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California Higher Education Sustainability Conference 2012: Key Note and Collaboration

It's already Wednesday, and I just haven't had the time to update the blog since Monday, which fortunately means I've been busy exploring the opportunities of the conference and the campus! I've attended many workshops, learned some great take-aways, and have spent some time exploring the UC Davis campus. For now, I'll take a step back and return to Monday evening's activities, and later this week, I'll write about the workshops I've attended.

The California Higher Education Sustainability Conference kicked off Monday night with keynote speaker Dr. Mitchell Thomashow, who spoke about the Nine Elements of a Sustainable Campus. Click here for a written document about the nine elements, or watch a video from a different event on the same topic, below:

One of the major take-aways that I learned from his keynote address was that "How we act is how we live," meaning that the ways in which we live day to day make up our life, not the things we think or the things we tell others or ourselves. This is a pretty obvious statement, but it's important to remember that for a university to consider itself environmentally responsible or "sustainable," the students, staff, faculty, and administrators have to understand basically why sustainability is important, and they should be living this way and encouraging others to live with sustainability in mind. This interpretation isn't necessarily what Dr. Thomashow said, but it's how I'm understanding its relevancy to my own experiences.
Catchy, awesome sign at UC Davis encouraging people to bring their own reusable bags.
Essentially, know your own individual self and how you live before you work on trying to educate others on how to live. Be conscious of how others live, how they act, how they fit into sustainability. As a university or organization, the way we act and not just what we say or teach others in a classroom is how we live and influence our ability to lead fulfilled lives. I suppose in other words, this means Be the Change You Wish to See in the World... but also help others be part of that change and find their purposeful role.
Being the Change can mean riding your bike... and encouraging others to join you!
Dr. Thomashow also spoke about how he used to ride his bike around campus when he was the President at Unity College in Maine and how he would encourage others to bike ride with him. He was able to have time outside during the middle of his busy work day, to relieve stress, and to use his time to interact with students, staff, faculty and others who were interested in spending time with him outside of an office. If he could ride his bike at lunch, so could others, especially students and those younger than him. He also made change happen at the university, and he lived what he believed in. For example, the President's house at Unity College is the only LEED certified home of a college president in the country, and it exists because Dr. Thomashow saw an opportunity to create a landmark for his campus that was not only a draw for donors and visitors to find Unity College unique, but it also was practical in that it saved energy and money and clearly aligned the role of President of the university with sustainability. Visitors to the campus would ask for tours of his home, and he and his wife would give them, even on a Sunday morning. How you act is how you live. It's also how you represent yourself and if you represent an insititution, how that institution is reflected to the watching world--because when you work in the sustainability world and for a sustainable world, many people have their eyes on you, waiting for a chance to call you a hypocrite. To combat that, be truly committed to the cause in your every day actions. As my grandfather said, "You're always being interviewed."
My friend and coworker Tan putting his leftover peach in the compost bin. Nice job on doing the right thing, Tan.
Additionally, Thomashow encouraged us to ask the hard questions that really get to the root of things in the different nine elements of a sustainable campus. Where does my food really come from? How does it get here? What is this pen we're using made of? Can we do it a better way? How do I fit into sustainability? With this question in particular is the need to integrate sustainability into everything and everyone's roles. Add it to job descriptions without it being superfluous--everyone does have a role related to sustainability, and it's all about identifying it and making it purposeful and clear so that everyone understands their role and feels valued in their contributions to sustainability, even if their job description appears far from these issues. There's a place for making sustainable choices in all of our lives. How does it fit into yours? How does it fit into your workplace? Your education?
Conversations, sharing of ideas, and presenting on Green Funding bodies at the World Cafe discussion on Wednesday afternoon. Elissa from UCSC's Carbon Fund facilitated one of the tables, and Tan and I went to support her as friends, fellow Carbon Fund members, and Sustainability Office coworkers.
Finally, I want to finish this post on a vastly important and complex topic that has been continually growing in my peripheral vision this year working with sustainability at UCSC and which has become part of my central vision at this conference: Collaboration. The last note that I wrote down in my notebook Monday night says "Art imparts understanding." To me, that means more than just the ability for art to share something that a blog post or a lecture on climate change cannot do. It also means collaboration, academic integration, bridging gaps, bringing students in from departments seemingly in another solar system from sustainability, which typically people think belongs to environmental studies.

Art imparts understanding, and artistic collaboration imparts even further understanding of the way our world works, how sustainability can work, how we as humans can work together and really make things happen. I am craving more discussion and implementation of collaboration and ideas for how to do this at UCSC and in my life as a literature major who frickin' loves this planet (ask anyone who I spent time talking to at this conference, this combination and what I am to make of it is both exciting and challenging).
Davis's Downtown Picnic in the Park Wednesday evening
As my friend and coworker Tan mentioned yesterday, "We live with people." We cannot continue to just work alone on our projects. People are the ones we interact with, not simply numbers or trees or frogs or HVAC systems (yeah, I picked up some Energy Manager lingo!). People get things done in our society, and not just the type of people you work with right now. By people, I mean people you don't know and people you know who do things you think don't relate to sustainability. You have to know how to work with people... they're always going to be there (unless we don't do our jobs right as advocates for the planet, that is), and it's time to stop working in our offices and classrooms separately, thinking only about one subject, or maybe two, but never about those subjects across campus, where different parts of our brains are used to solve problems that we think we should just let other people figure out (what's statistics?). I want to work on projects where people hold hands across campus, reaching Art, Theater, Psychology, Anthropology, Sociology, Marketing, Literature, all of the Ethnic Studies programs, History, and all of the other non-science departments containing students and faculty who have the skills that we need to create meaningful, informed change that isn't blindly searching for the way, but which is lighting all of the candles along the hall (beeswax sustainable candles, of course) and recognizing resources, allies, partners, and most importantly, the purpose and beautiful work of collaborating with people on your campus, in your life, wherever your sustainable ship sails.

What are you thinking about right now after reading this? Am I crazy? Are you crazy for thinking this is crazy? What are we going to do about these issues, and what are your experiences? I want to know!

Thanks for reading! Look out for more photos and discussion about the CHESC conference later this week.

--Green Gal


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. I really like how you noted that you are "understanding its relevancy to [your] own experiences." I think this is a powerful process that broadens your awareness for the world! It is a great mind set to have when engaging in work with diverse people. We take more responsibility as stakeholders and take pride in our piece of the project.

    It is great that you want to see more interdisciplinary work. Remember to acknowledge that this is already happening and congratulate yourself on your successes. You apply yourself as a writer to capture your role in sustainability on a daily basis. You do it well and it shows your leadership skills to communicate, connect, and collaborate. Thank you for sharing Melissa! Keep on writing!


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