What is the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE)?
March 14, 2023

What is the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE)?


The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) is a leading organization that promotes sustainability within the higher education sector. By working closely with colleges and universities, AASHE aims to inspire and support the development and implementation of sustainable practices and policies on campuses worldwide. As the importance of sustainability in higher education grows, AASHE plays a crucial role in shaping a more sustainable future for academic institutions and their communities.

AASHE’s Mission, Vision, and Values

AASHE’s mission is to inspire and catalyze higher education to lead the global sustainability transformation. Through its work, AASHE envisions higher education as the foundation for a thriving, equitable, and ecologically healthy world. AASHE’s core values reflect the organization’s commitment to sustainability and include transparency, collaboration, hope, stewardship, innovation, courage, accountability, diversity, equity, and inclusion. These values guide AASHE’s work and help to ensure the organization’s continued dedication to the sustainability goals it promotes.

History of AASHE

AASHE’s roots can be traced back to the Education for Sustainability Western Network (EFS West), established by Second Nature in 2001 with funding from the Compton Foundation. EFS West initially served college and university campuses in the western U.S. and Canada, providing resources and support for their sustainability efforts.

In 2004, EFS West held the first North American Conference on Sustainability in Higher Education in Portland, Oregon. The conference’s success and increasing demand for EFS West’s resources led the organization to transition from a regional network to an independent higher education association serving North America. In December 2005, the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) was officially launched as the first professional higher education association for the campus sustainability community in North America.

Since its inception, AASHE has experienced significant growth and now comprises over 900 members across 48 U.S. states, 1 U.S. Territory, 9 Canadian provinces, and 20 countries. As a key player in promoting sustainability within higher education, AASHE continues to expand its reach and impact, inspiring colleges and universities to become change agents and drivers of sustainability innovation.

Principles of Engagement

AASHE recognizes the importance of collaborating with various sectors to achieve its goals, including partnerships with educational institutions, non-profits, government agencies, and businesses. The organization seeks to engage with like-minded stakeholders who share its commitment to sustainability in higher education. When forming partnerships, AASHE carefully considers the alignment of goals, values, and potential for mutual growth and learning. This ensures that collaborations remain productive and focused on driving sustainability initiatives.

Maintaining transparency and integrity is a cornerstone of AASHE’s principles of engagement. AASHE fosters trust and credibility among its members and partners by openly sharing its goals, strategies, and outcomes. This transparency also allows for continuous improvement, as the organization can learn from its successes and challenges and adapt its approaches accordingly.

Sustainability Policy

As defined by AASHE, sustainability is creating a world where all people can live fulfilling lives within the planet’s ecological limits. Sustainable practices protect the environment, advance social justice, and support economic prosperity. Some examples of sustainable practices in higher education include:

  • Implementing energy-efficient technologies and renewable energy sources
  • Encouraging waste reduction, recycling, and composting
  • Incorporating sustainable design principles into campus buildings
  • Supporting local and organic food procurement in dining services
  • Offering sustainable transportation options, such as bike-sharing programs and electric vehicle charging stations

Areas of Focus for Sustainable Practices

AASHE encourages colleges and universities to adopt sustainable practices across various aspects of campus operations, including:

  • Air and Climate: Reducing greenhouse gas emissions, promoting clean air initiatives, and monitoring air quality on campus.
  • Buildings: Ensuring campus buildings’ design, construction, and maintenance adhere to sustainable and energy-efficient standards.
  • Energy: Implementing energy conservation measures, investing in renewable energy sources, and exploring energy innovative solutions.
  • Food and Dining: Emphasizing local and organic food sourcing, reducing food waste, and offering plant-based menu options.
  • Purchasing: Adopting sustainable procurement policies, prioritizing environmentally friendly products, and working with suppliers committed to sustainability.
  • Transportation: Encouraging public transportation, carpooling, biking, and walking while providing infrastructure for electric and low-emission vehicles.
  • Waste: Implementing waste reduction strategies, promoting recycling and composting, and minimizing hazardous waste generation.
  • Water: Conserving water resources, reducing water pollution, and managing stormwater effectively to protect local ecosystems.

