Greetings Green Seal blog readers! This is Mac Clevenger – newest member of the Green Seal family – writing from Green Seal’s headquarters in Washington, DC. Today, I’m going to talk about the Smart and Sustainable Campuses Conference (affectionately known as “SSCC”) that I had the pleasure of attending and exhibiting at just last week in Baltimore with my fellow Green Seal-er, Susan Heaton. Many thanks to the University of Maryland for putting together such a wonderful two days and congratulations to SSCC on ten years!
So, what is SSCC all about you ask? Well, allow me to enlighten you. In short, SSCC concerns sustainability at our higher education institutions. Ten years ago when SSCC was first held, sustainability was still in its adolescent years. The world has come a long way since then and I cannot tell you how impressive the work that our colleges and universities are doing in order protect our planet and the beings that inhabit it.
From the university buildings themselves to the chemicals that clean them to the dining services that feed the students to the college’s water filtration systems (see below image for an example from Sustainable Water), our higher education institutions are becoming sustainability leaders in the United States. The overarching theme of SSCC 2015 was the future of sustainability. Though sustainability may still be trendy in popular culture, it has been firmly established that sustainability has a vital role to play and it is up to the next generation of sustainability professionals to integrate the necessary changes into our institutions, businesses, governments, and daily lives.
On the first day of the conference, we all had the pleasure of hearing from two gentlemen who have certainly made their mark on the world of sustainability: Raj Patel (award-winning writer, activist and academic) and George Bandy (VP of Sustainability at Interface). Raj spoke about the unfortunate situation that is today’s world food system. Today, almost a billion inhabitants of the Earth are malnourished yet there is more food per person than there ever has been in the history of the Earth. How is this possible?
Though Raj did not explicitly say so, the implication of his keynote address points to human behavior as the smoking gun. It follows that drastic changes in our cultural values and attitudes will be necessary if we are to bridge the gap between the well-fed and the under-fed. This call to action is similar to the message that Green Seal’s President and CEO Arthur Weissman, Ph.D. gives in his book In the Light of Humane Nature.
George Bandy has been at the forefront of sustainability initiatives since before many of the students at SSCC were even born. He spoke to the many subtle and complicated nuances of the sustainability world but my biggest takeaway was a greater understanding of how the sustainability movement has changed over the last 20 years. “Engage with the enemy!” George said. “They can get you what you need…”
It is not always a popular subject but it is important to work with organizations that may have once been considered antagonistic or even an impediment to sustainability. The implication of George’s presentation is that we must learn to integrate big business with environmental movements in order to make sustainability work and last permanently.
The vibe of SSCC was relaxed yet scholarly and purposeful at the same time. Each day, participants and exhibitors alike were given a wide array of presentations and workshops to attend. Susan Heaton (Director of National Accounts Development) traveled all the way from our Lexington, NC office to let the good people know about the benefits of green cleaning. Susan teamed up with the University of Virginia’s Sandra Smith (Quality Assurance and Development Manager) to deliver a succinct yet meaningful presentation. UVA is one of a few Green Seal certified universities, representing some of the true leaders in green cleaning.
Green cleaning is near and dear to mission of Green Seal. Green Seal was one of the original pioneers of green cleaning and developed our standard GS-42 for Commercial and Institutional Cleaning Services in order to recognize leaders in the cleaning world. Though Susan loathes having her picture taken, I was able to snap a couple nice shots of this lovely Green Seal-er in action.
The most meaningful part of my time at SSCC came on the second day at the sustainability roundtable discussion forum. We chose the “Green Building” table and there we met some extraordinary future sustainability professionals. Our discussion began with a question from two students attending the College of Wooster in Ohio (Alissa Weinman, Class of 2015, and Taylor Knoop, Class of 2016). They asked, “Can you help us with some green building tips?”
Alissa and Taylor were the only two students at the table. The rest of us looked around at each other, semi-surprised with the inquiry, and began giving suggestions: “Well yes of course! You need to…” and a lengthy exchange followed. They seemed genuinely interested and took copious notes (our eye brows raised…). As it turns out, Alissa and Taylor were invited by their college to help advise in the construction of a new science building because their university has no sustainability official. They, and their sustainability student organization, are on the front line in the struggle to “green” their university.
I cannot tell you how impressive these two students are and how inspiring it is to see undergraduates traveling all the way from Ohio (with a full class schedule I might add) to learn about green building and sustainability practices in order to be sustainability advisors to their university officials. Needless to say, I think we were able to steer them in the right direction and help to create an effective plan of action. But it gives me great hope for the future that there are young people in the next up and coming generation who care as much as Alissa and Taylor do about human and environmental health. I hope they stay in touch and know that Green Seal will be there to give advice and whatever guidance we can in the future.
The closing plenary of this year’s SSCC was a summation of themes from the entire conference: “Is There a Sustainability 2.0 Ahead?” Quick answer: no but Sustainability 3.0 is! We heard from Denice Heller Wardrop (Director, Penn State’s Sustainability Institute and Senior Scientist and Professor of Geography and Ecology), Yalmaz Siddiqui (Senior Director, Environmental Strategy at Office Depot) and Jane Henley (CEO, World Green Building Council). All three would most assuredly agree that sustainability is here to stay but that the challenge for the future will be how to change our organizations and institutions in order to integrate sustainability and environmental innovations in a lasting and productive manner.
Sustainability professionals all work in our chosen field because we have a passion and commitment to protecting our planet, preserving our resources, and safeguarding human health. Because we have come so far, however, the responsibility now lies with us to ensure that sustainability becomes a way of life, pervading all aspects of human society. This is a multi-faceted challenge but Raj Patel had an interesting idea that really hit home with me: that sustainability can be pleasurable. The notion that sustainability can be fun or bring joy is not necessarily radical but it is also not something that folks in the industry talk about a lot. If we can find a way to get humanity to associate sustainability with happiness and joy, then surely it must last the test of time.
If you are in Baltimore next April, I would highly recommend spending a few days near the historic Baltimore Harbor at SSCC 2016. You might even see a certain red-headed Green Seal-er there. Until next time, this is Mac Clevenger signing out!