by Kary Schumpert
Northland College was founded in Ashland, Wisconsin in 1892.
The small, regional institution offered undergraduate degrees
with an emphasis on a liberal arts education. In 1972 Northland
adopted its environmental mission, emphasizing both the academic
curriculum and the institutional focus. The founding of the Sigurd
Olson Environmental Institute in the same year strengthened Northland's
commitment as an environmental liberal arts college, and honored
the legacy of its alumnus, trustee, noted author and nationally
recognized conservationist, Sigurd Olson.
The Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute specifically supports
environmental efforts in the greater Lake Superior region. Ashland
and its 9000 residents are situated on the north shore of Lake
Superior in Chequamegon Bay. Many visitors travel to the area
to experience the lake, the North Woods, and the nearby Apostle
Islands, making tourism one of the main sources of income for
the Chequamegon Bay region. Outdoor activities attract tourists
from across the nation. Balancing economic growth and development
with environmental protection has been a hot topic for local discussion
and debate. Community partnerships are vitally important to finding
environmentally sustainable solutions in such circumstances.
Northland students, staff and Ashland residents work as partners
on a number of regional issues and activities, with environmental
concerns at the forefront of community discussion. Most recently
the conversation has turned to sustainable development.
Over the years, Northland College students have worked with a
number of local organizations and businesses as volunteers and
interns. In particular, environmental management and environmental
studies students have joined forces with local businesses to find
economically and environmentally practical solutions to various
problems. One team of students studied ways that paper sludge
could be reused and recycled. Others volunteer to teach environmental
and outdoor education in local schools.
Community organizations like the Alliance for Sustainability
enjoy broad-based support from both the campus and area communities
of Ashland, Washburn, and Bayfield. Unfortunately, however, the
linkage between Northland College and the community is not consistent.
Given Northland's mission as an environmental liberal arts college,
there are occasional divisions between the school and the community
regarding environmental problems.
The Chequamegon Bay Area Green Star Award Program is a model
of community environmental outreach. It utilizes the leadership
and expertise of business, community, environmental, and college
leaders to build community partnerships for determining environmental
solutions to challenging problems.
Green Star Program Overview
The Green Star Program was started in Anchorage, Alaska in 1990
as a volunteer effort to encourage businesses, schools, non-profit
organizations and government agencies to conserve energy, reduce
waste, and recycle. The premise is that these actions are not
only environmentally sound, but economically beneficial as well.
Since the program's inception, over 400 institutions in Alaska,
employing over 60,000 people, have earned Green Star awards.
An interested institution enrolls as a member and then begins
earning the Green Star Award by completing steps which encompass
such practices as material purchasing, reuse of materials, and
handling of toxic wastes. The Green Star standards are designed
for businesses of any size or type. Each business must complete
all six of the following standards:
- Adopt, post and circulate to all employees the Green Star
policy statement, or your version of it.
- Designate a Green Star Coordinator or team.
- Conduct an annual waste reduction assessment.
- Provide three incentives or training opportunities to encourage
management and employee participation.
- Notify customers about your environmental efforts by publicizing
what your business is doing to meet the Green Star standards.
- Assist at least one other business in learning the importance
of becoming a Green Star business and encourage them to enroll
in the Green Star Program.
In addition, a Green Star business must complete at least six
of the following twelve:
- Practice conservation of office paper.
- Incorporate at least three energy-conserving changes in your
- Monitor, record, and post utility usage and waste generation.
- Incorporate waste reduction methods into materials and equipment
- Purchase recycled/reusable materials for your business.
- Enhance your business's maintenance program to improve equipment
efficiency and reduce waste.
- Segregate waste materials for recycling and reuse.
- Promote proper handling and disposal of hazardous materials.
- Reduce your business's use of toxic materials.
- Establish a litter-free zone in the immediate vicinity of
your place of business.
- Establish a waste reduction, recycling, and energy efficiency
library in your place of business.
- Develop your own waste reduction method different from those
Integrating the Green Star standards with day-to-day practices
requires business owners, managers and employees to shift their
thinking from "How do we properly dispose of our waste?"
to "How can we prevent waste?" Once this is accomplished,
owners can focus on completing six of the next twelve standards.
Once an institution has implemented the standards, it is eligible
to receive its Green Star Award. A committee made up of fellow
business owners, environmental specialists, and community leaders
examines the business to verify its practices. To maintain Green
Star status these practices must be ongoing, and an annual update
of the institution's improvements is required.
A Green Star business may display the Green Star Award and include
it in advertising and publicity. Based on a commitment to partnership,
the program encourages Green Star businesses to share their knowledge
of environmental practices with other businesses in the community.
Building Community Partnerships
Marianne Inman, Academic Dean of Northland College in 1992, learned
of the successful program in Alaska. She introduced it to Northland
faculty as a possible pursuit for Ashland and the Chequamegon
Bay area. Two Northland professors and a steering committee comprised
of business and community leaders led the development of a local
effort. In fall 1992, the steering committee solicited funding,
in-kind donations, and community support to purchase rights to
the Green Star Program. It was agreed to adopt the program as
is, and the work began.
In contrast to the Anchorage model, run by the state's environmental
agency, the Chequamegon Bay Area Green Star Award Program is administered
by the Ashland Area Chamber of Commerce in partnership with Northland
College. Two Northland students are hired to coordinate the program
on a work-study and internship basis. They work closely with the
Director of the Chamber of Commerce and Northland's Environmental
Programs Coordinator, and a steering committee comprised of business
and community leaders. These students share in a unique opportunity
to run and administer an environmental organization. Other student
volunteers and interns help the Green Star coordinators with specific
tasks and offer assistance to business owners as well.
