Higher education conference highlights bright renewable energy ideas

By Bronte Payne
Director, Go Solar Campaign

Photo: Bronte Payne

Last week, thousands of sustainability professionals and students flocked to Spokane, Wash. to talk about how higher education can play a leading role in tackling some of our most challenging environmental problems, from the climate crisis to our use of plastics. 

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s (AASHE) Conference and Expo is an annual event that brings together leading voices in sustainability across higher education and advocacy. 

This year’s conference left me more hopeful and inspired than ever. I heard from students, faculty and staff from colleges and universities across the country who are deeply committed to educating and mobilizing their campuses around clean renewable energy and other climate change solutions. 

For example, Students for Climate Action at Amherst College discussed their strategy for organizing their campus community in support of a more ambitious Climate Action Plan, which the college has now adopted. Students from the Gonzaga Renewable Investment Group presented on their Gonzaga Renewable Energy Road Map. This insightful analysis showed where solar could be added to campus buildings and provided financing options for clean energy. Student leaders from Middlebury College gave a history and offered best practices from their successful campaign to get their campus to not only  commit to 100 percent renewable energy, but also divest the college’s endowment from fossil fuels. 

Dozens of students also joined me and my colleagues from WashPIRG Students and CALPIRG Students to learn the strategy and tactics needed to successfully commit their campuses to 100 percent renewable energy.

Training student organizers on leading 100 percent renewable campaigns on their campus. Photo: Bronte Payne.

But students weren’t the only ones at the conference pushing for progress on their campuses. Faculty and sustainability directors from geographically diverse states -- including California, Minnesota and Massachusetts -- gave workshops on forward-thinking plans to transition their campuses away from fossil fuels by reducing their current energy consumption, increasing renewable energy use and electrifying campus infrastructure. 

Sadly, we only had three days to brainstorm and share ideas. But with students, faculty and staff back on their campuses finishing off the fall semester, I hope that they are as inspired as I am to mobilize support for this vital cause. We must transition from fossil fuels to clean renewable energy. For my part, I’m excited to continue working with 100 percent renewable campaigns on more than 30 campuses across the country and support student organizers who are leading the way to a more sustainable future. I can’t wait to share our success stories at next year’s AASHE Conference and Expo.