About a week ago, four students from Oregon State University took a trip up to Spokane Washington to attend the Washington Higher Education Sustainability Conference. This was a two-day long event held at Gonzaga University. There were numerous speakers, which included faculty and students from numerous Universities in the surrounding area. About half of the attendees from this conference were students, and many were speakers. Two keynote speakers opened the conference each day discussing their roles in sustainability throughout their careers. Students were asked to summarize their experience at this conference below.
A week ago, I got the opportunity to attend the Washington Higher Education Sustainability Conference along with four other students and three staff members. The conference was an amazing place to share ideas and learn about different opportunities within sustainability once we graduate. My favorite part of this conference was the Keynote speaker, Mitch Thomashow. I was very interested in his presentation, and he talked about so many different things that I was interested in. He discussed sustainability around the world along with how his son is an artist and ties sustainability within his work. Since I am very interested in both art and sustainability, this really spoke to me. I felt like it was difficult to combine my two interests, but this showed me that it is in fact possible. He also later had a presentation about the “Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus” which I also found very helpful towards my job in the Valley Library composting and recycling program. In this presentation, he discussed his experience being the president of Unity College in Maine. He talked about their process of becoming a more sustainable campus. In the end, I believe this conference was very helpful in considering what I would like to do once I graduate.
I learned about a variety of ways to help further incorporate sustainability into my daily life and into the alternative break that I will be leading over spring break. I also learned more about the social and economic pillars of sustainability, which I tend not to think about as much as I do environmental sustainability. Additionally, I had the opportunity to attend a session where a couple schools shared about their alternative break programs, which was quite intriguing for me to learn about. Each of the schools run their programs completely differently than we do, so it was interesting to see the myriad of ways alternative breaks can be implemented. Hearing about their programs gave me some ideas of things we can do to improve ours, as well as gave me an opportunity to see how much larger our program can grow. I was able to connect with some people I met at the conference, and I will actually be Skyping with one of them soon to talk more about both of the alternative breaks we will be leading to San Francisco this spring.
The Washington Higher Education Sustainability Conference (WAHESC) was a great opportunity for students who are involved and passionate about sustainable programming to learn about integrating activities and programs at Oregon State University. With keynote speakers and six individual presentation sessions, there was plenty of learning and information sharing. Individuals from different schools and companies presented on what has been successful and challenging in their experiences of applying sustainability to the higher education curriculum.
One of the sessions I found most interesting was about successful university campaigns that have made sustainable differences on their campuses. There was a point-tracker for behavior change, a 68-degree standard with sweater promotion, and zero plastic water bottles campaign. It was inspiring to hear about how students at other universities are making a difference, fueled by passionate, dedicated individuals with the support of faculty. Their campuses are doing a great job at setting sustainable standards. It made me want to do similar campaigns at Oregon State University. With a large student body, if each person participated in some way, we could see real differences in our campus waste, recycling, and energy use.
I would want recycling and composting behaviors to be normalized on campus. I believe there needs to be more availability of recycling, composting, and waste bins. There should be educational infographics and events to help people become accustom to the different bins. There should also be a data collection to show progress of the additions to encourage students to continue, showing that their actions are making a larger difference.
If these practices could be implemented on a global scale that would be even better. We have learned that human degradation of the environment is a global issue. It will take each country’s intentional steps to become more sustainable. It will take sharing of successful projects and coordination in implementing these practices worldwide. American universities can be examples for other places around the world.
The conference was inspiring for my academic career. It was refreshing to leave campus and learn about sustainability in another setting. I enjoyed the collaboration with different universities and meeting other like-minded students. It gave me experience in networking.
Thanks for sharing your experiences, and thank you Spokane for hosting the WAHESC conference!