2019 AASHE Annual Report

A Message from our Executive Director

2019 has been an eventful year. Our members have been hard at work making great strides to advance sustainability in higher education, such as when the University of California divested from fossil fuels, Virginia Theological Seminary designated a $1.7 million reparations fund, 200+ institutions signatories signed a letter to declare a climate emergency, and so much more. The continuous progress of our members keeps all of us at AASHE inspired and motivated to deliver the resources, programming and tools necessary to elevate sustainability in higher education.

We were incredibly active throughout 2019 working to further our strategic goals. Some notable efforts include the release of a new version of STARS that aligns with the Sustainable Development Goals, the creation of new resources such as Turning the Page: A Behavior Change Toolkit for Reducing Paper Use, and hosting another successful conference & expo in Spokane, WA.

In addition to the AASHE programs and services you’ve come to depend on, we’ve also been digging deeper into our role as champions of racial equity and social justice. The injustice in the world today motivates us to do more, especially in light of the courageous youth & student activists from around the world fighting for climate justice and demanding long-overdue bold action from decision-makers.

We’ve been asking important questions at AASHE about what more we can do to best support our members in this regard. You may remember that last year, with support from the board of directors as well as our Advisory Council, AASHE launched a Diversity, Equity & Inclusion statement that highlighted our core organizational values and how we practice them. That was only a single step on our journey.

Building on that foundation, AASHE staff has been immersed in racial equity training throughout this year. The board of directors also discussed what more we can do to be on the leading edge of diversity, equity & inclusion for our movement. The fundamental interconnectedness of racial equity and social justice with sustainability is clear; yet our movement still has a long way to go. I’m excited to continue to support and encourage our community to challenge ourselves, and our members, to do more.

As I reflect on a decade of working at AASHE, it’s great to see all of the progress the sustainability movement has made. Explore this report to see all that AASHE accomplished over the past year as well as brief highlights on what is to come in 2020. With your support, we are excited to continue our work of inspiring and catalyzing higher education to lead the global sustainability transformation.


Meghan Fay Zahniser

Mission, Vision & Values

Mission: To inspire and catalyze higher education to lead the global sustainability transformation.

Vision: AASHE will lead higher education to be a foundation for a thriving, equitable and ecologically healthy world.

Values: Transparency, Collaboration, Hope, Stewardship, Innovation, Courage, Accountability, Diversity, Equity & Inclusion.

AASHE defines sustainability in an inclusive way, encompassing human and ecological health, social justice, secure livelihoods and a better world for all generations.

2018 - 2020 Strategic Plan

In 2018, we launched a three-year Strategic Plan which represented over a year of work in collecting feedback and envisioning how we can best serve our members and advance our mission. This plan is a guide to continue to improve upon our programs and services and increase value to our members. It provides direction for our future, details on how we’ll accomplish our goals, and indicators for measuring our performance.

Goals & Objectives

Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS)

STARS was introduced in 2009 as a transparent, self-reporting framework for colleges and universities to measure their sustainability performance. It incentivizes institutions to deepen their efforts and provides an open platform for information sharing.

STARS Highlights

  • In 2019, 138 institutions submitted STARS reports. By the end of the year, there were 338 rated institutions out of 987 participants (805 from the U.S., 82 from Canada and 100 from other countries).
  • STARS 2.2 released with information outlining the linkages between STARS and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), simplified criteria for some credits, new options to earn bonus points, and more!
  • First STARS Cohort Program kicked off with several Australasian Campuses Towards Sustainability (ACTS) institutions.
  • Total number of STARS Reports submitted surpassed 1,000
  • Universidade Aberta (Portugal) became the first distance education institution to earn a STARS Rating.
  • New STARS website and Benchmarking Tool launched
  • An online STARS Community was introduced within AASHE Connect
  • STARS Steering Committee approved a Vision for STARS 3.0

AASHE Conference & Expo

“Co-Creating a Sustainable Economy” | Spokane, Washington

The conference showcased and strengthened higher education’s contributions to the movement for a sustainable economy, which we see as inclusive of the exciting work happening under a variety of other names such as the solidarity economy, wellbeing economy, circular economy, post-growth economy, regenerative economy and restorative economy.

2019 Conference & Expo By the Numbers

  • Sustainability leaders from 11 countries and 1,500+ institutions, businesses and nonprofit organizations.
  • Attendees had the opportunity to explore 350 sessions and 200+ posters.
  • 450 students came together to participate in the Student Summit, an all-day event to network, exchange ideas and learn.
  • 70 exhibitors including 23 sponsors and 4 host institutions contributed additional learning opportunities and offered real-time solutions to sustainability challenges throughout the three-day event.

