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Energy Services and Sustainability team members Cindy Shea and Amy Armbruster recently presented at the 2019 Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) conference and expo in Spokane, Washington. Shea, director of the UNC-Chapel Hill Sustainability Office, joined co-presenters and experts from University of Connecticut, Stanford University, and Smith College to share lessons learned from successful sustainability programs and emerging trends in the higher education environment. Armbruster, Carolina’s Sustainability Research and Outreach manager, participated in a panel discussion which included representatives from Duke University, NC State University, Elon University and UNC-Charlotte and focused on the power of partnerships in the sustainability higher education arena.

Sustainability in Higher Ed

Managing sustainability programs across operational and educational functions is a special challenge of a higher education sustainability program, and one that is easily affected by political and funding disparities.

“The explicit inclusion of the differences between red states and blue states was unusual and highly valued by many practitioners who are new to this work and wonder how to make progress in their part of the country,” Shea shared.

Shea and fellow higher education sustainability directors shared practical advice about how to stay ahead of trends and maximize a sustainability program’s effectiveness.

“All the members of our panel have been at this work for some time and were able to speak to the changes they have seen over the years,” she noted.

The presentation included recent trends spotted and guidance for how to coordinate and plan for those trends, including:

  • How to select initiatives that demonstrate your office’s value and strengthen your business case
  • How to set goals that are ambitious but achievable
  • How to engage multiple stakeholders in a collaborative and engaging way that expands your program’s influence
  • How to creatively tackle trending issues while staying focused on strategic plans and goals
  • How to identify and use internal and external resources to further your results

For Shea, the opportunity to engage with others who fill the same shoes is motivating. “Learning how campuses around the country work to integrate sustainability into their teaching, operations, and engagement is always a treat. I learn something new and come back inspired after every AASHE conference.”

Inspiring Partnerships

The partnerships panel kept it real by highlighting the challenges of collaborations when engaging a broader audience in campus sustainability efforts.  Successes and lessons learned were also shared.

Armbruster welcomed the opportunity to learn from others, as she offered her own guidance, “It was such an honor to represent UNC at AASHE’s national conference. The best parts of the experience were getting the opportunity to work with and learn from such talented and accomplished collaborators from other NC universities. They are all doing truly exceptional work!”

Armbruster shared lessons learned about the Sustainability Office partnership with Campus Dining Services for the Eat.Sort.Win campaign. The second annual UNC Sortation Concierge program was a critical part of the campaign and was held Oct. 7-11, 2019, in the bottom of Lenoir and during October 7th’s Three Zeros Day.

The campaign’s two parts:  digital marketing and promotion and in-person engagement by volunteer Sortation Concierges, resulted in more than 10,000 people reached using social media, making it a hugely successful campaign.  Students who engaged with CDS using social media were eligible to win tickets to a home basketball game, with the final prize winner receiving tickets to the Duke-UNC game, thanks to the Athletics department.

Along with the digital campaign, the Three Zeros Environmental Initiative intern team launched the Sortation Concierge program, which included recruiting, training and coordinating students to stand near waste stations in CDS facilities and offer to help with waste sortation.  70 student volunteers gave time over four weeks and impacted more than 800 people about how to sort their trash correctly. An estimated 107,388 pounds of waste was diverted from landfills during the campaign.

“After our presentation, a woman from Princeton University’s dining services came up to me to share how excited she was about our partnership with CDS. She was inspired to go back to her institution to develop a program similar to our Eat. Sort. Win. Competition,” Armbruster noted. “I think that is a big win: Our work isn’t just benefiting our students and advancing sustainability on our campus. It’s being picked up and used by other Universities and that’s magnifying our impact!”

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