I attended the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) conference in North America for the first time. It was the best conference I have ever attended.
If you are in the Higher Education sustainability space you cannot afford to miss this conference. It is well-organized and very well attended. You will get to hear from some of the leading minds in the industry at all levels. You will also get the chance meet people just like you, trying to make a difference in their corner of the world.
I went to the conference all the way from the UK to present about what we are doing in the UK, learn about the US Higher Education sustainability, but also to take back my learnings to pass on to my customers who are all concerned about organisational sustainability- blog posts to follow about this!
This article is aimed at sustainability pros and students in the Europe and North America who have never considered going to the conference or are on the fence. In this article I give you some of my highlights so you can help to make up your mind to go next year!
The breadth and width of subject matter and the conference App
I was a little overwhelmed when I first looked at the conference schedule. There were so many different sessions to choose from. I have to admit i gave up at first attempt. During each time slot you might have as many as fifteen or twenty different presentations going at the same time. However, AASHE made the task of picking the events you most want to attend easier by delivering an incredible app (built by Crowd Compass).
When attending conferences one of the hardest parts for me is my brain only has so much space for new info. If that new info is irrelevant then I am wasting brain power. This app helped me make sure all new info was relevant and so this is why the app was a highlight!
The conference app let you filter by subject area and ‘like’ all the sessions you were interested in. The app let you set an alarm so you would get an alert 15/10/5 minutes before a session that you wanted to attend started. The app also let you takes notes on the different sessions right in the app. It kept your notes organized according to the session you were attending. You could also even email the presenter straight from the app!
This was a highlight of the event because it made the task filtering and scheduling the presentations I wanted to see much easier. This meant that I could reserve the decision making brain power for more meaningful things like talking to people!
The People You Meet
AASHE attracted some of the most interesting and relevant speakers of any conference I have ever attended. The speakers were of all levels: CEOs, student activists, directors of sustainability and presidents of associations. It was great to get the chance to speak with some of the presenters after their sessions ended, and take part in discussions. The atmosphere of the event was one of collaboration and engagement between speakers and attendees was very high. I have also continued those conversations on returning to the UK via email and Skype. Watch this space for interviews!
One of the biggest reasons to attend AASHE is the other attendees you get to meet. I made new friends and valuable professional connections at every moment. Boarding buses to see off site activities, on buses, waited in line for coffee or as we sat in the bar in the evenings after a long day of absorbing information
Anyone who is anyone in the higher education sustainability space in North America is at the conference. It is a great way to meet colleagues, prospects, and even potential future employers.
It is rare to have so many people with the same purpose and professional interests in one place. So grab that opportunity for whatever your objectives are!
The Small Groups and Workshops
Higher Education encompasses a lot of different issues. In addition to the large sessions with many attendees, there are also day long group meetings and workshops that focus on niches inside of sustainability. The highlight for me was the College and University Recycling Coalition or CURC recycling workshop which culminated in a tour of the Johns Hopkins waste infrastructure.
Going to these all day sessions and workshops helped me make solid professional contacts because they were highly collaborative.
I spent a lot of time going to the meetings that dealt with my specific interests, waste, reuse, redistribution and storage of surplus assets. I met some amazing people and learned a lot about the problems universities are facing in this area.
The AASHE conference taught me, an industry veteran in the UK, a lot about my industry and my customers. I can’t wait to go again next year. If you are involved in the sustainability effort in higher education in any way, you need to attend the AASHE conference. It will be the most valuable conference you ever attend.
PS If you want to get an insight into the session I delivered: