Conference Planning Committee Members
- American University
- APPA (Leadership in Educational Facilities)
- Purdue University
- Second Nature
- U.S. Green Building Council
- University of Alberta
- University of Maryland, College Park
- University of Washington
- Virginia Commonwealth University
A Gathering of Minds: Ten Years of Smart and Sustainable Campuses Conference
(adapted from EM Magazine, October 2015)
From resource management to climate action planning, universities have been at the forefront of the modern-day sustainability movement. It has become clear that just as the academic, social, and administrative needs of universities continue to evolve, so must issues of sustainability and environmental responsibility. Therefore, it’s no coincidence that the evolution of the Smart and Sustainable Campuses Conference has paralleled the evolution of campus sustainability. In reviewing ten years of conferences, a progression in the scope and scale of campus sustainability programs are reflected in the diversity of attendees, the presentations and workshops offered, and the breadth of knowledge and experience that attendees bring to this event every year.
The Smart and Sustainable Campuses Conference was first imagined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), who saw colleges and universities as analogues to cities that face their own microcosms of environmental challenges. Curious about how issues of land use planning, transportation, and community development were playing out in college towns, the EPA imagined a conference that would bring together leaders from planning, finance, facilities and procurement with decision makers from college and university towns. Thus, in 2005 at the University of Maryland, the first Smart and Sustainable was born.
In the wake of a successful first year with approximately 200 attendees, the conference sponsoring organizations felt that a significant niche had been identified. Additional organizations joined the planning committee, including AASHE, the Campus Consortium for Environmental Excellence (C2E2) and Campus Safety, Health and Environmental Management Association (CSHEMA). Through 2007, the conference remained mostly focused on smart growth and environmental compliance. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. reflected similar environmental priorities of resources conservation and habitat protection in his 2007 keynote address.
In 2008, NACUBO took over from EPA as the primary organizing body of the conference. As a business officer association, they focused attention on the business case for sustainability and how to finance operational sustainability. Achieving carbon neutrality and climate change were becoming bigger parts of the conversation, but many universities were still without staff dedicated to these issues. A concurrent session in 2008, “Why Your Campus Needs an Office of Sustainability,” addressed this early lack of leadership.
In 2012, the University of Maryland became the official conference host after a transfer in management from NACUBO. At that time, the conference was at a crossroads. Attendance had fallen, campus budgets were limited, and conference sessions focused on broader sustainability issues and not simply financing strategies. The conference planning committee, which still included APPA, NACUBO, Second Nature, AASHE, the United States Green Building Council (USGBC), and a number of universities, set out to discuss how to keep Smart and Sustainable relevant and fill a professional development need.
The committee agreed that the conference should remain small (300–400 attendees), and should reflect a more in-depth agenda. From 2012 onward, the conference focused on becoming an intimate, discussion-based networking and professional development opportunity for higher education stakeholders. The committee began reflecting not just higher education associations, but colleges and universities from across the United States and Canada. In recent years, the committee has even included corporate partners. Presentation tracks have evolved to include “The Campus as a Learning Laboratory,” “Fostering Behavior Change,” and “Social Sustainability,” and keynote speakers have come from outside the higher education community.
Conference planning has also evolved to ensure a sustainable experience for attendees. For the past two years, the conference has been held in Baltimore, Maryland, at the Hyatt Regency on the Inner Harbor. While the conference has always been carbon neutral, the planning committee began working with the venue to ensure food was sustainably and locally sourced. For the past two years, leftover food has been recovered and donated to homeless shelters by the Food Recovery Network, a student-led organization founded at the University of Maryland in 2011.
The 10th annual Smart and Sustainable Campuses Conference was held this past March, and continues to meet the evolving needs of the higher education sustainability community. The diversity of the conference also continues to grow, with attendees hailing from the United States, Canada, Turkey, and Brazil. Small, two-year colleges, liberal arts institutions, and large research universities are all represented, their sustainability experiences as diverse and valuable as their institutional missions. The feedback and evaluations from these attendees continues to shape the conference every year, and will continue to influence the conversations surrounding campus sustainability.
But, despite concentrated efforts over the years to develop this small conference into a large success, the mission of Smart and Sustainable has not changed: a dedication to the professional development and networking of the higher education community.
Read the full article featured in EM Magazine, A Gathering of Minds: Ten Years of Smart and Sustainable Campuses Conference.
For more information, contact: