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By Sarah Brylinsky, Program Associate, Second Nature
(Download the symposium agenda, or a PDF version of this summary here.)

ACUPCC LogoThe Southwest Regional Collaborative Symposium – the second regionally focused conference hosted by Second Nature and the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment – took place at Arizona State University in Tempe, Arizona March 1st– 2nd, 2012.  ACUPCC Regional Symposiums focus on fostering collaboration among ACUPCC signatories facing similar challenges and opportunities in their geographic regions.  With attendance by 38 universities and organizations throughout the Southwest, participants sparked cross-institutional dialogue and solutions to Climate Action planning, curriculum reform, and other key issues.

Keynote Speaker

Diana Liverman, Co-Director,
University of Arizona Institute of the Environment

Sharing highlights of her research focusing on the science of human dimensions of global environmental change – including vulnerability and adaptation, and climate policy, mitigation and justice – Diana Liverman opened the conference by underscoring the need for leadership in higher education on sustainability. Diana is a fellow in the Environmental Change Institute and member of editorial boards for Global Environmental ChangeAnnals of the Association of American Geographers, and Climatic Change. She currently chairs the Science Advisory Committee for the ICSU Global Environmental Change and Food Systems program (GECAFS) and served on the UK Human Dimensions of Global Change Committee.

Symposium Sessions

World Café: From Planning to Action

Participants discuss taking climate action planning to the next strategic level during the World Café.

Facilitated by Bonny Bentzin of GreenerU this high-energy discussion focused on creating campus engagement with the Climate Action Plan as a living and strategic institutional document. Participants delved into dynamic planning and long-term visioning during the World Café, reflecting on the CAP planning process, how to move the campus forward by assigning priorities, key stakeholders, and core values, and engaging with regional partnerships and initiatives.

Sustainability as a Pedagogical Process

Southwest Regional Presidential Panel. From left: Michael Crow, Arizona State University, Jan Gehler, Scottsdale Community College; John D. Haeger, Northern Arizona University; and David J. Schmidly, University of New Mexico.

ACUPCC signatories have committed to take actions to make climate neutrality and sustainability a part of the curriculum and other educational experiences for all students. This session identified best practices for integrating sustainability into the curriculum, how to engage diverse stakeholders, measuring outcomes, and applying the concept of “group intelligence” to curriculum development. Teams of participants each developed their own pedagogical approach to achieving the learning outcome of creating a global sustainability outlook. Facilitated by Cindy Thomashow, Education Manager, AASHE and Tom Kelly, Director Sustainability Academy, University of New Hampshire.

Presidents’ Panel

Presidents from institutions in the region joined in a dialogue on how higher education in the Southwest can lead the way to a clean, green and sustainable economy. Moderated by the President of Arizona State University Michael Crow, the panel included Jan Gehler, President of Scottsdale Community College, John Haeger, President of Northern Arizona University, and David Schmidly, President of the University of New Mexico.

Conversation centered on the innovation opportunities inherent in achieving carbon neutrality on college and university campuses. President Gehler remarked: “Whether president, vice president or member of the faculty, we must model the way,” a sentiment expanded by President Crow who stated, “I am a teacher. That’s what I do. But I think more important than that, the institutions themselves have to teach.”

The panel also discussed the positive returns of sustainability as a sound business model in an era of budget reductions coupled with enrollment growth.  President Haeger underscored this idea by reminding the audience, and panel, that infusing a sustainability emphasis into the administrative structure – whether it is building green buildings or buying fuel efficient cars – is another way presidents can lead in creating a sustainable economy.

Institutional Case Studies

Three distinct educational tracks included case studies from institutions across the southwest.

The Energy Efficiency track highlighted Energy Conservation at Alamo Colleges with John Strybos, Alamo Colleges, Using the Design-Build Approach to Meet Energy Reduction Goals with Allen Shiroma, University of California, Irvine and Shaun Ayvazi, Siemens, and financing techniques from Norm Tarbox of Weber State University, who presented Funding Energy Efficiency Projects through a Green Revolving Loan Fund.

