before many of its current students were even born, Northland
College began its first environmental studies program. By the
time those students were five years old, Northland's Sigurd Olson
Environmental Institute was founded and built, a Native American
Studies program was established, Outdoor Education majors were
initiated, and Northland's first environmental theme house, the
Conceptual Urban Dwelling, was opened for student residents.
the time the students were ten years old, the College had invested
$172,000 in water-saving devices, energy-efficient lighting, and
heating system upgrades, as well as $4,231,000 in building upgrades,
which included energy-efficient systems. Campus Facilities Master
Planning had begun, the Environmental Council was formed, and
townhouses for students were built with many environmental elements,
making them the most efficient buildings on campus to heat.
College had also performed two environmental audits, sponsored
a six-week discussion on sustainability through its Lifelong Learning
Center, and won the Renew America Award for environmental achievement.
has been at least a decade since the college community began struggling
with sustainability. The Environmental Council developed the Sustainability
Charter, completed audits and assessments, and continues to develop
policies and promote practices. The student association created
indicators particular to student impact on the campus. Classes
explore the theoretical and global as well as the practical and
local. Northland's multiple lecture series brings national and
international big thinkers to challenge our idealism and to give
light to pessimism. Even so, it is difficult for Northland to
determine whether we are doing things right, or doing the right
Northland College began as North Wisconsin Academy in 1892, and
opened its collegiate doors in 1906, taking "Northland"
as its name to represent the 10 million acre area of cut-over
pine that students called home. The College is located one mile
from the south shore of Lake Superior's Chequamegon Bay and within
a short drive of rivers, beaches, the Chequamegon National Forest,
two Native American reservations and the Apostle Islands National
remained a traditional four-year liberal arts college until 1971,
when it launched its environmental emphasis. Northland believes
that an environmental liberal arts college is one in which understanding
the natural world and our place in it is recognized as intrinsic
to success in all facets of our existence.
the same time, the College maintains that the liberal arts provide
the appropriate intellectual skills to apply to the world's challenges,
including environmental challenges. Northlanders major in biology
and music, meteorology and English, environmental studies and
sociology, outdoor education and mathematics.
is, at its heart, a liberal arts college, so classes in various
disciplines focus on what one would expect in a traditional curriculum.
In English, Shakespeare is still Shakespeare - the timeless and
magnificently insightful illustrator of the human condition -
but there are also classes like "Writing the Environmental
Essay" or "Humanity and Nature in Literature,"
which develop traditional knowledge and skills by focusing on
the natural world. "Foundations of Visual Art" provides
students with basic skills necessary for advanced courses like
"Art Collaborations with Nature: Earth, Air, Fire, and Water."
Business Economics offers courses in accounting, marketing, and
management, but also teaches "Economics of Sustainable Development."
addition, Northland College has a long tradition of outreach activities,
and for nearly 30 years, those activities have included environmental
education. In 1993, Northland's Lifelong Learning Center sponsored
a six-week discussion on sustainability. The following year, the
Center brought Pliny Fisk and David Orr to campus. Some area residents,
as well as Northland faculty and staff, credit those activities
with the sustainability movement both in the region and on campus.
1989 the College formed an Environmental Council, institutionalizing
a "watchdog" body comprised of students, faculty and
staff. Through the decade of the 90s, the Council kept a constant
watch on the operations of the campus community. Some define the
Council as the environmental conscience of the College and many
members considered the phrase "walk the talk" as a guiding
accomplishments of the Council include the development of a campus
sustainability charter that was adopted by the College's Board
of Trustees in 1998. Ongoing work continues on principles of sustainability
for the college. The Council used a consensus process to complete
the ULSF Sustainability Assessment Questionnaire, and developed
a Green Building Policy for all future major building projects,
adopted by the Board of Trustees in May 2000. It also developed
a list of environmental research projects based on campus operations,
for independent study and senior capstone projects.
