable real systemic and personal transformations toward sustainable institutions and lifestyles.
  • And David Orr, who I think needs no introduction on this blog, gave one of the best conference keynotes I've ever seen. Hands down.


UVM Sustainability Fellow Anna Mika and I also presented about how we used systems thinking to teach and develop campus sustainability at UVM last Spring. After processing engaged questions from the audience, I've incorporated new approaches into how I plan to teach the systems aspects of the course this year.

The setting in Pittsburgh worked well and the conference staff and organizers pulled off an amazing feat by making AASHE 2011 happen. As interest in sustainability in higher education continues to grow, I look forward to seeing how AASHE and the annual conference adapt to manage/direct/contain the growth!