Thursday, November 30, 2017

ASHEE Sustainability Conference Recap

Sustainable KSA took to the road this fall visiting San Antonio, Texas for the 2017 Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Conference.

The annual conference brings together university sustainability professionals, students and faculty from across North America and internationally to share what’s happening in campus projects, research, and programming. Sessions like campus tours, speakers, film screenings, and poster presentations help everyone to exchange ideas, network and talk about what they’re doing at their campuses.

The AASHE Conferences give attendees an opportunity to share best practices, innovation and their refinement or application of a program. One of great parts of AASHE is that multiple groups present on a similar topic, for example, bee projects on campus - so you get several unique perspectives on the topic in each session.  The KSA’s delegation uses AASHE to learn about new programs and initiatives, tweaks for projects we’re already doing, and best practices in the industry. We share our learning with other departments when we return to help us implement these ideas or share them with our community.  Attending AASHE also gives us opportunities to see a wide range of presentation styles enabling us to learn better presentation skills and unique ways to share information.  

This year’s delegation was Mairi, KSA Sustainability Coordinator, Tonya, Active KSA Coordinator, Tia, student delegate and KSA Sustainability Specialist, and Sustainable Agriculture student Will. After the conference this year, each member of the delegation pulled together their thoughts. Read on for some personal insights.


On our final night in San Antonio, Texas we had an incredible Mexican meal and finished the evening off with a walk back to our hotel along the popular stone paths that navigate alongside the main river, the River Walk. As we left the river path and turned on to our hotel’s street, we realized that the San Fernando Cathedral that was in front of us, was somehow being lit up with all sorts of constantly changing bright lights and images. It turns out we had stumbled upon an art exhibit by the renowned French artist, Xavier De Richemont. This exhibit is a 7,000-sq-ft projection with music, which showcased the discovery of the area by Spanish conquistadors, settlement and development of San Antonio. While AASHE allowed me to be informed about the current sustainability issues at hand, the art exhibit allowed me to understand the importance of truly understanding a region’s history, if you want to tackle any issues in sustainability. - Will


AASHE 2017 was a fantastic experience and I learned a lot from both the conference and the trip. The focus on social justice was extremely beneficial to my current job, as well as my future career goals. I particularly got a lot of value out of the keynote speaker and the half-day workshop I attended, which was about understanding privilege in environmental sustainability work. It helped me develop my ideas about how to create a sustainable future with a focus on social equity, which I think is an ever-important topic on and off campus. In the future, I’d like to see Kwantlen move towards uniting social justice and sustainability issues, as I believe they are tied together in an important way. Since we are working on some workshops for the Spring that will focus on environmental racism and decolonization in Canada, I think this training came at the perfect time. - Tia


I was lucky enough to attend two different campus tours during my time at AASHE this year I visited the University of Texas at Austin and the University of Texas at San Antonio,  Each campus showed off different sustainability projects and features.

I visited a Monarch garden at UT San Antonio and saw Monarch butterflies, enormous air conditioning systems and condensers big enough to stand inside of and a campus that has to address groundwater everyday because they’re located on an area that naturally recharges the local aquifer through the limestone caves on campus.

At UT Austin, they showed off their bike rental program, talked about the waste impact of their tailgating events for Football and how they’re managing to get volunteers to sort publically the thousands of pounds of waste from inside the stadium. I loved seeing all the cactuses and arid region plants in the local landscaping. In Texas, you’ll want to be careful cutting through the gardens some of them are very prickly!

I also attended an eye opening session with Dr. Heather Hackman about developing your social justice lens. The session gave me knowledge to start developing my own social justice lense to use for projects and my own experiences in my community.  If you get a chance to attend a workshop by Dr Hackman, I strongly recommend her work. She presents with humour, knowledge and candor which makes her workshops both useful and memorable.

Walking through San Antonio one evening we saw a local group ride, that meets every week at 7pm and often has more than two hundred riders! Because the sun sets quite early in San Antonio due to its latitude, often the rides resemble Bike the Night as everyone wears lights, decorates their bike with lights and rides together in a group! If you’re in San Antonio I recommend finding the SATX Social Bike Ride group and find out if you can ride along on their next themed event! - Mairi

AASHE 2017 in San Antonio was a great conference. This was my third AASHE and I went to the conference wanting to gather resources on active transportation, and connecting athletics and sustainability.

My favourite session during the conference was a presentation from two universities that partnered their sustainability department with their athletics department to run their most successful zero-waste and green energy projects.

What I really enjoyed seeing is that the majority of schools that were in attendance had made great changes on their campuses since I had last attended three years ago. Also, I really appreciated that many schools were putting an importance on having green spaces on campus. Schools are using these green spaces as living classrooms for academics, and also as mental health spaces so that students and staff can still feel connected to nature.

I’m looking forward to bringing project ideas back to campus in relation to zero-waste and active living with our sustainability department for our students on and off campus.

Outside of the conference, I really enjoyed the city of San Antonio. It has beautiful architecture, and the River Walk was my favourite space for trees and other plants right in the middle of downtown. There is a lot of cultural history in the city with the Alamo and the many small markets in the town. I learned about the Grackle, a very common bird in Texas and surrounding areas of the US, who is very intelligent and has a very interesting call.  - Tonya


As a KPU student, you can look at the conference materials and many other resources from AASHE about campus sustainability, events and research you can register for an online account at with your KPU email address.

If AASHE sounds like the type of conference you’d like to attend, keep an eye on the KSA’s social media because we do occasionally have calls for students to attend conferences as part of our delegation.

Did you know the KSA offsets all its flights throughout the year? At the end of each year, flight offsets are purchased through Offsetters.

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