In the final installment of our blog series on sustainability in higher education, we talk with Meghan Fay Zahniser, Executive Director of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE). AASHE is a nonprofit membership association that empowers higher education faculty, administrators, staff and students to be effective change agents and drivers of sustainability innovation.
Her hope is that colleges and universities, in addition to championing sustainability in their operations, will integrate sustainability into the curriculum so that all students are equipped with the knowledge and tools they need to address sustainability solutions—no matter what career path they choose.
How would you describe the role education plays within the wider sustainability movement?
Colleges and universities are hubs of knowledge, innovation and creativity throughout the world. Higher education is where individuals receive the training they need for their future careers. An institutional commitment to sustainability at a college or university can help set standards for other sectors. Incorporating sustainability throughout the curriculum educates all students, no matter what they are studying, on sustainability challenges and solutions. This means that graduates are bringing knowledge and a commitment to sustainability into their careers and helping to change the way we do business.
For AASHE and its partner organizations, what is the value of this commitment to collaborate on furthering higher education sustainability?
We are stronger and more impactful when we work together. Each of our organizations bring different expertise to the table, and through working collaboratively, I believe we can impact millions of students to become positive agents of change and sustainability champions.
The pledge identifies three primary objectives: expand collective capacity to convene and empower leaders; consolidate and leverage efforts to embolden students; and cross-promote and increase alignment of respective rating systems, frameworks and recognition platforms. What sorts of basic resources or approaches are needed to help realize these goals?
The basic resources needed to accomplish these objectives are an eagerness to collaborate and openness to ideas—especially big, bold ideas. The pledge is essentially suggesting we do things differently than what’s been done in the past, so that each organization can better serve our constituents, and ultimately we can more quickly and efficiently advance sustainability in higher education.
Can you explain the generational nature of sustainability and what advice you would give to students or young professionals who are interested in pursuing a career in this field?
Sustainability challenges and solutions are going to be constantly evolving as the world around us changes. As such, we need to be more flexible and adaptable. Everyone on this planet has an impact; we’re consumers of water, food and many different products. Each of us has the opportunity to incorporate sustainability strategies into our daily lives, both personally and professionally. We don’t just need individuals that are dedicated to specific sustainability jobs, we need individuals in every field, every job, that are informed, motivated and committed to implementing sustainability solutions in their every day lives.