An Invaluable Opportunity for Georgia Higher Education

2016 Georgia Campus Sustainability Network Annual Conference

The Georgia Campus Sustainability Network (GCSN) is about six years old. I say “about” because Lissa Leege from GA Southern U and I dreamed up the idea a year earlier, but it only became a reality after we partnered with the National Wildlife Federation (NWF).
(left to right) Eriqah Vincent, National EcoLeaders Coordinator, NWF; Ciannat Howett, Director of Emory Office of Sustainability Initiatives; Julian Keniry, Director of Campus and Community Leadership, NWF. Photo ©Erik Voss

Carly Queen and now Eriqah Vincent from NWF have been terrific – organizing meetings and phone conferences plus taking on the cat-herding job of keeping us academy types on task. The National Wildlife Federation is committed to protecting wildlife for our children’s future and their higher education programs has always done a great job at connecting that mission to the impact our institutions have on this connected eco-system and are now looking to intentionally inspire our students to explore careers that do the same.

The original idea for the GCSN was to construct a mechanism for all sustainability minded people in Georgia higher education to meet and exchange ideas. The goal was inclusiveness. We wanted to include public and private groups, Atlanta-area and out-of-town institutions, large and small schools, faculty, students, and (particularly facility) staff.

The 2016 GCSN Annual Conference, held on September 23, 2016 at Emory University, was organized by Eriqah and the National Wildlife Federation EcoLeaders team in partnership with Suzanne Haerther of the U. S. Green Building Council.  It provided a great opportunity to see the value of such gatherings and exchanging of ideas. The participants and presenters were from our network of about 400 leaders at over 50 campuses and various state based organizations to find presenters in preparation for the meeting.

Photo © 2016 by Erik Voss for National Wildlife Federation
Attendees including students, faculty, and staff from various institutions enjoyed participating in a wide range of presentations throughout the day. Photo ©Erik Voss

The conference was a huge multifaceted success: great keynote presentation, excellent venue, on-point preparation, and consistent efforts to “keep it green” by the Emory team; almost 100 people attended from 15 schools and 9 organizations. We also had a great balance of concurrent session themes. It was especially nice to see the continued growth in student attendance and presentations.

Georgia higher education leaders of various levels made 10 presentations and presented a poster exhibition, answering questions about their resource conservation efforts on the campus and local levels, education for sustainability across curricula, strategies in financing sustainability, and student involvement in their green initiatives.

Here are some of the new and exciting pieces from this year:

  • Keynote: Stephanie Stuckey Benfield, Director for the Mayor’s Office of Sustainability in the City of Atlanta
  • Learning Lab LivePresented by USGBC, this session featured National Wildlife Federation (NWF)’s EcoLeaders who shared their best practices for designing, implementing and measuring the impact of projects that support a more sustainable school community and support learning and career preparedness. The student EcoLeaders also presented how projects they have developed on their college campuses could be replicated in middle and high school settings.
  • Water Hub: We were especially proud to host the program this year at the site of one of the world’s most innovative on-site water conservation and reuse site launched at Emory University in 2015. The WaterHub tour was a perfect capstone for the day.
Student participants networking and sharing ideas with each other and conference organizer and NWF employee, Eriqah Vincent. Photo ©Erik Voss

Networking opportunities abound at these meetings. They lead to high quality collaborative activities among sustainability people in Georgia’s educational institutions, nonprofits, and municipalities as evidenced in a number of the presentations at this year’s meeting. In the future, I hope the network ramps up efforts to include more facilities personnel in the conferences.

June, 2017 will mark the end of my 30th year in the Georgia University System (29 years at Kennesaw State U) and my retirement. As I reflect on my years of teaching and mentoring student researchers I hope that I’ve been able to encourage and promote environmental awareness, at least at the local level. The Georgia Campus Sustainability Network has played a role in fulfilling that aspiration and I’m proud to have seen it grow from a concept to a tradition.

Learn MoreLearn more about NWF’s EcoLeaders program and how to get involved in campus sustainability efforts.


About the Author: Dr. Robert  Paul is a Professor of Biology & (since 2008) Director of Sustainability at Kennesaw State University.