AASHE 2012: We Came, We Saw, We Leafed!

Our mini trashformation was a hit!

We had a blast at the AASHE 2012 Conference, which, lucky for us took place in Los Angeles this year. The Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education’s annual event represents the largest convergence of sustainability and education professionals in the country! We had a spot in the expo hall, right next to some other very cool green-minded companies and organizations, like the Sustainable Living Roadshow. Back when I founded RuckusRoots in 2008, SLR was one of the organizations that provided a lot of inspiration for me, and so it was very rewarding and downright awesome to get to meet its founders and see more of what they do up close and personal.


For our AASHE installation, we decided to bring a mini version of TRASHformation, so participants could get a true sense of what it is we do. Instead of giving out more water bottles and reusable bags (not that there’s anything wrong with that), we had passersby add to our existing tree sculpture (which began as an installation for The ReCycle, the world’s most sustainable bike). Participants personalized our aluminum can leaves by scoring their names or a drawing on to the back of a leaf; we then drilled the completed leaves onto the tree.


It was fun to watch each participant embrace the challenge of writing backwards (for the name to show up correctly on the aluminum “front” of the leaf, we had to write our names backwards on the other side). We called it a little “test for the right brain,” and indeed, it was! More than anything, it got people laughing and engaged, and provided a good parallel (albeit in a much pared-down format) of the benefits of our programs. In case participants wanted to know more about our programs, we had the following flyer at the ready. It’s a good breakdown of what RuckusRoots can provide on any campus, check it out:

Much of what I said to interested AASHE-goers during the conference is that I founded RuckusRoots because, after volunteering at many other eco-non profits, I realized that outreach to non-sustainably minded people needed help. Many environmental organizations focus on the negative side of sustainability, the doom and gloom of the situation we’re in, and all the stuff we CAN’T or SHOULD’NT do. All of that stuff is valid, but RuckusRoots is different because it focuses on the positive side of sustainablity – what we CAN do with all this leftover trash, what we CAN do to improve our lives and communities in sustainable ways. I think art is a great way to engage people (everyone is creative whether they know it or not), and in my humble opinion, our educational systems don’t emphasize the power of creative, collaborative thinking often enough, if at all.


Our thinking at RuckusRoots is that if you create a positive emotional connection to sustainability through fun, interactive arts-based programs, the necessary shift in thinking will follow much more easily.

Thanks to everyone who came and made leaves with us! I was truly touched and thrilled by many of the conversations I had with so many students, teachers, administrators and organizers. It reinforced my belief that there’s a large community of creative, enthusiastic and brave people out there willing to forge the path to a happier, more sustainable and more creative society, and I am proud and happy to be a part of it.

Thanks to everyone at AASHE for allowing us to bring a TRASHformation to the conference. It was a great experience, with many new relationships fostered! Check out our gallery pics below!


‘Something in the Water’ on display at AASHE Conference



Plastic bags were used for the greater good to form an art exhibit called ‘Something in the Water’ at this year’s AASHE conference. Hundreds upon hundreds of plastic bags were crocheted into multiple ‘breasts’ to mimic the interference of toxins that are being passed to newborns through breast milk as a result of plastic in our eco-systems.

The idea for the exhibit came from the mind of environmental activist artist Wendy Osher, who turned it into a communal project. The eco-project connected women from around the globe to make the breast like crocheted pieces made from plastic bags. Osher then connected the crocheted pieces to produce the colorful exhibit. On October 9th-11th, ‘Something in the Water’ was on display for the more than 2,000 participants of the AASHE Conference, for higher sustainability.  One on-looker even described the exhibit as a piece that “draws on in as a kind of Dr. Seussical landscape, then once one’s attention is captured, the dark reality of the eco-underpinnings hit even harder.”

Plastic, the most prevalent component of ocean debris, is a threat because it lasts so long in the water.  The plastic then breaks down into smaller bit that absorb other toxic chemicals in the water. Fish then accidentily feed on the plastic. Thus toxins enter the fish that make their way up our food chain. Scientists are finding that toxins commonly found in breast milk, may have originated from the plastic source.

News from the 2011 AASHE Conference

This week I’m excited to be reporting to you from the AASHE 2011 Conference. AASHE (The Association for the Advancement for Sustainability in Higher Education) holds the country’s biggest annual sustainability conference; this year it’s in lovely Pittsburgh! I’m here representing my nonprofit organization, RuckusRoots. We’ll be presenting about TRASHformation, an interactive, collaborative art program that turns campus-generated waste into a sustainably built work of art. Students and faculty from the University of Wisconsin, Oshkosh, where we’ve implemented the program, will be on the panel with me!

But besides presenting, I’ll also be attending some very inspirational seminars by fellow attendees. Yesterday, for instance, I was lucky enough to catch both keynote speeches from Bill McKibbin and Majora Carter. Bill McKibbin founded 350.org, and is now front-running the biggest global environmental initiative in the world. (There’s Bill and me, above!) He was an incredible speaker (I may have even shed a tear when he showed pictures of all the different communities and tribes across the globe who are joining his cause, despite low economic standing or political strife). He encouraged us to peacefully gather for Obama’s arrival in Pittsburgh tomorrow, to pressure him to say no to the Keystone XL Tar Sands pipeline. You can bet I’ll be there.

And Majora Carter, a MacArthur Genius Fellow and founder of Sustainable South Bronx, talked about her work “greening the ghetto” and pioneering one of the nation’s first urban green-collar job training and placement systems. Majora was actually the replacement speaker for the late Wangari Maathai, another groundbreaking force in the green movement. The entire auditorium participated in a moment of silence, honoring and remembering Wangari’s incredible contributions to humanity and the planet.