Coordination and Planning

One of the essential components of AASHE’s approach to sustainability in higher education is the integration of sustainability principles into plans and reports. This ensures that colleges and universities develop long-term strategies and goals that align with their commitment to sustainability. By adopting appropriate metrics, institutions can effectively measure their progress and identify areas for improvement. Key performance indicators may include energy consumption, waste reduction, and carbon emissions.

Embracing organizational democracy is another vital aspect of AASHE’s coordination and planning. This means involving stakeholders from various institution levels in decision-making, fostering shared responsibility, and promoting open dialogue about sustainability challenges and opportunities.

Diversity and Affordability

AASHE encourages colleges and universities to promote inclusiveness and ensure that all individuals have access to programs and services regardless of their background. By fostering a diverse campus community, institutions can enrich the educational experience and contribute to social justice.

AASHE also emphasizes addressing anti-oppression and environmental justice issues in higher education. By incorporating these topics into the curriculum and campus programming, institutions can raise awareness and empower students, faculty, and staff to actively work toward social and environmental justice on campus and beyond.

Investment and Financial Responsibility

Financial responsibility plays a crucial role in promoting sustainability in higher education. AASHE encourages institutions to consider socially responsible retirement plans for their employees, focusing on investments in companies that prioritize environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors. By doing so, colleges and universities can align their financial decisions with sustainability values and support a more equitable and environmentally conscious economy.

Divestment from fossil fuels is another critical aspect of AASHE’s investment and financial responsibility approach. By divesting from companies involved in extracting, producing, and distributing fossil fuels, colleges, and universities can send a powerful message about their commitment to combating climate change and supporting clean energy alternatives. This financial strategy aligns with sustainability principles and helps institutions mitigate potential financial risks associated with the ongoing global transition to a low-carbon economy.

Public Engagement and Advocacy

AASHE emphasizes the importance of public engagement and advocacy in promoting sustainability in higher education. Collaboration with stakeholders, including students, faculty, staff, and community members, allows institutions to create meaningful societal and environmental impacts. By working together, colleges and universities can develop innovative solutions to pressing sustainability challenges and inspire positive change beyond their campuses.

In addition to fostering collaboration, AASHE supports public policy advocacy to advance sustainability in higher education. By engaging in conversations with policymakers and advocating for legislation that supports sustainable practices, colleges and universities can help shape a more sustainable future on a local, regional, and national level.

Wellbeing and Work

Promoting well-being and a healthy work environment is another critical aspect of AASHE’s approach to sustainability. Institutions are encouraged to respect employee rights and benefits, ensuring fair treatment and adequate support for all staff members. Pay equity is vital to this approach, as it fosters a just and inclusive work environment that values each employee’s contributions.

AASHE also recognizes the importance of work-life balance and employee satisfaction. By offering flexible work arrangements, wellness programs, and personal and professional growth opportunities, colleges and universities can create a more positive and supportive workplace that ultimately contributes to the institution’s overall sustainability.

Next Steps

The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education (AASHE) is crucial in driving sustainability efforts within colleges and universities. By offering resources, guidance, and support, AASHE empowers institutions to adopt sustainable practices and positively impact their communities and the planet.

Encouraging involvement and support for AASHE’s initiatives is essential to advancing sustainability in higher education. By participating in AASHE conferences, webinars, and workshops and utilizing their tools and resources, colleges and universities can continually improve their sustainability efforts and contribute to a brighter, more sustainable future for all.

However, implementing sustainable practices on campus can be challenging, and institutions may need expert assistance to navigate this complex landscape. That’s where Veritrove comes in. Our team of professionals is dedicated to helping colleges and universities develop and implement effective sustainability strategies tailored to their unique needs. If you’re ready to take your institution’s sustainability efforts to the next level, contact Veritrove today and let us help you make a meaningful, lasting impact on your campus and beyond.


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