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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    Insights and observations on the campus greening movement, from the perspective of a campus sustainability professional

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