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.

If not now, when?

An update from Leslie, a sophomore environmental engineering and Spanish major:


Our first day at AASHE started off great! Our group thoroughly enjoyed the adventure of picking up trash along the river in Pittsburgh with Friends of River.  Climbing through the vegetation to retrieve the various bottles, cans and bags that were deposited there was an adventure.

My sense of adventure was enhanced even more as I listened to the first keynote speaker for the Student Summit, Bill Mckibben, speak of how we must put into action all of the wonderful ideas that are formed during the conference in order to attempt to make a difference in climate change.  His speech impressed the urgency with which our Earth’s situation should be dealt while simultaneously giving me motivation to stay focused on the goals I came to the conference with: Absorb any information and ideas that I can apply at SMU.

The rest of our first day was complete with a lunch break at Partmani’s Bros, a famous Pittsburgh eatery that had some of the best pastrami sandwiches topped with coleslaw and french fries.  Re-energized, I was ready to listen to the opening keynote speaker, Majora Carter, deliver a seriously inspiring speech about how sustainability is more than improving the natural environment because it is deeply rooted in the effects on community, the “generationally impoverished” and crime.

She brought some of the lofty ideas produced by a conference full of higher education students and professionals and emphasized the importance of implementing organization and planning before moving on to complex engineering solutions.  Her own personal stories about the project of “greening” the neighborhood she grew up in of South Bronx provided tangible goals for the audience to strive to address. And with her direction and the aid of everyone else at the conferences, I had the feeling that I could do it. It’s just getting back to campus and doing it.

Our first day of the AASHE conference sufficiently got us pumped for the days to come!


Today, the second day of the AASHE conference in Pittsburgh, began with a speech from the Chancellor of the University of California, Riverside about the involvement of administration in the university’s efforts in sustainability.  His points of emphasis included the evolution of sustainability from a solely scientific, environmental and educational movement to an economic and eventually also a humanitarian ideal. He indicated that although we all know the simple fact that the Earth’s resources are finite, “Our behavior rarely reflects this level of intellectual understanding.” This again called us, the audience and anyone who will read this blog, to action.  With the questions we ask ourselves regularly – “If not us, who?” “If not now, when?” – I felt that what I was there for was real, necessary and, most important, purposeful.

Later in the day I sat in on a presentation by Daniel Greenberg, whose university has Study Abroad programs in Ecovillages across the globe to expose students to how an entire community can be successful with a high quality of life and a small ecological footprint.  The instant I heard about this opportunity I wanted to be part of it.  Although I may not be able to squeeze another study abroad trip into my schedule, I thought of how I can try to make SMU more like an eco-village and how the community of SMU and Highland Park can be integrated.

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A global passion for sustainability

An update from Jennifer, a sophomore civil engineering major:


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.


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.


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!).


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Mission: Save SMU, save the world

An update from Keya, a sophomore mechanical engineering major:

Our group in Pittsburgh

If you think a sustainability conference is all about sitting in a room listening to some hippie rant about tree hugging, you haven’t been to AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education). The true reason for the AASHE conference is to congregate different people from all around the world so that they can share their ideas about how to better their communities and schools toward sustainability.

What is sustainability you ask? It’s a way to produce and consume on a level that can be continuously reproduced without depleting a resource toward extinction. It’s a circle of life; not a beeline of death.

1st Day:

Right as I and the other SMU students step off the plane in Pittsburgh, we spot our first recycle bin. Good sign.

2nd Day:

Student Summit!

The early student gets the trash … literally. Cramming 50 students on a yellow school bus that most of us haven’t ridden since high school and taking us to the river of Pittsburgh, where we clean up the trash left behind – it seems too good to be true. We do it for the random citizens who enjoy the stroll by the serene water and the occasional hobo who has left his camp long ago in the maze of foliage and shrubbery.

Too bad when you are an adventurous eco-friendly hippie, the sight of other people’s neglectful waste frustrates you but also encourages you to clean up and beautify the land even more. As a matter of fact, we made a game out of it: competing with the other clean-up crew to see who can pick up the most trash from the most dangerous places to reach.