Conference & Expo Highlights

Keynote Speakers

Varshini Prakash

Student Summit Keynote Speaker

Varshini Prakash, executive director and co-founder of Sunrise Movement, spoke about the Green New Deal and its impact to co-create a sustainable economy.

Shevanthi Daniel-Rabkin

Opening Keynote Speaker

Shevanthi Daniel-Rabkin, director of programs at The Democracy at Work Institute (DAWI), chronicled the growth in worker-owned cooperatives and show how these enterprises are essential to building a more inclusive and sustainable economy.

Aaron Tanaka

Opening Keynote Speaker

Aaron Tanaka, co-founder and director of the Center for Economic Democracy, spoke about the Boston Ujima Project, an inspirational model for the democratization of finance capital to create a sustainable economy at the local level.

Marcus Renner

Opening Keynote Speaker

Marcus Renner, a doctoral candidate from the University of California, Davis and co-director of the UC Community Economies Network, shared his thoughts on sustainable local economic development.

Bill McKibben

Closing Keynote Speaker

Bill McKibben, co-founder of 350.org and author of Deep Economy: The Wealth of Communities and the Durable Future, as well as many other titles, shared share his thoughts on how we can co-create a sustainable economy.

A highly regarded figure in the sustainability movement; this was McKibben's third time speaking at an AASHE Conference & Expo. He was also the 2011 Student Summit and a speaker at the very first AASHE conference in 2006.

Conference Sustainability

Sustainability highlights from this year’s event include:

  • We achieved a zero-waste conference! This year’s event’s diversion rate, including the back of house organics from the kitchen, was 93.6%. This would not have been possible without the generous support of our Conference Waste Tracking and Bronze Sponsor Busch Systems who placed containers strategically throughout the expo hall, as well as the strong commitment by our attendees to properly compost, recycle or dispose of relevant materials. NOTE: An event is typically considered to be zero waste when 90% of all materials generated and discarded at the event are diverted from the landfill through reuse, composting, or recycling.
  • Partnership with ELKAY, the 2019 Hydration Station Sponsor, to help eliminate the need for disposable water bottles on site.
  • Element Markets, this year’s Carbon Offset and Gold Sponsor, retired 2,000 MT of offsets to mitigate the estimated emissions associated with the 2019 AASHE Conference & Expo. This effort was processed using two projects - one from the Climate Action Reserve (a landfill project located in Oklahoma) and the other from the American Carbon Registry (a landfill project located in Illinois). The certificate is below:

AASHE Sustainability Awards

350+ submissions. 4 categories. 2 honorable mentions.

10 winners. 1 Lifetime Achievement Award.

The AASHE Sustainability Awards recognize sustainability achievements, research advancements and individual leadership. By raising the visibility of high-impact sustainability projects and pioneering research, the awards program helps to disseminate innovations and inspire continued progress toward sustainability.

Judy Walton

Lifetime Achievement Award Winner

We were excited to present the 2019 Lifetime Achievement Award to Judy Walton. This award recognizes outstanding leaders who have made significant contributions to the advancement of sustainability in higher education over their lifetime. It is the highest honor bestowed upon an individual by AASHE.

Judy Walton, the founding director of AASHE, served the organization in a variety of capacities from 2006 to 2013. In her time with AASHE, she played leadership roles in the development of the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment and the Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System (STARS). Judy also helped found and coordinate the Disciplinary Associations Network for Sustainability and the Higher Education Associations Consortium for Sustainability.

Professional Education & Development

Our professional education and development programs enable higher education sustainability champions - including sustainability staff, faculty, students and administrators - to connect with one another while gaining the knowledge and skills to more effectively advance sustainability at their institutions.


In 2019, we held 39 webinars on topics ranging from nitrogen foot-printing to decolonizing the curriculum which reached over 1,500 attendees

Centers for Sustainability Across the Curriculum

Over 250 participants attended 13 workshops organized by the Centers for Sustainability Across the Curriculum in an effort to increase the accessibility and diversity of sustainability-oriented training for faculty.


We also held four in-person workshops in order to better support our community with local/regional opportunities and connections focused on sustainability advancements:

Mentorship Program

In the Mentorship Program’s second year, 46 mentorship pairs connected to share knowledge, cooperate on projects and advance the field of higher education sustainability. 96 pairs were matched for the 2019-2020 year.



  • Each year we work to provide new resources and publications to our community to ensure higher education sustainability practitioners are equipped with the latest information, details and trends to continuously advance sustainability. In 2019, we added nearly 2,000 new resources and two new publications in the Campus Sustainability Hub.
  • We also launched the Green Funds database, a comprehensive listing of green and revolving funds for higher education institutions across the globe. Over 200 resources were included in the initial launch from four countries.

