Between the Sessions: Taking the Emotional Pulse at AASHE 2008

Posted on November 12, 2008. Filed under: Uncategorized | Tags: , , , , |

The AASHE 2008 program offers opportunities for campus sustainability professionals to speak with each other on a broad range of topics: master planning, service learning, utility efficiency, carbon footprinting, and strategies for change, just to name a few. However, it’s only between the sessions where we ask an important professional question: “How are you?”

Ours is a new profession, and many of us are in uncharted territory virtually every day. As such, I find it’s useful when I gather with my peers to take check-in on their emotional pulse. Following is what I’m hearing:

  • First, without exception, campus sustainability professionals are feeling overworked. Many are having difficulty keeping-up with their workloads, and some appear to be sacrificing their personal well-being in the process.
  • Second, many expressed the need for full-time support staff. One even received a promise of multiple support staff upon his hiring, and that promise remains unfulfilled a year later.
  • Third, some are operating without a budget, and many find the lack of financial resources to support projects and initiatives frustrating, especially when such projects have a clear economic and immediate economic payback.
  • Fourth, some mentioned an inability to say no when a request or an opportunity crosses their desk, no matter how busy they already are.
  • Fifth, all are driven by a deep sense of urgency – even emergency – in their work. With many experts suggesting that our window to act on climate change is literally just a few more years in order to avoid dangerous tipping points, it’s no wonder that campus sustainability professionals feel the need to overwork themselves.
  • And sixth, given all of the above, it is quite remarkable that many of my peers still feel hopeful. Certainly the upcoming administration of President-Elect Barack Obama is a hot topic of conversation at AASHE 2008, and there is a genuine belief that issues like energy and climate change will be addressed soon with a thoughtful, science-driven approach. But the sense of hope is not just a function of national politics. Perhaps it’s because they are working so hard on sustainability issues, and because they see so many other people joining the profession and working so hard, that there’s a sense that real progress is being made. But make no mistake, it’s a cautious hope.

So, with a sense of great burden, of being under-equipped and overworked, the surprise is not just that campus sustainability professionals remain hopeful. It’s also that no matter the challenges, they also still seem to love their work. I continue to detect a sense of genuine fulfillment amongst my peers. But I wonder how long that will last. Are we running the risk that the profession itself as currently practiced is unsustainable?


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9 Responses to “Between the Sessions: Taking the Emotional Pulse at AASHE 2008”

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Excellent post, Richard. Thank you so much for thinking to poll your peers and report what you heard for all of us working on the campus sustainability movement to hear.


Hi Sam! This was by no means a formal poll of course but rather an overview of what I was hearing. A future panel topic might be “sustaining the sustainers” (although it might border on therapy). I think another potential session topic would be “my biggest disaster” which would allow a safe venue to air our war stories and identify the resulting lessons.

Kudos to AASHE for another great event!

Thanks. I will print this off and give it to my president, so he knows it isn’t just me being a whiner all the time.

A week after AASHE 2008 and I am feeling all of the above, while still trying to play catch up for being gone a few days. But I did hear from others about making plans, setting goals and priorities so those will be my new year’s resolutions.

Richard, I just stumbled across your blog and this post really hits home. As someone who has recently joined the campus sustainability movement coming from the corporate sector I share your sentiments with the sense of urgency, and overwhelming demand from all angels. I think our efforts could go a lot further if we not only work to support each other, but also support and encourage our respective institutions to make day-to-day processes more efficient. This would make information sharing, organization of resources and passing along learning between institutions much stronger. Point being, I think we need to find better ways to collaborate inside and outside of our organizations.

Cindy –

Yes, the opportunity to hear from others regarding “growing” a program is helping me to think about my next steps too, but as with you I too am focused most immediately on catching up!

Amanda –

As our profession begins to mature, I think we’ll be able to share more insights for ways to collaborate within our institutions, and we’ll hopefully have developed more models to collaborate between our institutions. We’d be much further behind on this without a great organization like AASHE to start to draw us together.

Thank you for posting this.

I feel the design of the conference itself was reflective of this tendency towards a lack of personal and professional sustainability when it comes to the field. AASHE was trying to cover as much as they felt they could and in doing so, had way too much going on. I had to study the schedule for a long time every day just to figure out what I would do and was exhausted to the point of collapse by the end.

what a great site and informative posts, I will add a backlink and bookmark your site. Keep up the good work!

I’m Out! 🙂

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