In 2015 and 2016, the CSLN joined the Integrated Network for Social Sustainability (INSS) annual conference to share members’ unique expereinces as an interdisciplinary network of mostly community practitioners in sustainability. At INSS, CSLN members were able to connect with academics and practitioners across the country to share persepctives and experiences around an integrated approach to sustainability. CSLN continues to seek out opportunities to connect with national networks and organizations and share strategies and experiences about engaging communities around sustainability.

On April 9-10, a group of 5 CSLN members representing the network attended the third annual Integrated Network for Social Sustainability (INSS) conference at Michigan State University. The group presented their work for the ISEIF project, Smart Grid, Historic Landmarks, & Corner Stores: A Network Approach to Sustainability in Chicago Communities, which emphasized their cultural and value-based approach to Smart Grid education. Designed as a participatory presentation, the CSLN group was able to both present on their individual approaches as well as dialogue with participants about the process. Throughout the discussion, it became clear that conference attendees also found value in the sense of community and collective resources and knowledge that emerge when working collaboratively.

Group members appreciated the opportunity to continue to work together and learn from each other as well as share the CSLN’s work with a new audience. Specific highlights from the conference include the diversity and creativity of approaches to social sustainability, connecting with practitioners and academics from Michigan, and a trip to MSU’s organic farm with newborn piglets. The group is looking forward to following up with kindred spirits from Detroit and the Lansing area to continue sharing knowledge and building national connections.

The ICA hosted the Midwest site of the Integrated Network for Social Sustainability (INSS) Conference from June 8-10th at ICA GreenRise. As a multi-site conference, INSS encompassed seven different regions across the US and UK. The intent of the conference was to convene academics and practitioners working across the broadly defined arena of social sustainability. Over 65 people participated at the Chicago site, and 150+ were engaged across all the sites.

The conference sessions included on-site presenters as well as cross-site virtual presentations. The format for the on-site sessions was informed by the Permaculture flower design. Each session highlighted unique perspectives from academics, policymakers, and community practitioners on one of the 7 domains, or petals, of the flower. By giving a platform to diverse perspectives, participants were able to create a holistic and nuanced view of social sustainability in 7 different arenas to more fully understand the breadth of a particular area.

The cross-site sessions explored national and international conversations on sustainability, including the Biophilic Cities movement and Invisible Disasters, referring to natural disasters that have detrimental consequences that are often unaddressed. During the cross-site sessions, each site had the opportunity to stream a session to the other sites. ICA hosted a CSLN member panel, featuring Alvyn Walker, Jamie Ponce, Tim Heppner, Melanie Eckner, and Joseph Taylor. The panel, facilitated by Caitlin Sarro, emphasized the value of the network, ranging from new relationships formed to collaborative events and ongoing projects.

Across the diverse approaches of the three days, the group noticed several themes unifying the discussion. Conversations frequently referred back to sustainability as a fluid concept that should be expanded upon and redefined. Conference attendees noted that sustainability is about people and resiliency to threats, both from the climate and from damaging cultural and political norms.

Attendees discussed that a cultural paradigm shift and commitment to prioritize equity is necessary for long-term resilience. After each session, attendees wrote down something new they would do or look into as a result of the session to post on a collective sticky wall. The final results range from intentions to learn more, meet new people, spread the information they learned, and more. See the conference report for the full list of actions.