An Advisory Committee, made up of five to six representatives
of businesses and institutions, serves as the guiding force of
the Green Star program and the critical link between students
and the community. Advisory Committee members are owners, managers,
and employees of Green Star businesses. In addition to their advisory
role, they provide leadership in the community and promote the
benefits of environmental business initiatives. A recent assessment
of the role and purpose of the Advisory Committee emphasized that
members should come from Green Star businesses since they understand
the process and the commitment that such a designation involves.
Members should also represent different sizes and types of business
and institutions (profit and non-profit, retail, educational,
and manufacturing) in order to have a broad perspective on the
kinds of environmental issues and obstacles these entities face.
Examples of Success
The strength of the Green Star Program is in its link to the
community. As a program of the Chamber of Commerce, it gained
early acceptance by area businesses, and many business leaders
who are part of the Chamber have become Green Star members working
to earn the award. To date, five businesses have earned awards
and several others have taken steps toward enrollment and certification.
Businesses are sharing ideas for everything from recycling spent
fluorescent light bulbs to donating packing peanuts to a local
gift shop for reuse in shipping.
Northland College is the fifth largest employer in the area when
its student workforce is included. Measures taken to earn its
award included initiating a comprehensive composting program,
an energy reduction program, an in-depth environmental audit,
and most recently the planning of an environmental dorm.
Northward Bookstore was the first business in Ashland to meet
all of the Green Star standards for its award in 1994. The two
owners stock many titles promoting ecologically sound living.
They reuse envelopes and packaging materials, have eliminated
much of the waste from their distributors, and retain one of the
few green spaces in the Ashland downtown area.
Larson-Juhl, a picture frame manufacturer, employs over 125 people
in its Ashland plant. To earn its Green Star Award in April 1995,
the employees reduced the plant's production of hazardous waste
by 50 percent in 1992 and 10 percent each subsequent year. This
was accomplished at the same time that production requirements
were increasing by 10 percent annually. The Larson-Juhl Ashland
facility is being recognized industry-wide for its reduction and
recapture of solvents. The company has also greatly reduced the
use of packing materials and has employed several reuse measures
for other materials.
The Ashland Area Chamber of Commerce earned its award in April
1997 by purchasing higher post-consumer recycled content in stationery
and brochures. Several office measures have resulted in reduction
of paper use, and the Chamber now participates in a local close-the-loop
paper recycling effort.
As with any young program, Green Star has faced its challenges
in becoming a real part of community solutions to environmental
problems. One impediment to success has been a high turnover rate
among the Green Star staff. This is due in part to having students
administer the program; they are by definition short term. It
is also a result of inconsistent and inadequate staff support.
Out of a recent examination of the goals, functions, and roles
of the "Green Star players," several proposals for change
were suggested. One was to seek funding for permanent staff to
replace the paid students. Unfortunately, this proposal is contrary
to the original intent of the Green Star program: to foster community
connections between Northland College and the Chequamegon Bay
communities. A more reasonable proposal, currently being considered,
was to seek funding for a permanent staff person without eliminating
the student positions. Currently there is a successful effort
underway to strengthen the support framework from which the students
run and operate the program.
Support for the student coordinators comes in several forms.
One staff or faculty member of Northland College serves as the
students' supervisor and mentor. In the past, this support was
inconsistent since Green Star duties were add-ons to the already
full work loads of various faculty and staff. With the recent
appointment of a faculty member as the Environmental Programs
Coordinator, this obstacle is being overcome. With more time and
energy devoted to Green Star, the Programs Coordinator can be
a long-term anchor for the program as students move on and graduate.
Furthermore, staggering the replacement of student coordinators
permits more experienced students to train new participants.
The other guide and leader in the Green Star program is the Director
of the Chamber of Commerce. This person provides a direct link
to the business community and is critical to promoting the program.
In the past Green Star has been a low priority issue for the Director.
While additional time may not be available, more open lines of
communication and a clearer definition of the Director's role
in Green Star may help. The recent presentation of a Green Star
Award to the Chamber of Commerce had immediate effects on communication
between the Director and student coordinators.
The student coordinators, the Environmental Coordinator of Northland
College, and the Chamber Director are the heart and soul of the
Green Star program. A sense of teamwork and partnership among
these entities is imperative for success. It is important that
they see themselves collectively as the framework for the program.
Maintaining these relationships will determine the level of program
consistency over time and allow the flexibility necessary to interpret
roles as needed.
The success of Green Star also depends on maintaining high environmental
standards so that the Green Star Award does nor come to be seen
as a symbol for "greenwash." This has not been an issue
to date, since each business must regularly demonstrate its adherence
to Green Star standards.
As relatively few businesses are involved in Green Star in Ashland,
innovative methods to recruit new institutions are being considered.
Linkage between Chamber of Commerce businesses is improving, and
concerted attention is being given to outreach. Still in the early
stages, this partnership program helps businesses find new approaches
to pollution prevention, waste reduction, and energy conservation,
and helps builds bridges between Northland students, faculty,
and the local community. A series of workshops for similar institutions
is being planned to offer an opportunity for sharing ideas and
The Green Star model is important in a number of ways. It demonstrates
how a college can share its resources and the expertise of its
staff and students to have a positive impact on the community.
Colleges and communities working together help break down the
boundaries between the fabled ivory tower of education and the
people who live beyond. With initiatives like the Green Star Program,
colleges and communities can build and strengthen a broader sense
of community while fostering an environmentally sustainable future.
For more information about the Green Star program, please contact:
Green Star Coordinator
c/o Northland College
1411 Ellis Ave.
Ashland, WI 54806
Chequamegon Bay Area Green Star Award Program
Ashland Area Chamber of Commerce
311 W. Third St.
Ashland, WI 54806
Kary Schumpert is a student at Northland College and Coordinator
of the Chequamegon Bay Area Green Star Award Program.
RETURN TO TOP