Carleton Hosts the Biennial UMACS Conference

8 October 2019

During the last weekend of September, over 200 attendees flooded onto Carleton’s campus to attend the 2019 UMACS conference. The biennial conference was themed “Diversity, Community, & Creativity: Elements for Sustainable Transformation”, and was co-hosted by the Sustainability Office and the CCCE. While Carleton students may have noticed the influx of strangers on campus, they may not have previously known what exactly UMACS stood for. The Upper Midwest Association for Campus Sustainability was established in 2005 to help connect colleges and universities, in order to share information and resources pertaining to campus sustainability efforts. Institutions of higher education have great potential for positive environmental change, by taking such measures as divesting from fossil fuels or introducing recycling to their campuses. Along with potential institutional improvements, schools function as the training grounds for the next generation of leaders and policy makers. UMACS encourages networking and cooperative research so that, “faculty/staff/students working in isolation, often against the dominant campus culture,” do not become discouraged in their efforts. 

Alex Miller, Carleton’s Sustainability Program Coordinator, sits on the UMACS Steering Committee. When the 2017 conference was finished, they started looking for a 2019 host site. Alex informed me that she, “made the connection that 2019 is also the year that the East Energy Station would be online and a great opportunity to have folks from around the region visit campus. I pitched it to various folks and the Steering Committee selected Carleton as the host site.” 

Those who came to the conference at Carleton were from all different levels of sustainability programming at the visiting schools–sustainability coordinators, student office employees, students interested in sustainability, environmental studies professors, faculty members, and campus administrators. They arrived on Friday to hear a speech from keynote speaker Karen Diver, who was a previous appointee by President Obama as the Special Assistant to the President for Native American Affairs. Today, she serves as the Director, Business Development, Native American Initiatives at the University of Arizona. One of the first questions Diver asked her audience was, “Who here benefits from treaty rights?” When only a few people raised their hands, she rephrased, “Who here hunts, drives on public roads…” A sea of hands went up. This, she pointed out, was a result of our framing treaties as a Native American issue, rather than a reciprocal relationship. In keeping with the conference’s theme, her talk interwove personal experiences of being a native woman who has occupied positions of advising power over policy initiatives, with the overarching issue of climate change. Friday closed with a meet and mingle meal at the Weitz Center for Creativity.

I spoke to Caroline Hall, a class of 2020 Sustainability Assistant (STA), about the second day of the conference. Saturday had four break out sessions throughout the day, and each one had presentations from students, faculty or staff who were attending. “They were either lightning round presentations where there would be four presentations in one session, 7-8 minutes each, or long presentations that would take up the whole session,” Caroline informed me, “topics ranged from different programs that sustainability offices were working on, climate action plans, Carleton presented on geothermal energy. There were also presentations about sustainable justice simulations for students, sports and sustainability, and faith and sustainability.”

Each STA was tasked with a different organizing role. Caroline was housing coordinator. When I asked her about how she personally experienced the conference, she responded that she realized Carleton has been able to develop its sustainable programs a lot faster than other schools. “Many representatives from universities came to the conference to see how other administrations are implementing change. I found it really interesting to see what other schools are working on. Especially other students with similar interests to me who are working on similar projects, but in a different context because of their location or student body.”

At the end of the day visitors could take various sustainability tours of Carleton–the campus farm, wind turbine, sustainability facility building, the food shelf–to name a few. Caroline was tasked with leading the compost tour, “I drove a group of 10 people to the industrial compost facility where the school sends all of its compost. I loved the experience because, while I do a lot of outreach about food and waste for the office, I had never actually been there. We had the opportunity to see how waste is processed and turned into compost. Ultimately, it was great to hear all of the questions posed by people who are trying to establish composting at their institutions.”

The next UMACS conference will be held in 2021. It is as important as ever for institutions to reframe how they think about sustainability in terms of inclusion and community. For ways to get involved in current climate issues facing Minnesota, look into how you can contribute to organizing efforts addressing the environmental impacts of the Enbridge Line 3 pipeline. For resources regarding other environmental issues, go to the sustainability office page on Carleton’s website. Special thanks to the Sustainability Office, the STAs, CCCE Fellows, Facilities, and MEP Associates for all the work they put into the conference, as well as all of our sponsors.