"The Power of Partnerships" - Reporting on the 2012 International Sustainable Campus Network (ISCN) Symposium
How often does an international conference that you’ve always wanted to attend come to your very own back yard? Luckily for me, this was the case with the 2012 International Sustainable Campus Network (ISCN) Symposium in Eugene, Oregon this summer. With the theme “The Power of Partnerships,” the event focused on the importance of expanding sustainability initiatives beyond traditional campus boundaries to incorporate local and regional efforts.
ISCN itself exemplifies the importance of partnering:
- The initiative is supported and directed by École Polytechnique Fédérale de Lausanne (EPFL) and The Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich (ETH Zurich), while its Secretariat is managed by Sustainserv.
- ISCN strives to build on and complement initiatives at local, national, and multi-national levels such as the work of EAUC and AASHE.
- “Members” comprise nearly 40 signatory institutions (all of which are leading research universities) to a sustainable campus charter. Signatories commit to setting targets toward three shared charter principles, and to regularly and transparently report on their progress.
- ISCN provides a “global forum” in which signatories exchange information, ideas, and best practices for achieving sustainable campus operations and integrating sustainability in research and teaching.
The 6th annual ISCN symposium – the first in North America - demonstrated this global forum in action as well as the “partnerships” theme. The event was co-hosted by the University of Oregon, held in UO’s impressive LEED Silver Lillis Business Complex. With approximately 100 participants, there was an intimate atmosphere even in plenary sessions. Among the many highlights for me were:
- Keynotes by David Orr and Jason McLennan (Living Building Institute)
- Plenary speakers Leith Sharp, Mark Orlowski, and others from around the world.
(Note: most of the plenary talks are posted on the symposium website, along with the conference agenda, speaker bios, and an attendee list.)
- Dinner and an awards ceremony in a sustainability-oriented winery, complete with a bicycle-powered band.
- Working groups that met several times throughout the conference to advance three topics: “building performance,” “campus-wide planning and target-setting,” and “integration of research, teaching, and facilities.” See the website for reports from each working group.
- Delicious, locally sourced meals (including lunch in the patio of Lillis Business Complex)
- A luncheon plenary talk in a special suite atop UO’s Autzen Stadium, with pedicab transportation available to and from the Stadium for those who desired
- Many great opportunities for me to connect with AASHE members and others from around the globe, and learn about their initiatives, successes, and challenges
During dinner at a sustainability-oriented brewery, I was honored to speak to the group about AASHE and its growing international outreach and partnerships. I mentioned events happening that same week at the Rio+20 Summit where AASHE and more than a dozen international partners:
- Organized an official U.N. side event: Aiming Higher: Unlocking Higher Education’s Potential for Sustainable Development.
- Promoted and endorsed the Higher Education Sustainability Initiative
- Prepared and endorsed the People’s Sustainability Treaty on Higher Education
I’m still processing everything that I learned from this symposium. It was, as one participant put it, like a “mini-AASHE conference,” from the buzz of excitement to the lively workshops, to the inspiring awards (be sure to read the winning entries on the website).
Despite being presented with the chilling facts of our civilizational crisis and the insufficient societal response to date (“glacial” would be too fast to describe the pace of change), a clear sense of hope pervaded the meeting. From David Orr’s Oberlin Project and U Oregon’s Sustainable City Year Program to the growing number of living buildings rising on college campuses and elsewhere, to China’s and India’s admirable efforts at (re)developing campuses in sustainable ways, the conference was largely about finding solutions by working in partnership. I came away with a list of collaborative ideas for AASHE, iSCN, and our international partners, and look forward to following up in coming months.
Many thanks to Bernd Kasemir, ISCN’s program manager, as well as Debra Shepard and Matthew Gardner at Sustainserv/ISCN Secretariat, for the excellent work they do in organizing these annual symposiums (and for the complimentary registration extended to AASHE). My highest compliments also to Steve Mital and other staff at U Oregon who took care of our every need, and made us all want to come back soon to their lovely, emerald campus.
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