Blog: Getting to GreenTo begin, let me correct an error in my previous post. I stated that the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) had grown out of an earlier and more specialized organization c...
Blog: Getting to GreenTo begin, let me correct an error in my previous post. I stated that the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) had grown out of an earlier and more specialized organization called the Consortium for Environmental Education in Medicine. I thought that to be true based on governing documents published on the AASHE website, but the actual history is somewhat different. I've been told by One Who Was There that, functionally and operationally, AASHE started out as a grant-funded regional effort -- EfS West. When a decision was made to expand to national scale, conversion of the approved-but-inoperative CEEM charter was decided upon as likely easier and less expensive than starting a whole new non-profit application from scratch. Thus, the paper trail indicates one history but reality lies somewhere else.
That historical misunderstanding aside, AASHE does currently face significant challenges including, but not limited to, those mentioned earlier. I don't want to kick a well-intentioned organization when it's down. Rather, I'd like to offer some thoughts and suggestions about how AASHE -- still the best candidate we've got for a higher ed sustainability professional membership organization -- can reshape itself for future success.
First and foremost, AASHE needs to find a way to make absolutely clear what it's trying to achieve. The term "sustainability" is almost as broad as the term "virtue". I'm pretty much in favor of each, but saying that an organization is trying to promote either doesn't really tell me very much. It's OK for an organization like AASHE to chase a goal which evolves somewhat over time -- refining its vision of the end state it's trying to attain can be evidence of learning and growth. But it's not OK to avoid stating, as best it can, what the organization is striving to accomplish, at least in qualitative terms. The more precisely a goal can be expressed, the more effectively it can be promoted and justified. Other organizations (e.g., The Natural Step, ICLEI, the Global Reporting Initiative) have been more explicit in defining sustainability than has AASHE to date -- it's not easy, but it's not impossible.
AASHE needs to be clear about just who it's trying to organize. Right now, the target audience seems to include sustainability staff, faculty who want (or should want) to teach about sustainability, leaders of educational institutions, directors and managers of administrative and auxiliary operations with sustainability implications, students, alumni, athletics departments, campus contractors and suppliers, and pretty much everybody else in town. Trying to communicate to such a diverse audience means that the message gets softened; soft messaging ne'er won anything.
If AASHE determines to engage seriously with society's range of sustainability problems, its role will be far different from that of most higher ed professional membership organizations. The typical such organization focuses on standardizing, improving, promoting, fine-tuning the performance of an established organizational role which is likely to continue well into the future. AASHE, on the other hand, needs to position and organize itself to focus on creating, enabling, evolving, and empowering the performance of a nascent organizational role the purpose of which is to change the future. Significantly. Using higher ed as a lever.
Promoting change is an inherently creative process. Creative processes can't be managed bureaucratically, nor can they succeed if they just muddle along. Dave Newport at UC-Boulder has a good blog post that describes (about half-way down) how AASHE has suffered from a management structure based on the generally messy and muddle-filled leadership pattern of higher ed itself. That's probably pretty accurate, and it's led to a situation w