AASHE Members

AASHE empowers higher education faculty, administrators, staff and students to be effective change agents and drivers of sustainability innovation. We work with and for higher education to ensure that our world’s future leaders are motivated and equipped to solve sustainability challenges.

An AASHE membership extends to every person at an institution, organization or business. 900 higher education institutions, businesses and nonprofit organizations comprise our membership base.

Advocacy, Outreach & Partnerships

AASHE regularly collaborates with like-minded organizations to engage in advocacy and outreach for sustainability. We focus our advocacy efforts on issues that enhance the ability of our members to effectively implement sustainability initiatives in an actionable, holistic manner. In 2019 we committed to nearly 20 different advocacy efforts and partnerships on topics that touched on waste diversion, climate activism and more.

2019 efforts included:

  • Campus Sustainability Month, an international celebration of sustainability in higher education, which resulted in several hundred social posts using #campussustainabilitymonth and many colleges and university events to engage and inspire incoming students and other campus stakeholders to become sustainability change-agents.
  • Participated in the Digital #ClimateStrike and the Global #ClimateStrike to demand an end to the age of fossil fuels.
  • An Earth Day image campaign where 32 colleges and universities across Greece, Egypt and the United States took a moment to share a snapshot of their recent campaigns and celebrations. Check out the photos!
  • Supported the Green New Deal Resolution to address the climate crisis.
  • Signed a letter to Procter & Gamble urging it to increase the use of recycled fiber.
  • Pledged support for the Change the Pallet campaign that advocates for a national switch from wood to corrugated pallets to reduce emissions, cost, and worker injuries.
  • Collaborated with the Higher Education Associations Sustainability Consortium (HEASC). HEASC launched the “Beyond Doom and Gloom: Climate Solutions” initiative to identify a sustainability policy person (SPP) on campus. More than 90 campuses from approximately 25 states are engaged in this work.
  • The AASHE Bulletin, a newsletter of curated news and information for the higher education sustainability community, was published weekly and consistently reached nearly 10,000 subscribers.
  • Media outreach where we received coverage 40+ media stories including a quote in CBC News, a division of the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation.

AASHE Governance

We are appreciative of all of the governance volunteers for their dedication, support and guidance throughout the year. Thank you for your drive and passion to advance sustainability!

2019 Board of Directors

  • Ann Erhardt, Chair, Michigan State University
  • Cynthia Klein-Banai, Ph.D., Secretary, the University of Illinois at Chicago
  • David Phillips, Treasurer, University of California
  • Jay Antle, Ph.D., Johnson County Community College
  • Guilbert Brown, MIS, Millersville University
  • Monica Dean, MBA, Smith College
  • Cathy Dove, Ph.D., Paul Smith’s College
  • Jennifer Hirsch, Ph.D., Georgia Institute of Technology
  • Richard Miller, J.D., University of Connecticut
  • Charles Richardson, Ph.D., Misericordia University
  • Meghna Tare, MBA, the University of Texas at Arlington
  • KyuJung Whang, Princeton University
Thank You for Your Commitment!

This year, AASHE said goodbye to two dedicated board members who reached their term limits. Thank you to Charles Richardson (past president) and KyuJung Whang (past treasurer) for your six years of outstanding service!


Thank you to each staffer for all their hard work and commitment to advance sustainability throughout the year!

  • Meghan Fay Zahniser, Executive Director
  • Jessica Chase, Director of Membership & Marketing
  • Julian Dautremont, Director of Programs
  • Tessie Devlin, Education Intern
  • Tylor Dodge, Web Application Developer
  • Bob Erb, IT Manager
  • Andrea Huggins, Programs Marketing Manager
  • Nikia Johnson, Membership Engagement Manager
  • Allison Jones, Director of Finance & Administration
  • Genéviève LaMarr LeMée, STARS & Resources Intern
  • Heather Lynch, Membership Operations Coordinator
  • Claire Pope, STARS & Resources Intern
  • Chris Pelton, STARS Program Manager
  • Jordan Schanda, STARS Program Coordinator
  • Daita Serghi, Education Programs Manager
  • Crystal Simmons, Programs Coordinator
  • Kimberly Smith, Director of Marketing, Meetings and Membership
  • Noah Swistak, Membership Development Manager
  • Monika Urbanski, Data & Content Manager
  • Margueritte Williams, Accounting & Payroll Manager

Thank You AASHE Members!

Congratulations on another successful year of pushing the needle! The collective accomplishments of our community is cause for celebration, even though we know there's more work to be done. Share this report with your campus community and use it as motivation for doing even more next year! Your leadership and commitment to the movement matters. We look forward to a new year of amplifying the value of sustainability in higher education, and thank you for helping to improve the world in which we live.