What is the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE)?
The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, AASHE, is a member organization that works with higher education institutions primarily in the United States and Canada, to help them through their activities in sustainability. And we have about 850 institutions that are members of AASHE, that means essentially everybody on a campus that is a member, is a member of AASHE, that is 5 to 6 million people. But what we do is we service a node for information transfer. I think that is probably the best way to describe what AASHE does. We try to help institutions learn from one another about how to move forward in sustainability, not only in their operations but also in their curriculum and their other efforts.
How does AASHE contributes to the transformation of HE in the USA?
Our mission has a phrase about empowering higher education to lead the sustainability transformation, and that is what I get up every morning thinking about: How are we going to help empower higher education do that? So a lot of it does have to do with gathering good practices, sharing them trough a bulletin that we put out every week. We send a bulletin to about eleven thousand subscribers and those subscribers then receive anywhere from thirty to seven days stories about sustainability activities that are going on campuses, and this comes out every week. AASHE also has a resource center that gathers this information and helps bring it together so that campuses can learn what other campuses have done. Everything from what they are doing on their curriculum, new courses, new programs, co-curricular activities, student engagement activities, etc.. But also the operations, what they are doing with their buildings, what activities they are doing for energy conservation or renewable energy production, or water conservation, or what chemicals they are using on their buildings and grounds.
Everything a university does has something to do with sustainability. So we try to gather as many stories as we can about how institutions are doing these things sustainably and then let that information out to others so that they can learn about sustainability in higher education.
What are the topics in which the HE community in the USA is focusing their efforts to advance sustainability?
I would say the areas regarding climate change. Climate change has obviously become a focus and that ties very directly to energy use and in some of our campuses energy production, because some of our largest campuses are energy producers for heating and cooling and we have seen a lot of advances made in that area,, but over the last few years we have seen more and more of our professors become interested in talking about how they can put sustainability into what they teach. Regardless of what discipline they are in. AASHE has been engaging the professors in training and discussion about how to make sustainability a part of everything that they do on the campus, including their teaching and research.
From your perspective, which are the main barriers for the contribution of HE to sustainability in the USA?
One of the main barriers is that not enough people engage in sustainability education right now, and in some ways that is the biggest barrier for us to move forward to empower higher education to lead the sustainability transformation. So we have probably a core right now of people who are committed to sustainability, who are leading all of these different efforts. We need to double, triple, quadruple those kinds of numbers, and I think that is the challenge we face. How do we bring more the professors, more the staff, and engage more the students in talking about sustainability? On top of that I think we still have a lot of work to do in engaging the leadership of higher education, and particularly the leadership on our government to talk about sustainability as a foundational piece of higher education.
Higher education has a long tradition of not changing very fast and there is an urgency that many of us feel with respect of sustainability: that we need to make changes at a rate of speed that higher education is not use to changing. That is going to require the leadership, the precedence of the universities and the people who answer directly to them to step forward and agree that sustainability is so important that we have to make that a priority on higher education, that we have to make it a priority on how we run our university, on how we use our moneys, and how we educate the students because the main thing we do in higher education is educate students and we have to be doing that in a way that is creating a sustainable world.
This is not an exact transcript of the interview done with Paul Rowland, but rather a version that complements such an interview.