Report on outcomes of AASHE’s Annual Conference (25-28 October, 2015, Minneapolis, USA)
by Philip Vaughter, Research Fellow UNU-IAS
edited by Hanna Stahlberg, Communications Associate, UNU-IAS
The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) held its annual conference at the end of October, marking the organization’s first decade with the theme of “Transforming Sustainability Education”.
Originally a small regional network of college and university campuses in North America, AASHE has grown over the past decade to 734 member institutions. Representatives from 21 countries attended the 2015 meeting. Participants included faculty, operational staff, students, administrators, government officials, and representatives of the private sector, indigenous communities, and NGOs working in tandem with higher education institutions to further sustainability agendas.
AASHE represents both the largest and fastest growing network of sustainability professionals in higher education in the world. The conference allowed for attendees to showcase their own sustainability stories. These featured applied operational approaches to sustainability, transformative teaching geared at transforming knowledge into action, and community engagement on sustainability initiatives whereby campuses were linked to surrounding communities to collaborate for sustainable development.
UNU-IAS Research Fellow Philip Vaughter facilitated a workshop on the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the Global Action Programme (GAP) on ESD along with RCE Greater Portland coordinator Kim Smith, UNESCO Chair Charles Hopkins, Professor Hongwei Tan of the China Green University Network (CGUN), and Rick Nader of the University of North Texas. The focus of the session was to discuss the, the role higher education institutions can play in implementing SDGs and the GAP , and how education networks, such as ProSPER.Net, the RCE Network, and the CGUN can help facilitate local to global (termed ‘glocal’) action on UN objectives, while providing service and responding to needs from local communities.
The theme of shifting from competition to collaboration was stressed by both RCE and CGUN representatives, as they discussed how both networks allow universities to learn from one another so that all institutions are able to emerge with better sustainability practices and policies. The use of exchange internationally was also discussed, and Professor Tan. And Dr. Nader deliberated how exchange programmes between Chinese and American universities have allowed ideas to diffuse between campuses quickly in regards to campus operation and curriculum design.
During breakout sessions, attendees were encouraged to focus on which SDGs Goals are the most pressing for their particular region or institution. While all attendees identified quality education and gender equity as paramount, other goals seemed to vary by region. This suggests that while global agendas such as the SDGs can be tackled holistically, regional and local realities may dictate which goals institutions of higher education focus on within the SDG agenda.
By the end of the meeting, attendees were networking with one another, based on their particular areas of concern and expertise around the goals they had discussed. Considerable interest was shown in engaging with these networks. This came particularly from institutions around the world, as a model by which to bring stakeholders to the table when creating a platform for education for sustainable development. The meeting was a great opportunity to not only highlight the successes of these networks, but also to mobilize more regions to engage with the networks as potential candidates for the coming year.
 The Regional Centres of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development Network (RCE Network) is a network of existing formal, non-formal and informal organisations that facilitate learning towards sustainable development in local and regional communities.