University of Vermont

Jeffords Hall

New England Campus Sustainability Forum

by Pooja Kanwar, Performance Tracking Graduate Assistant

Last week I attended the New England Campus Sustainability Forum in Boston, MA.  The meeting was held at the Colleges of the Fenway and as I strolled by institutions that I was unaware even existed in Boston at 7:30 am, I became curious about the nature of the forum.  I entered the registration building in the Wentworth Institute of Technology campus and was greeted with friendly and organized folks who were distributing the agendas, checking people in, and entering people into a raffle to win solar powered backpacks.   A fun start to the day indeed!

The morning keynote, Tony Cortese, began his talk while the audience settled in and ate their locally harvested apples and baked goods for breakfast.  Dr. Cortese was the director of the air quality program for the EPA in the 1970’s, the Director of the Center for Environmental Management at Tufts University in the 1980’s, and along with Senator John Kerry established the non-profit Second Nature Education for Sustainability in 1993.  Dr. Cortese is the principal organizer of the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment, co-founder of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE), and a consultant on institutionalizing sustainability principles and programs.  His talk emphasized the role of higher education in campus sustainability and an overall need to focus on natural capitalism in a more interdependent and systematic lens.  He had a lot of philisophical ideas on where he felt shifts in thought needed to happen.

Some of the sessions I chose to attend were at the Massachusetts College of Art and Design campus, a nice 5 minute brisk walk to get the blood flowing and mind prepared for more sustainability talk.   Not only were the hallways and floors captivating with layers of impressive artwork, one of the highlights of the whole forum took place for me during these sessions.  Melissa Goodall, assistant director of Yale’s Office of Sustainability, gave an excellent talk about building an inclusive campus sustainability culture through measures, motives, and messages.  She emphasized bringing the institutional and global perspectives down and focusing on personal individuals and actionable behaviors.  The talk discussed how to make various audiences feel motivated through various modes of communication, and included innovative ideas on mobilizing campus sustainability (monthly campaigns, humor, fact sheets, awards, etc.). 

The day continued to impress me with an incredibly tasty and local meal served for lunch.  The chef even made a speech that discussed sustainability issues and localvore themes that he made when preparing the meals for the daylong meeting.  The afternoon keynote was author, longtime promoter of sustainable development, president of non-profit Natural Capital Solutions, and chief insurgent of the Madrone Project Hunter Lovins.  She described various natural capital solutions that are transpiring all over the world, ones that she believes are examples we can learn from as a high consumption society.  Her talk left us full with delicious local eats and ideas that made us scratch our heads in curiousity…

As a whole I was impressed with the New England Campus Sustainability Forum.  I learned a lot of the basics about campus sustainability in higher education, means of communicating clear messages on what individuals and institutions can do to become more sustainable, who our target audiences are in various circumstances and how to connect with them, and was left with a lot of exciting ideas on what UVM and the Office of Sustainability may want to pursue next.