The second track, on Sustainability in the Curriculum included Regional Sustainability Policy and Workforce Development Efforts at Santa Fe Community College by Randy Grissom from Santa Fe Community College (NM), Growing Sustainability Literacy at Northern Arizona University, from the Seeds of the Ponderosa Project to the Global Learning Initiative with Rod Parnell of Northern Arizona University, and The Odyssey of Creating a Sustainable Campus at UNM: Assets, Barriers, and Strategies with Bruce T. Milne at the University of New Mexico.

Track three, Sustainable Resource Management, featured waste, water, and food strategies with Nick Brown of Arizona State University and Pat DeRueda from Waste Management presenting Roadmap to Zero Solid Waste, Joe Abraham, University of Arizona, sharing research on Sustainable Water Management, and a highlight of a community college student-centered Sustainable Food Systems Program by Shannon Corona of Rio Salado College.

Summary: Collaborating for Success

Bringing a regional focus unique to the demands of Southwestern higher education, symposium attendees created strategies and solutions for addressing the key issues facing schools, their staff, faculty, students, and administration.

The words of keynote speakers, session case study leaders, and participants highlighted the role of every individual working towards campus sustainability as a “teacher” of the vital work in moving higher education towards a just and sustainable future.

110 college and university, industry, and non-profit representatives participated in the Symposium, with attendance from Presidents and Chancellors, sustainability coordinators, facilities directors, faculty, students, and ACUPCC Corporate Sponsors. The conference was held at Arizona State University in the historic Old Main Building at the Tempe campus.

Thank You!

Second Nature would like to thank the staff of Arizona State University for their partnership in hosting the event, Aramark for providing sustainable and delicious food for the event, and all attendees, who found exciting new opportunities for creating and implementing their Climate Action Plans, and creative solutions to the challenges of creating a sustainable campus.

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By Todd Cohen, Director, SEED Initiative, American Association of Community Colleges
(This article appears in the October, 2011 issue of The ACUPCC Implementer)

The ACUPCCEngaging with the community to build sustainable and thriving regional economies is an important pursuit for higher education. For community colleges, in particular, this quest is also a fundamental part of what they are and who they serve.

Community colleges were founded on the principle of service to the community. Most community college students are local residents who stay in the region. Sustainability practices learned at the college, therefore, are likely to be applied locally as those students become part of the fabric of that community. Colleges also serve thousands of local residents and businesses through continuing education, small business support services, and workforce programs. These are critical vehicles that colleges are using to inform the public (i.e. local consumers) about the importance of environmental stewardship and how to take advantage of green technologies like solar panels or sustainable building products. In addition, outside the campus, colleges are key stakeholders in a growing number of regional climate and energy partnership initiatives to reduce community energy consumption or advocate for revised local environmental policies.

All of these characteristics position community colleges to not only lead in creating  healthy communities, but to build the local green economy—a critical element of what is needed today.

“Knowing and being intimately connected to a particular region and community are hallmarks of the community college and are fundamental components of sustainability,” writes Mary Spilde, President of Lane Community College. “This connection to place makes community colleges particularly well suited to engage communities in living sustainably.”1

The Sustainability Education and Economic Development (SEED) initiative of the American Association of Community Colleges and ecoAmerica aims to advance sustainability and green workforce development practices at community colleges by sharing innovative models and resources and building the capacity of community college administrators, faculty, and staff to grow the green economy. The SEED Strategic Plan, developed by a task force of college presidents, identifies “community engagement” as one of three pillars representing the role two-year colleges can play in advancing sustainable development:2

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While the US government and the global community have been slow to address severe climate disruption, colleges and universities are stepping in to boldly slash their carbon emissions, research and develop new technologies, and prepare students to create a safer, clean energy economy.

According to a new annual report (PDF) released today by the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), the participating schools are working to cut a combined estimated 33+ million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions per year.  The ACUPCC, launched in early 2007, is currently comprised of 677 schools in all 50 states and the District of Columbia – representing nearly six million students and about one third of the US higher education student population.

David Shi, President of Furman University and Co-Chair of the ACUPCC, noted, “Sustainability is one of the few enterprises that fosters collaboration among institutions.  That so many schools have embraced the climate commitment is unprecedented.  Such bold action on such a broad scale provides a model for the rest of society to emulate.”

Recently, more than 300,000 individuals called their Senators as part of a coordinated effort promoted by dozens of advocacy groups urging the US government to pass comprehensive climate legislation.  But the higher education sector is not waiting for uncertain government action.

(more…)

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