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AASHE 2015 – Looking back and looking forward

Minneapolis was the proud host of the 2015 Association of Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) Conference from October 26th to the 28th, with record attendance of over 2300 participants from 17 countries. The theme for this year was Transforming Sustainability Education. Educators, administrators, and students came with their passion, enthusiasm, and tools and ideas for transformation.

The conference kicked off on Sunday, October 25th with the annual Student Summit, which had eighty University of Minnesota students attend from all five campuses – Crookston, Duluth, Morris, Rochester and the Twin Cities. Seventy additional University faculty and staff joined in for the full conference, which opened Sunday evening and continued through Tuesday, October 27th.  Stephen Mulkey, president of Unity College in Maine, stepped in as keynote speaker on October 25th, when David Orr, the original speaker, was delayed by his flight. His statements of “all education is sustainability education”, “in every lesson, you can teach or deny that we are a part of nature”, and “sustainability must be the primary mission of higher education” were especially inspiring.

Conference attendees had a plethora of workshops, speakers, exhibits, panel discussions, and poster sessions to choose from, ranging from a speaker on “Sense of Place Programming for Incoming Students” at Colorado College to a workshop on “Peer Pressure for Good: Behavior Change in Campus Sustainability Action Campaigns” by Alexis Troschinetz, Behavior Change and Metrics Coordinator with University of Minnesota Regional Sustainable Development Partnerships and Extension. The depth and breadth of the offerings were an illustration of the myriad approaches to campus sustainability and the number of people committed around the world to sustainability on college campuses and beyond.

University of Minnesota had extensive representation throughout the AASHE Conference.  Students, faculty and staff led sixty different workshops, panels and poster sessions.  Ellen Anderson, director of the University of Minnesota’s Energy Transition Lab and Kate Knuth,Boreas Leadership Program Director at the University of Minnesota led the “Students Powering the Energy Transition” session and focused on “how students can make a positive impact on public policy and decision makers to help our energy system transition to a sustainable future”. U student Nathan Michielson led a well-received Identity Caucus to facilitate conversation for conference participants to reflect and share about diverse identities and how we can better create a safe space for marginalized communities in the world of campus sustainability.


As the conference wound down, key note speakers got everyone inspired and motivated to go back to their campuses and make the conference work come alive. The real value of a conference like AASHE and the information and inspiration we experience is what gets manifested in the real world, in actual communities.  Shalini Gupta, from the Center for Earth, Energy and Democracy in Minneapolis and the Closing Keynote Speaker on Tuesday, October 27th, asked in her speech, “What are the stories that get told and who gets to tell them?”


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