Sustainability (and such)

Conferences, meh.

Posted by Nancy Van Leuven, Ph.D. on October 1, 2012

Today I’m polishing a presentation for the upcoming AASHE conference and I’m wondering why, this time, I’m dreading it.  Do I fervently believe in the mission of the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education?  Yes.  Have I benefited from previous AASHE conferences?  Yes, again.  Don’t I want to share my research, which is about food sovereignty and sustainability in American Indian tribes?  Oh, yes.  So why aren’t I looking forward to the upcoming get-together in Los Angeles, exactly?

I’m conferenced-out, especially with national/global meetings, especially about sustainability.  In this era of Google circles and hang-outs, plus the question about whether big conferences are becoming obsolete, why are so many of us still spending thousands of dollars and tromping with huge carbon footprints into far-flung cities like Godzilla tourists, albeit well-meaning?  (Plus, a POSTER SESSION?  Seriously, hundreds of paper posters, at a sustainability conference? Really?)

A few years back I studied how the World Social Forum was creating smaller, regional events so that more people could afford to network and make incremental progress about common issues.  While the Seattle version fell flat and is an excellent case study in organizational communication, the idea still burns bright:  Short of the comfort of face-to-face interactions and the excitement of new venues and reunions, why aren’t we relying more on virtual sharing rather than continuing this practice of photo ops and per diem elitism?

If I’m gonna stick with AASHE, I’ll need something different next time. What if some of our $200-$600 registration fees went toward actual college projects rather than vendor booths with swag?  How about holding several smaller meetings on college campuses rather than “North America’s largest campus sustainability conference” at the cavernous Los Angeles Convention Center?  And maybe we academics could suck it up and stay in college dorms off-season rather than at the gorgeous Westin Bonaventure?

Yes, I’m dragging my feet because it seems hypocritical to travel the planet on other people’s dimes in the name of sustainability.  HOWEVER, I must confess that this whining is selective, because I’m also  winging my way to Orlando next month to the upcoming National Communication Association conference.  Yes, I’ll pay my own way to learn stuff I either already know or can easily access, given the convention’s archive.  But I pinky-swear to do a knowledge transfer when I get back, okay, just as soon as I take off my mouse ears.

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