UB Student Returns from 2019 AASHE Conference

UB Student in Spokane, WA.
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BY SYDNEY ZUCKERMAN, Student published for UB Sustainability

Release date: December 4, 2019

UB Sustainability Student Assistant, Michael McDonald has recently returned from an exciting trip to Spokane, Washington for the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s (AASHE) 2019 Conference. Mike sat down with us to share his experiences at the AASHE conference and all things sustainability he discovered!

After hopping off the plane with skateboard in hand, McDonald was ready to explore Spokane and all the AASHE conference had to offer. Mentioning that he attempted to attend as many events, speakers, and activities as possible, Mike reflects that the most impactful aspect of the conference programming was the sheer magnitude of people who came to Washington for a sustainability driven conference. Approximately 1,600 individuals attended the 2019 AASHE conference, solidifying how important sustainability initiatives are throughout Higher Education. McDonald notes that he was able to interact with sustainability industry professionals, sustainable business vendors, and even teams of students and faculty from schools as far as Australia (!). Whether picking the brain of a sustainable business vendor or kicking back with students, McDonald was sure to pick up on innovative sustainability ideas and reflection on sustainability work at UB while connecting with conference attendees.

Specifically at the AASHE Student Summit and during a mixer with other New York State university sustainability teams, Mike realized UB’s leadership in sustainability in higher education and how UB seems to be on the forefront of many sustainability initiatives. He learned about a sustainable maple tree tapping program at one school, a Green Area certificate for departments, offices, and laboratories at another, and finally, three wheeled and electric RAD delivery bikes used to on academic and business campuses.

The key to these initiatives, according to McDonald, is the level of grassroots involvement in sustainability efforts, specifically the student led efforts to support sustainable initiatives, such as the student led climate strike, cigarette butt cleanups, or the student garnered support for investment issues. In addition, McDonald was proud to share the sustainability fellowship run by UB. He noted that most schools mentioned having residence hall eco reps or student councils, but few universities also had a fellowship for students that allows them to put their sustainable ideas to the test and implement projects or programs. Mike was proud that UB offered this unique fellowship opportunity through UB Sustainability, in which he has been able to participate. Giving the student Change Agents the opportunity to implement their ideas, along with competitions like Worlds Challenge Challenge or Transforming our Tomorrow, combines both academics, sustainability, and real world opportunities. McDonald mentioned that, despite this unique program, there are plenty of innovative ideas that he would like to implement here at UB!

One of Mike’s favorite sustainable solutions is a product called Dero Zap. With Dero Zap, municipalities or institutions like UB can connect bikers and walkers on campus with sensors that are scanned at certain check points, calculate the distance a person travelled sustainably by bike or foot, record the data, and allow universities to provide incentives or benefits according to how much a person scans in through their Dero Zap- ultimately tracking their sustainable transportation! Mike is becoming well versed on sustainable solutions like Dero Zap and many others that he discovered in Spokane.

When asked to offer some thoughts on his experience at the 2019 AASHE Conference, McDonald says, “AASHE was a really cool opportunity. They [AASHE] don’t have the next [conference] location, but if it is closer to home, it would be awesome for more UB students to go. UB is clearly a leader in sustainability and it was humbling to realize how big of an impact the leaders of our Sustainability office make and how UB is revered amongst other sustainability focused universities…..The conference helped reduce my tunnel vision and opened me up to new sustainable programs, ideas, and different types of people involved in sustainability work.”

Mike ended our conversation with both a call to action and celebration of UB’s invaluable resource- students. “Students are the powerhouse of the university. At AASHE, I realized universities are a business and if students, the customers, dictate more sustainable activities, the university (especially those like UB) will follow the lead.”

global goals.

Sustainable Development Goals:

13. Climate action: Taking steps to combat climate change and its impacts 

16. Peace, justice, & strong institutions: Promoting peace and justice with effective, accountable and inclusive institutions