MAKE A DIFFERENCE
Northland's entire student body has also been a source of energy
for sustainability. Over the years, student interest has altered
the way the College does business, affecting everything from the
food that is purchased to the way facilities are built.
food purchasing policies were challenged by students in government
professor Dorothy Lagerroos' class. Lagerroos, who has been interested
in sustainability ever since she attended the Earth Summit in
Rio de Janeiro, encouraged students in her Environmental Issues
Seminars to do something about their desire for organic food in
the cafeteria and to tackle the realities of changing "business
as usual" at Northland. She points out that Northland is
small enough that students can "poke and prod to try and
get it to do some new things."
1993, Lagerroos' interdisciplinary class decided to investigate
"a more healthful and environmentally and socially sound
alternative for the Northland College cafeteria's food supply."
They researched the possibility of buying locally grown, organic
produce, examining the economics of altering Northland's food
class named their 26-page report "Potatoes and Onions: Northland's
Step Toward Sustainability." The report documents the criteria
used to establish guidelines for the project, and the environmental,
social and economic consequences of food purchasing. The investigation
compared (among other things) the consequences of conventional
farming and sustainable agriculture methods, of pesticide use
and organic techniques, and the energy costs of local and distant
students determined that given availability, storage needs, and
cost, potatoes and onions were the most feasible local crops to
purchase at first. After working with President Parsonage, the
food service director, and the Chequamegon Bay Organic Growers
Association, the group's recommendation went to the Northland
College Student Association. The proposal resulted in a vote for
local produce, despite a six-cent-per-meal increase in food costs,
which students agreed to absorb.
is a big step from saying sustainability is about redesigning
human society to saying we jolly well better give our students
some experience in doing it," says Lagerroos, recalling the
outcome of that seminar.
students learn how difficult it is," Lagerroos says, "and
they stop saying, 'Why don't we just...' The students experience
what a huge step potatoes and onions is - they're not talking
about all produce - just two little pieces."
Since those early steps several other organic foods have been
added and Northland is currently working closely with a local
organic farmer who offers tours of the farm to students and who
has set up an information booth in the cafeteria. It is a rare
educational opportunity for college students to be able to talk
with the people who produce their food.
THE WAY WE BUILD
Another area in which students have had a big impact on Northland
policies is the new facilities arena. In 1995, Northland College
began planning a new residence hall that would meet the needs
of students, model its environmental mission, and provide a living/learning
laboratory for environmental studies. Plans included renewable
energy, recycled materials, certified green lumber, composting
toilets, efficiency and durability - a building for the long haul.
were involved throughout the planning process. They gave their
idealistic input, made demands, asked naive questions and were
heard. Everyone compromised within budget constraints. In 1998,
the Wendy and Malcolm McLean Environmental Living and Learning
Center (ELLC) was completed. The American Institute of Architects
selected the ELLC as one of the top 10 environmental buildings
in its 2000 roster. This was due, in part, to student agitation
for the most environmental features given limited economic resources.
new three-credit non lecture-based course was developed to integrate
students' living environment in the ELLC with the study of various
components of sustainability. The ELLC serves as both a classroom
and a lab for the course, which has been offered two semesters
so far. The instructor, Tom Wojciechowski, and the students talk,
stroll around the building, put hands on recycled surfaces, rake
the compost, listen to the whoosh of the wind generator, and dig
their hands into the red clay while planting trees in the unfinished
landscape. They talked with architects, engineers, green builders,
wind and solar energy contractors, organic farmers, a naturalist/writer
and other students.
tour of the local power plant was viewed by many in the class
as a chance to reconnoiter the enemy. Engineers with their white
hard hats led them through the cavernous bowels of the plant.
But as a one-hour tour turned into two and questions poured from
the students, a black and white issue blurred to multiple shades
of grey. One student summed up the feelings of most of the class
in this way:
trip to NSP (Northern States Power) was enlightening. I spoke
with the plant manager before the rest of the group arrived, and
I was relieved to like the man. It's important to meet people
from industries that represent such negativity. It makes thinking
of solutions and compromise so much easier. I was so uneducated
about the plant. We can hear the hum from inside our house (in
Ashland, Wisconsin) and smell the wood chips some days. The smokestacks
make the view of afternoon sunsets from the marina a mocking irony.
