Greening Warren Wilson College


Paul Bartels
Environmental Leadership Center

Paul Bartels Address:
WWC CPO 6032
PO Box 9000
Asheville, NC 28815-9000

Phone: 828.771.3781

Email: pbartels@warren-wilson.ed

From the Projects: Habits, Expectations, and Principles

From the previous two sections of this report, it should be obvious that Warren Wilson College is actively engaged in a truly impressive array of environmental projects, and we have made a number of formal declarations and begun a policy process that displays a strong concern for the health of the environment. When Warren Wilson's environmental record is presented at national conferences, it becomes clear that this college is one of the "greenest" in the nation. The first part of this report's subtitle, "A Celebration of the Past," is richly and genuinely deserved. There are many voices on campus among administrators, staff, faculty, and students that point to our commitments and projects with the justifiably proud declaration, "Look at all we've done and all we continue to do!"

Yet there are other voices in the Warren Wilson community who wonder if we cannot do more, or who acknowledge all that we have accomplished but still wonder what the next steps might be. In President Orr's remarks during convocation of 2000, he indicated that campus greening must become one of our major priorities for the coming years. What does it mean, then, "to take the next step." What can we learn from what we have accomplished and how can we use that knowledge to guide our future actions?

An observation that becomes apparent from an analysis of our past is the degree to which commitments and projects at Warren Wilson are imbedded in individual initiative and behavior. Projects at this college often depend on the work of one or a few individuals who organize, formulate, and implement projects with little control or coordination from others. Warren Wilson values the individual. The same individual initiative that guarantees that a Tom LaMuraglia, or a Louise Weber, or a John Pilson can carry out outstanding campus greening projects, also implies that the project may not outlast their individual tenure, or that the project may never be elevated to a general policy. This is both goods news and bad news. Seen from a positive point of view, the individualism of Warren Wilson means that we will have many environmental projects and that individuals with innovative ideas will have a fairly good chance of trying out their ideas. However, this individualism also means that, in some cases, anyone who disagrees with the project may not be compelled to alter their behavior or change their personal values and preferences. In the case of individuals who oversee specific work crews, land uses, or academic areas, the individualism may grant them virtual veto power over activities within their purview.

Another characteristic that has become apparent is that we tend to have a very short institutional memory for commitments and policies. Documents passed by major sectors of the college often lack dates or may even be misplaced. It is not clear how policies that are proposed by the community become truly established into the governance structure and the operating norms of the college. It also seems that sustained organizational change may most easily grow out of existing governance structures, rather than ad hoc committees. Toward this end, as a way to expand and institutionalize campus greening, a large gathering of representatives from all sectors of the campus was held in the Garden Cabin on November 30, 1999. There community members observed that the process used by the Land Use Planning Committee in implementing the Pattern Language might offer a model for existing groups to review and record their environmental principles. As mentioned under "Land Use Planning" in the Commitments section of this document, the Land Use Planning Committee agreed to facilitate the development of Pattern Language in nine categories of environmental concern. Two of these are already completed (landscaping and biodiversity) and others are in development.

It is important to distinguish between projects, programs, policies, and principles. "Projects" are individually-focused activities with specific, limited goals usually designed to be implemented and accomplished in a specific time period. "Programs" are collections of projects that are coordinated around some more general goal. Programs are generally longer in time duration than projects. "Policies" are a general course of action that can be reflected by a collection of programs with even broader goals and no time limit expressed in their implementation. Policies are designed to last until replaced by other policies. Policy also suggests some form of legislative weight for enforcement. It is important to note that the Pattern Language process generates a set of principles rather than policies. "Principles" are guidelines that inform our actions but do not carry legislative mechanisms of enforcement. It may be that in the setting of WWC with its strong emphasis on egalitarianism, that principles developed for our pattern language will be more productive than more rigid policies. However, currently there is no clear process to insure that the environmental Pattern Language principles are implemented. Nor is it clear how we as a community will communicate and disseminate these principles. At some point in the future, it may be decided that enforceable policies are necessary.

Finally, in general we have not attempted to set quantitative goals or to create an ongoing audit process that would allow us to assess our progress. Nor have we fully engaged students in our greening and auditing efforts, either in the work program or in our courses. Better engagement and communication throughout the college community and collaborative efforts in environmental stewardship and programming can better advance the college's environmental mission and principles.