Sustainability Conference, Pittsburgh

During fall 2011, SMU students are participating in a conference sponsored by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education in Pittsburgh.

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A global passion for sustainability

An update from Jennifer, a sophomore civil engineering major:

Sunday

Well, my first full day in Pittsburgh began when I awoke in the hotel’s Sleep Number bed.  Before this trip, I have never ever used a Sleep Number bed.  Needless to say, my roommate and I had a grand time figuring out what our Sleep Number was the night before.  Anyway, we arrived at the convention center at 8 a.m.  Yes.  Might I add that Pittsburgh is rather chilly at 8 a.m.?  Maybe only compared to good ol’ Dallas…

However, this ended up not being much of an issue for us Dallas-ites once we began stomping through the brush surrounding the sidewalk along the river in attempts to rid the area of trash.   Among the brush, we discovered tires, various beer cans, cigarette butts, and even a shopping cart that looked at least 20 years old – older than me!

We then went to Primanti Bros. sandwich shop.  Seeing as are in Pittsburgh, there was meat and/or cheese all up in everything except the French fries, which is what I ate (I am vegan).  But they were SO TASTY!  Mmm.  Then I bought some postcards to share the moment with friends and family still in the South.  And then, I found vegan peanut butter cookies back at the conference!  Which is fitting because this weekend is my ONE-YEAR VEGAN ANNIVERSARY! Woo!  Yes.

Then, back at the conference, we attended two keynote speakers: Bill McKibben and Majora Carter.  Majora is an amazing woman.  I saw her talking to some people before her speech, and I could just tell in her eyes and smile that she was a woman with a kind heart, which has the power to move mountains.  Majora brought green jobs to the Bronx: creating jobs and a beautiful neighborhood simultaneously.

And of course, the student-led sessions were awesome too.  Today I heard of: a student-led sustainable on-campus café, an eco-house for students to live in and run, and a bike-share program!  After this long day, myself and a few other SMU students (and friends of mine) enjoyed some relaxation in the hotel’s pool and tub.

Monday

Today was full of lots of new information and ideas.  The day began with keynote speaker Dr. Timothy White, who presented us with the question(s) regarding acting sustainably: “If not us, who?  If not now, when?”  I really took this to heart.  I think that if you really care about something, it’s not something you want to wait to act upon.  If someone says they want to live sustainably, yet buy plastic water bottles instead of carrying a reusable bottle because it is “convenient”… I’m led to think they don’t really want to live sustainably.  There is no time like the present to act out what you believe.  I mean, does it even make any sense to believe one thing, yet act the opposite?  Nope.

Throughout the day, I learned about these tactics, which are being acted out throughout the country: sustainability courses (sometimes this class is required in order to graduate!), organic bins as available as recycling bins and trash cans, a student-run store that sells re-used items, elimination of Styrofoam and restricting the size of TVs in dorms.

Today I was much too tired to make it back out to the pool …  Instead I watched Food Network with my roommate.

Tuesday

Today was a day of excitement and stress.  The day began by waiting approximately an hour for the bus to arrive at the hotel to take us to the conference.  “Jennifer, why is that?” you may ask.  My friend, President Obama, graced the grand city of Pittsburgh with his presence on this fine day.  So, I suppose the awful traffic was a mere side effect of his security.  Which is a valid reason.

By the time we finally got to the conference, we met up with a group of about 30+ other AASHE attendees, and we began our adventure to perform a rally in an attempt to persuade Obama to say “NO” to the Keystone Pipeline.   On our way to the bus stop, I walked and talked with a mother from Michigan who has done rallies similar to this just about her whole life.  She told me that for the first time ever she was arrested a few months ago for sitting in at the White House!  Apparently, it is against the law to sit within the frame of the typical White House picture.  Who knew?

After meeting up with even more young environmental activists, our group of now approximately 60 ventured across a large teal-colored bridge and toward the location where Obama could see us and our signs.  Not only would he witness our signs and enthusiasm, but also hear our awesome chants.  Some of which I led over the megaphone!  WOO!  Talk about an experience – that was so cool. Well, it was cool until I mixed up the chant and said “GREEN JOBS – NO!” instead of “PIPELINE – NO”…whoops.

Coincidentally, all of the friends we (the SMU peeps) made throughout the conference were all at the rally, too!  It was so neat to meet up with them and discuss our excitement about making a peaceful demonstration in front of our president.  I then traded contact info with a new friend from Washington, and one from Arizona.  If nothing else, I learned that no matter what region of the U.S., size of our school, amount of experience, etc., passion about sustainability is shared all around the nation (and the world – more than 10 different countries were represented at the conference!).

YAY, AASHE!

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