A couple of hours of this and everyone surely looks muddy and smells like the sweat and trash they have accumulated. Going back to the conference in the huge convention center by the water and listening to a riveting keynote speaker, Bill McKibben, who emphasizes that if we don’t act fast it may be too late, just makes all the students’ passions for change want to explode! What better way to better the world than to reach out to the young people of the future.

3rd Day:

My long day of conference meetings was spent timekeeping each session to the second, listening intently to the swarm of ideas, and getting one-on-one with presenters from all backgrounds and academic statuses. At the beginning of this day I wasn’t looking forward to the long hours and endless discussions; by the end, I was trying to figure out how I could present at next year’s conference because I am so excited about the many sustainable successes I will achieve and bring about at SMU.

But it’s Majora Carter, the keynote speaker from the Bronx of New York, who fills my heart and mind with awe as she “Greens the Ghetto” by “economically empowering the disempowered” people.

4th Day:

When you think of a protest, all that comes to your mind is picket signs and angry rioters shouting at the press and “the man” they’ve got to stick it to. Well, there were signs; but when it comes to how we do things, we prefer green peace. The chanting and energy flowing from hundreds of students who rallied for miles to get President Obama’s attention for just a second engulfed the ears and eyes of many.

Our mission is to end the proposed expansion of the Keystone XL pipeline going from the tar sands of Canada all the way down to Texas because it would pollute and destroy anything in its path. It was a breathtaking experience only someone who has taken part of could understand. Hopefully, the wave of Obama’s hand to us through his darkened limo could surely allow the freedom of democracy to sway his decision toward what is right.

After all I have experienced, I wouldn’t give up going to AASHE for anything.

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Our responsibility to the Earth

An update from Ashley, a sophomore flute performance and environmental studies major:

The day started off with a keynote speaker, Dr. Timothy White, who talked about the actual meaning of sustainability and how we as a society are influenced and affected by the climate change.  He brought up many valid points, such as how we have this “idea” that the Earth’s resources are “infinite” when they are definitely not.  We have the mindset where we put the responsibility on someone else, like, “Oh well, the next person can take of it, I already do a lot.”

This really hits close to home, because I feel as if most people (including me) have our moments of weakness where we will just let the next person pick up the mess.  But who is really suffering from all of our consequences? Mother Earth.  And she might not have much longer at this rate.

The sessions I attended were all very interesting.  I basically learned how networking and developing partnerships in the sustainable community is imperative.  It not only secures funding, but also creates connections and communities. I also learned how an arboretum on campus could bring so much life, character, and sustainability to a campus.

A session I attended called “Beyond Reduce, Reuse, Recycle” talked about how we as students/people must think beyond the 3R’s – we need to have the awareness beyond just ourselves.  I sat in on a very inspiring session where the school’s sustainability club wasn’t getting funded, so they applied for nonprofit status instead, and now they have their own office and they have control over all their initiatives.

The last three sessions consisted of how to allocate “Green Funds,” or student-initiated fees that were tacked on to the student’s semester tuition.  The students had voted to add the extra $2 fee, and the sustainability office was able to start the year off with a budget of $10,000 to spend on water bottle filtering stations and other green initiatives.  I was so inspired, and I’m definitely looking into this option.

Trane, a company that specializes in  geothermal/solar heating/cooling systems, graciously invited the SMU conference delates out for dinner at a very nice restaurant, Eleven.  We enjoyed chatting and sharing our ideas with them!  Thank you, Trane, for taking us out to dinner!  Can’t wait until tomorrow – we’re going to protest the tar sands pipeline in the morning!

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Catching the President’s eye

An update from Samuel, an SMU E-Representative and a sophomore mechanical engineering major:

“Stop the pipeline and the greed, give the people what they need!”

Protesting in Pittsburgh

Political activism is a new experience I had today along with the rest of my peers attending AASHE (Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education). Peaceful protest is a powerful action that reaches the community and authority figures. The student summit at AASHE peaked in a speech by Bill McKibben of who encouraged student political action. Student mobilization is a powerful catalyst to influence political leaders who create environmental policy.

Marching a mile through Pittsburgh yelling chants and being part of a motivated group of people gave meaning to what I have been learning at AASHE. After gathering a plethora of ideas from the sessions I attended, it felt great to act! Our group was successful today working with police who actually helped us safely place our group of 60-70 AASHE and Pittsburgh Student Environmental Coalition members along the path of President Obama’s motorcade.

