Students spread green knowledge

A team of Carnegie Mellon students and faculty represented the university at the second biennial Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) conference Nov. 9–11.

This year’s conference was held in Raleigh, at a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certified convention center. Nearly 1700 educators, facilities managers, and students gathered for the three-day conference, about twice the number of attendees from the 2006 conference in Arizona. The theme of the event was “Working Together for Sustainability — On Campus and Beyond.”

The conference began with a summit for the 250 student attendees, giving them a forum for discussion on issues such as environmental justice and sustainable campus food systems, as well as how to take action toward environmental sustainability on their campuses. The next three days were filled with further workshops and panel presentations and several keynote addresses from prominent environmentalists, including Van Jones, author of The Green Collar Economy, and Vandana Shiva, a leader in the sustainable agriculture movement and author of Soil Not Oil. A concurrent exposition featured environmentally friendly products from solar-powered trash compactors to waterless urinals and companies that specialize in green building and energy-efficient technologies.

Several Carnegie Mellon groups participated in the conference. Students involved with Eco-Reps, a peer-to-peer sustainability outreach program in student residences, joined students and faculty from the University of Vermont, Bowdoin College, and Barnard College to lead a workshop on how to run Eco-Reps programs on other campuses.

Vanessa Schweizer, a graduate student in the Engineering and Public Policy department, represented the Steinbrenner Institute for Environmental Education and Research. She gave a presentation about Carnegie Mellon’s Deliberative Poll on Climate Change. H. Scott Matthews, a civil and environmental engineering professor, Asa Watten, a civil and environmental research assistant, and Ryan Menefee, a public policy and management masters student spoke on assessing sustainability on college campuses, as well as presented a poster and participated in a panel discussion.

“I was so pleased to share the AASHE conference experience with a CMU Green Team consisting of faculty, staff, and students. The conference helped deepen our understanding of Carnegie Mellon’s place as a leader in sustainability in higher education,” said Barb Kviz, Carnegie Mellon’s environmental coordinator.

Many of the workshops centered on strategies for implementing the President’s Climate Commitment (PCC), an agreement signed by the president or chancellor of a college or university that commits the institution to becoming completely carbon neutral.

Though Carnegie Mellon has been a leader in campus sustainability, President Jared L. Cohon has not yet signed the commitment. The PCC is not being encouraged by the Green Practices Committee and professor H. Scott Matthews’ EPP project course Sustainable Campuses, which assessed the applicability of the PCC to Carnegie Mellon, because complete carbon neutrality is not possible.

“It was exciting to see this huge groundswell of campuses clamoring for advice on how to be as sustainable as Carnegie Mellon is,” Schweizer said.

But Schweizer fears that Carnegie Mellon might be shut out of playing such a leadership role.

“We still haven’t signed the President’s Climate Commitment [PCC],” Schweizer said.

“I understand the administration’s principled position — it doesn’t want to lie and say that we can do something that appears to be impossible [climate neutrality]. But it is time for us to sign the PCC to serve as a much-needed knowledge leader. Knowledge leadership is what Carnegie Mellon does.”