Students, faculty travel to Los Angeles for sustainability conference

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education Conference has always seen a good turnout from the U.

This week, the Los Angeles Convention Center was buzzing with green people.

Students and staff members from the University of Minnesota traveled to Los Angeles on Sunday for the 2012 Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education Conference. Held annually, the conference invites more than 1,500 academics and researchers from across North America to present and discuss a wide range of sustainability topics.

A group of 10 to 15 students and faculty have been invited to represent the University at the conference since it began in 2006, said Beth Mercer-Taylor, coordinator for the Institute on the Environment. 

“The students at [the University] who try to get something done have a tremendous advantage,” Mercer-Taylor said. “This is a big place, and if you can figure out how to make it work, you’ve achieved something.”

Senior Eric Sannerud represented the University at the conference by presenting on sustainable food systems coursework that he’s done as well as the sustainable food courses offered at the University.

He said though he prefers to work with fellow students, it was interesting to be surrounded by professionals in the field of sustainability, who outnumbered the students at the conference three to one.

“You can kind of see their career paths and how they got to where they are,” Sannerud said.

He said it was also interesting to see the generational difference between those who attended the conference.

“We’re kind of growing up with this sustainability stuff, whereas they majored in something that wasn’t that,” he said. “Sustainability as an academic thing hasn’t existed that long and so people are thinking differently.”

Sustainability studies and art senior Christy Newell presented on two initiatives she’s been involved with outside of her coursework at the University. She talked about her work with Minnesota Youth Environmental Network, a group of young people seeking to instill sustainable practices in communities across the state which she helped to found last year.

She also spoke about programs she had been involved in with the Will Steger Foundation.

Newell said she was proud to represent the University at the conference.

“It’s really cool to be at a university [that] is already making a commitment towards sustainability and to learn about some of the other really cool things that are going on.”

She said though the University is making progress with its sustainability programs, there’s still much to be done to prevent climate decay.

“It’s going to be exciting to bring new ideas back to the University.”

Mercer-Taylor said Arizona State University was also well-represented at the conference. Though ASU is pegged as a premier environmental school with its Global Institute of Sustainability, she said the University of Minnesota was a top contender despite having smaller sustainability programs.

“We’re like Garrison Keillor, ‘let’s not toot our horn too much,’” she said. “We’re doing the same stuff, we just don’t proclaim that we’re the university that does sustainability. Maybe we should.”