Even though it was not an official part of AASHE, this experience taught us another important tool in supporting sustainability. News reporters, Pittsburghers, and the President, waving as he rode past, took notice of us. Hopefully our actions made some effect on the end of fossil fuel use in the United States if President Obama chooses not to approve the expansion of the Keystone Oil Pipeline from Canada to the Gulf Coast of Texas.

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At the Student Summit

An update from Ashley, a sophomore flute performance and environmental studies major:

I woke up bright and early on Sunday morning to catch the 7 a.m. shuttle from the Radisson to the downtown convention center. Once we walked inside, we went through check-in and grabbed a quick breakfast before heading off to the Student Summit Community Service briefing room.

Planting daffodil bulbs

We had the option of either cleaning the riverfront or going door-to-door handing out tools to live more sustainably. The SMU delegation decided to take on the riverfront project, and Stephen, Keya, Jennifer and Leslie picked up trash while Samuel, Pamela and I planted a large bucket’s worth of daffodil bulbs.

We finished after two hours of hard work and decided to walk downtown for lunch at a famous sandwich shop. Lunch was delicious! Since the football game was later that day, we were literally surrounded in a sea of black and yellow – Steelers Nation.

After lunch, we attended the Student Summit Keynote, where environmentalist Bill McKibben spoke about his movement. Did you know that 350 ppm, or parts per million, is the maximum amount of carbon that our atmosphere can sustainably carry (without any detriments)? Unfortunately, we’re already at 393 ppm of carbon, which is why Bill had launched his 350 campaign.

Last year, our global temperature rose by one full degree. Every degree the global temperature goes up equals a 10 percent cut in grain yields. As a growing population, we cannot handle cuts in vital needs. Anyways, it’s time to stand up for a global climate change, which is what we might be doing on Tuesday (October 10) because currently, President Obama is planning on visiting Pittsburgh to talk about his jobs policy. Bill urged us to peacefully protest the Tar Sands Pipeline that would potentially stretch from Alberta, Canada to the Gulf Coast. Tar sands mining is extremely ineffective, and we need President Obama to object to the proposal.

I attended a session on Environmental Justice, which was a subject I was not very familiar with. The university that presented gave me some really great tips on how to improve/start up an Environmental Justice program.

The last keynote speaker was very inspiring as well. Majora Carter grew up in the South Bronx area, also referred to as an economic and environmental “train wreck.” Her work involved analyzing the correlation between proximity to fossil fuels and learning disabilities. Studies had shown that there was a strong correlation between the two, which to her called for an environmental transformation. She understood that the economy directly influenced the environment and called for more community development.

It was a very moving and inspiring lecture, especially since she did her undergraduate degree in acting and her master’s in fine arts. This made me realize that it’s actually a possibility for me – I (as an arts major) could be doing this in the future.

We spent the rest of the evening exploring the Expo. I got to talk to many companies about their sustainability initiatives. I actually talked to four different water filtering/water bottle filling station companies to get a general idea of what programs were available and which ones could benefit SMU’s campus the most. All in all, a great day, and I’m looking forward to tomorrow; we are presenting our poster on E-Reps and their role on campus.

See you tomorrow!

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Journey to Pittsburgh

An update from Ashley, a sophomore flute performance and environmental studies major:

We started off our day meeting at Boaz Hall to wait for the Super Shuttle.  It was running a tad late, but we ended up getting to our terminal about 20 minutes before the boarding call.

After we boarded the flight, I promptly fell asleep for the 2 1/2 hours that consisted of the travel time. Zzzzz.  We had a nice dinner at TGIFriday’s, where we met a very nice student named Jess who was our waitress. She filled up our water bottles for us and told us she was getting a double major in mechanical engineering and aerospace science (I believe).

The hotel where we are staying is the Radisson Hotel.  The shuttle driver came to get us and basically told us that there wasn’t really anything within walking distance food-wise … oh, well! After settling into my room, I unpacked and now I’m currently blogging and getting ready to turn in.

Our day tomorrow starts bright and early – waking up at 6:30 am to catch the 7 am shuttle to the convention center.  I’m really excited about tomorrow’s service project – more updates on that tomorrow!

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