April 2008 Issue • Volume 36 • Issue 4

Green Initiatives on the Rise
at the ASA

Stella apek, Sally T. Hillsman, Janet Astner, Lauren Heberle, and Robert Brulle

As a major professional association of almost 15,000 members, ASA’s environmental impact is considerable. Given the magnitude and severity of the environmental issues we now face, it is incumbent on us to take actions to mitigate our environmental impact. Over the past year, a small working group—composed of representatives from the Environment and Technology Section (ETS) and staff of the ASA Executive Office—has been developing a series of initiatives to reduce the ASA’s ecological footprint. This working group has developed several initiatives to address this issue.

The need to change the practices of the ASA was brought home to all of the ETS members at the 2004 ASA Annual Meeting in San Francisco when participants were provided with a blue polycanvas conference bag that off-gassed a noxious odor from the chemicals used in its production. This triggered a discussion of the ecological impact of the ASA’s practices. In addition to ideas about changing the ASA conference materials, the ETS Council discussed conference location, hotel site selection, travel arrangements, recycling, and the printing of journals. Sociological research is studying human causes of ecological degradation, and the ASA as an organization has a focus on problem solving, but it had not fully confronted all the ways in which the Annual Meeting contributes to environmental problems. A decision was made by the ETS Council to encourage and work with the ASA to green its practices. ETS Council members Lori Hunter and Steve Zavestoski researched "best practices" models from other professional associations. In 2005, ETS Chair Phil Brown and Chair-Elect Stella ?apek sent a letter to the ASA Council urging closer attention to environmentally responsible strategies. The letter contained information about best practices and offered assistance from section members with expertise in this area.

Council Approves Working Group

The ASA Council invited the section to form a small working group with the Executive Office. The group was constituted in 2007, and it includes ETS members Allison Alkon, Bob Brulle, Stella apek, Lauren Heberle, Timmons Roberts, and Steve Zavestoski. Representing the ASA Executive Office are Executive Officer Sally Hillsman and Deputy Executive Officer for Administration Janet Astner. apek, then ETS Chair, asked Heberle, Associate Director of the Center for Environmental Policy and Management (CEPM) at the University of Louisville and Director of the Environmental Finance Center, EPA Region 4, to take a leading role in the group. Heberle helped organize the group and facilitate consideration of environmentally friendly practices and use of checklists to assist with future meeting planning and site selection.

The newly formed group began its work in earnest in the summer of 2007. It discussed what the ASA was already doing to green its meeting and office practices. For example, the Executive Office was making efforts to expand the recycling program at its office building, use recycled or recyclable supplies, and reuse some materials such as name badge holders. ASA purchased cotton tote bags for the 2006 and 2007 Annual Meetings and has been asking its vendors about their green practices. For example, the exhibit services company that the ASA has been using for a number of years, and which will service the 2008 meeting in Boston, has a “Green Steps” program that commits the company to using recyclable and biodegradable products whenever possible, including a carpeting recycling program that reuses and recycles the carpets and drapes rented to exhibitors and meeting sponsors. The group agreed that any and all efforts needed to be made more visible, and they voiced an interest in getting environmentally sensitive meeting planning into every stage of the decision-making process. Also, since the ASA Executive Office was moving to new quarters, the group discussed the ways that the Executive Office was promoting energy efficiency and working with the architects to incorporate green alternatives for lighting, cooling and heating, and the office finishes (e.g., paints, fabrics, floor coverings, and furniture). The Executive Office had more flexibility in these choices because the new location is owned rather than rented.

Future Site Selection

Future conference planning remains a key issue for the group. Heberle pointed out that ASA could make vendors and locations compete for our business on the basis of their green practices in the process of choosing the cities and facilities to host meetings. A growing number of hotels and convention centers are conscious that being “green” is an attractive option and provide information about their practices on the web. To assist the group in sorting through information on greening conferences, CEPM staff member Isabella Christensen authored a practice guide "Green Conferences" that provides academic conference planners, such as ASA, with a set of resources to be used to develop a checklist for the ASA that would promote ecological thinking in the short- and longer-term.

Brulle reminded the group that a key piece of the ecological footprint and carbon emissions is transportation, especially air travel. He suggested a number of possible responses, including publicizing alternatives to flying (particularly in regions with dense transportation networks such as the East Coast, and the upcoming meetings in Boston), encouraging ride sharing, and perhaps finding a way to offer incentives for more sustainable travel choices. While more problematic, he also proposed incorporating new technologies and electronic conferencing to reduce the need for travel. The Environment and Technology Section (ETS) plans to experiment with this by incorporating an element of electronic conferencing into one of its sessions in Boston. Brulle also suggested the group attempt to collect systematic data on travel to and from the ASA Annual Meeting in order to provide a baseline for the calculation of our ecological footprint. The group discussed the possibility of giving attendees the option of purchasing carbon offsets, with Zavestoski providing information about the advantages and disadvantages of various formulas used to calculate offsets.

The Big Picture Impact

Focusing on the "big picture" in another way, Roberts recommended that the ASA use its influence in Washington, DC, to ensure that more sociologists are represented in the U.S. Climate Change science program. The ASA also responded positively to a request to be listed as a sponsor for the nationwide teach-in on global warming that was held on January 31, 2008, organized by Focus the Nation, a major educational initiative working on global warming solutions, and actively supported by the ETS.

The value of the working group has been not only brainstorming, but also exploring our collective experience on which elements the Association has greatest control over, and which might have the greatest impact. The ASA is open to creating strategies that support innovation.

2008 Open Forum

Because this issue touches all ASA members, an Open Forum on the greening of the ASA will be held at the 2008 Annual Meeting in Boston. It will include a brief update on what the ASA is already doing and a chance for meeting attendees to brainstorm about solutions. Participants will also be able to share ideas to take home to their own institutions and to state and regional sociological meetings. The Open Forum will be a chance for all interested ASA members to bring their ideas to this urgent and exciting project. Please plan on attending.


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