The coal pieces that turn the water black near the plant point
the mind down a negative path of blame ending at NSP's front step.
find out they're not the dirtiest, but one of the cleanest (power
plants) in the area, and one of the only ones to use wood instead
of coal, has really changed my attitude. The people there have
a hard job to do, and seem to care about what the plant is affecting
around them. If we didn't demand so much power, they wouldn't
be there - a fact nobody likes to confront. The blame is in reality
on my front step. It's nice to feel communication rather than
confrontation during a meeting like that. There is an expectation
that industry hates environmentalists, because so many of us seem
to hate them. Vicious circle...."
course structure attempted to broaden students' knowledge, but
more importantly, to challenge preconceptions and to free students'
imaginations. A good example of this was the exploration of energy.
After introductions to renewable systems at the ELLC (wind power,
photovoltaic power, passive and active solar heating) and analysis
of student energy demands, the students spent several class periods
discussing their personal, as well as national, energy futures.
Throughout the course, the class kept coming back to the question:
Is this sustainability thing possible?
student wrote, "The principle tenets of sustainability, the
word, concept, movement, vision, way of life, cannot be embraced
without the right congruence of life experiences. Something happens
to all of us, some one thing, or equivalent combination of many
things, to make us care."
said, "Sustainability, for the purposes of this paper, is
the elephant in the center of our circle. We can all hold a glimpse
of what it means, but without discussing the path to it with others,
our own positions remain weak and lack a holistic vision.... Sustainability
becomes not only a 'green lifestyle' but an inclusive mind set
During one class in the ELLC course, a renewable energy contractor
went off on a tangent about the energy crisis of the '70s. Everyone
had a laugh when they realized that all but one of the students
had not been born then. A historical event can be a great motivator
for some, and merely trivia to others.
is amplified on campuses everywhere. While the faculty and staff
may stay, the students usually leave within four years. None of
Northland's students can remember that the townhouses were once
an example of environmentally friendly design, as was the Sigurd
Olson Environmental Institute. Most students take Northland's
pesticide-free landscaping policy, environmentally friendly cleaning
products, food waste composting program, or the campus-wide paper
policy for granted. Each was a small battle in its time.
students also have a tendency to be enthusiastic, idealistic,
and not the least bit satisfied with what they perceive as the
glacial movements by the administration toward sustainability.
Often, it is only after students leave campus to attend national
conferences that they find out just how much Northland has accomplished,
and how advanced the College is compared to its peers.
six year ago, one of three Northland delegates to the Campus Earth
Summit at Yale University said upon his return: "One of the
things I learned is that we can accomplish much more at Northland
because it is relatively small. Northland is great," he continued,
"because most of the good changes an environmentalist would
hope for have already occurred. That means that I don't have barriers
set up by the College, and I can go past pure activism into areas
of increased learning and involvement with the larger community."
the Straw Bale Energy Education Lab, tending the organic garden,
providing and repairing bright yellow bicycles without charge
to students - these and many more enterprises are examples of
student-initiated or student-maintained projects at Northland
today. In the future, the straw bale building may be passé,
food production may not use earth, and bicycles will be abandoned
for some mode of transportation that uses neither rubber nor steel.
will pass the ELLC without noticing its once state-of-the-art
features, and growl about the slow-moving administration. But
Northland will continue to do as much as it can, despite the gap
between what is desired and what is possible. The College can
look back over 30 years of good work, but our environment-Lake
Superior, its beautiful shores, and all the inhabitants therein
- and our planet need us to look forward to continued efforts
toward sustainability, which may be the only future ahead.
Juliet Harding is the staff writer in Northland's public relations
office. She has created extensive self-sustaining perennial flower
gardens at her home near Chequamegon Bay.
Wojciechowski is the Director of Student Development at Northland
College and serves on the Facility Master Planning Committee and
the Environmental Council. He attended the ULSF Environmental
Literacy Institute in 1997.
details as well as energy performance data see the Northland webs
Select the Student Life section and then ELLC.
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