2016 AASHE Sustainability Officers Retreat at the University of British Columbia, Okanagan


I am writing an open letter of thanks to the organizers of the AASHE Sustainability Officers Retreat: Leith Sharp, Aurora Winslade, Leanne Bilodeau, Daita Serghi and Matt Lynch. This retreat took place in July on the beautiful campus of the University of British Columbia, Okanagan in Kelowna, BC.

I attended as both a sponsor and a retreat participant. The format allowed me to learn, share and collaborate with some of the leading minds in higher ed. sustainability. The 3-day event was filled with opportunities for deeper discussion and human interaction. It was a refreshing approach compared to the typical networking “speed-dating” experience of most conferences. The days were filled with a great mix of presentations and interactive workshops. The evenings included a more causal social atmosphere which included ample opportunity for longer, personal conversations. It was truly one of the best retreat experiences I had.
Leith Sharp presented much of the retreat content which provided participants with a groundbreaking framework for how large organizations make decisions and navigate change. She clearly articulated why, too often, good ideas get stuck in the management-driven hierarchy of our institutions. She outlined the skills and short-comings of the two major “operating systems” that exist in organizations.

1) The “Command and Control Operating System” (CCOS) or traditional management structure where there are silos of responsibility.
2) The “Adaptive Operating System” (AOS) which exists in smaller groups, committees, or grow organically in organization out of a need for change.

Leith was clear to point out that both organization structures are critical for a functioning organization. CCOS can scale and keep a massive organization stable, mission focused and financially solvent for the long-haul. It is very risk and change averse. AOS provides the catalyst for change and often runs head-long into the ridged structures of the CCOS. That said, AOS is typically short-lived and very difficult to scale.

Leith’s message was not that one operating system was better than another, but rather that Sustainability Leaders should understand these structures exist and how to leverage the strengths of both systems to affect, positive, mission-driven change with an organization. Simply providing a “lexicon” or clear description of how these systems work and where, how and why good ideas get stuck, can go a long way to helping leaders affect positive change. Leith has created this content under the Creative Commons 3.0 license. I look forward to working with other conference attendees on contributing to this body of work as we collectively work to promote positive, sustainable change in higher ed.

– Dave Karlsgodt