Big Takeaways from WOHESC 2018

The first annual Washington and Oregon Higher Education Sustainability Conference (WOHESC 2018) took place earlier this month and what an inspiring and inviting conference it was. There were many topics that were bouncing off the walls of Portland State University, with many students even engaging in the conversation on behalf on their universities. With a wide range of attendees, there was no lack of broad ideas brought to the table. Here’s a quick synopsis of the conference if you weren’t able to attend.


Hot Topics in Higher Ed & Sustainability

  1. Racial and Social Equity continue to be a hot topic for universities

As universities work to enhance sustainability campus wide, oftentimes, the ‘social’ side of sustainability is not attacked with as much effort. Racial and social equity continue to be on the top of every school’s priority list when it comes to student engagement on campus, recruiting diverse applicants and creating more of an inclusive culture. We heard from some amazing panelists and speakers, giving their two cents on how their universities are working towards these types of environments for their students and faculty. One of the biggest ideas that stood out was the amount of pull student groups can have in this area. If students are at the forefront of these issues demanding change – universities will have to listen and act.


  1. Moving from theory to implementation

More and more of the conversation this year was how to move from talking about implementation to receiving tips and tactics to actually make change in their organization. Whether that was to establish a Sustainability Center on campus or get a specific initiative passed, schools have moved beyond the ‘talking about it’ phase to being ready to implement without the ‘know-how’. As these conferences progress, we foresee many more of the sessions to include tactical and strategic solutions to solving this implementation problem. One such idea thrown around was using pilot programs or initiatives as a great way to see first hand what barriers arise and how to overcome them. It’s also a great way to test student body engagement and budget that might be needed.


  1. Exploring cross-collaboration as a means to student engagement

Another topic brought up by the inspiring keynote speaker Pandora Thomas was the idea of highly-collaborative and mutually-beneficial partnerships that not only increase student engagement but bolster the institutions reputation as an anchor in the community. This can be done in a variety of ways whether it’s partnering with local environmental or social organizations, but it really gives students the opportunity for experiential learning, leadership and mentorship. For students specifically involved in environmental or social organizations on campus, this can be an amazing sneak peak into how institutions, organizations and businesses will need to be innovative with their partnerships to achieve major milestones such as making progress of the SDG’s or solving some of the major social issues present in our culture today.


Overall, this conference served as a catalyst for many attendees to take their knowledge back to their universities and begin implementing or starting the conversation about sustainability. As sustainability in higher education becomes more prevalent, we will need more discussions around implementation and strategy. Our hope for next year and the years beyond, is that we have collectively evolved this sector to really get down to solving the nitty gritty intricacies that higher education institutions present and start equipping our students with the knowledge and skills to move beyond the academic walls and be disrupters of their own.

Check out the WOHESC blog for more information and to keep up to date on all things sustainability in higher education in Washington and Oregon state.

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