by Kristan Mitchell and Wynn Calder
The University of Virginia (UVA) is doing a lot for the state
of Virginia. Research projects on sustainability for Virginia
communities and regions abound. Two institutes at UVA are striving
both independently and collaboratively to address issues of critical
importance to the future of Virginia, as well as the U.S. and
the world. Their common commitment is to sustainability. The Institute
for Environmental Negotiation (IEN), directed by Richard Collins,
Professor of Architecture and Planning, was established in 1981
to help governments, citizen organizations and businesses solve
conflicts and make policy choices concerning land use and the
natural and built environment through mediation and consensus
building. The Institute for Sustainable Design (ISD) was founded
by William McDonough, Dean of the School of Architecture, in 1996
to "render visible" viable alternatives to conventional
design and practice. The Institute promotes innovative design
approaches and restorative action that recognize the interdependence
of ecology, equity, and economy. This article looks at some of
the initiatives-- completed, ongoing and proposed-- that these
two organizations are directing to contribute to a sustainable
The Institute for Environmental Negotiation
According to IEN's director, Richard Collins, negotiation and
mediation are necessary to move from environmental impasses to
sustainability. However, it is IEN's central task to "make
compromise a last resort," Collins asserts. By this he means
that conflict, vigorous advocacy and heated discourse can produce
creative alternatives and outcomes, not merely compromises. Like
the Institute for Sustainable Design, the broad mission of IEN
is to achieve a sustainable future. IEN strives to help people
realize that vision through negotiation. The essence of good conflict,
says Collins, is using it to reconcile social justice and sustainability.
He is fond of declaring that sustainability is "the marriage
of caring and carrying capacity."
IEN's environmental mediators assist parties who are not just
bargaining, but exploring, and searching for new ways to reconcile
environmental, economic, and ethical goals that are or appear
to be in conflict. It is assumed that facilitation of dialogue
among diverse parties in a community can lead to actions that
benefit all parties, as well as future generations.
IEN has spearheaded numerous research projects that flow from
it's initial role as mediator in particular disputes. A recent
example is a site specific dispute involving odors from biosolids
which stimulated the Virginia Department of Health to contract
with IEN. This project, "Land Application of Biosolids,"
was recently completed under the direction of Collins. Tanya Denckla,
Senior Associate of IEN, describes the issue in the following
way: "As a society we need to find ways to handle our waste
in a sustainable and, if possible, useful manner. The practice
of spreading treated sewage sludge- known as biosolids- as a way
of recycling' nutrients has considerable appeal." However,
people in proximity to the activity typically complain that the
smell is noxious and overpowering, especially when biosolids are
not treated correctly. With the population in rural areas of Virginia
growing, conflicts over this issue are increasing. IEN confronted
the question: how can this practice, which supports recycling
and sustainability, be made compatible with the quality of life
for nearby residents?
In 1997, IEN was hired by the Department of Health to explore
ways in which a biosolids program could be managed so that it
would gain support from environmental groups as well as the general
public. IEN interviewed county and city staff, federal and state
agency staff, industry representatives, as well as representatives
involved in biosolids programs in other states before offering
their recommendations last September. Today, according to Cal
Sawyer at the Department of Health, implementation of the recommendations
has advanced: six meetings have been held around the state for
instructing regulatory staff on the latest procedures for spreading
biosolids as well as responding to complaints; and a new position
was filled in March 98 to ensure appropriate application of quality
biosolids and determine that permits to use biosolids are complied
On another front, IEN became involved in a project in 1997 to
design and implement an evaluation procedure for the Montana Consensus
Council (MCC) to help it function more effectively. The MCC's
broad mission is to help the people of Montana work together to
resolve natural resource and other public conflicts but it also
exists to help state agencies function better. The evaluation
project is specifically intended to assess the viability of collaborative,
consensual decision processes as a vehicle for achieving sustainability,
whether ecological, economic, or social. Particular environmental
concerns include public land use, resource extraction and protection,
and water preservation.
IEN is primarily conducting interviews with MCC stakeholders:
Board members, legislators, and participants in consensus processes.
E. Franklin Dukes, Associate Director of IEN, and leader of the
project, is concerned with the overall question: "Are we
able to change the system of governance (in Montana) so that people
can act more interdependently, and thus more sustainably?"
The obstacles to achieving such a goal, he notes, are considerable.
They include: unfamiliarity within the state with consensus procedures;
mistrust of those participating in such procedures; lack of resources
(time, research, legal support, mediator expenses) for adequate
participation; and power plays by those whose positions are threatened
by inclusive, open, consensual, and collaborative efforts. Each
of these obstacles presents a direct challenge to the process
of sustainable development.
IEN has assisted other states and universities in establishing
similar programs of conflict resolution for environmental issues.
The University of Alaska at Anchorage recently created such a
center based on recommendations made by Collins.
The Institute for Sustainable Design
The Institute was founded to educate current and future leaders
- designers, policy makers, and corporate and community citizens
- with the vision and processes needed to achieve a sustainable
future, while seeking to define humanity's meaningful, rightful
and responsible place in the natural world. ISD works with students
and faculty at all ten of the university's schools to achieve
its four main objectives:
Render visible current human practices damaging to the built
and natural environments and to human and ecological health, and
articulate the strategies of change that celebrate the concepts
and the promise of a sustaining and delightful world.
- Be a living laboratory for the incubation and testing of innovative
and sustainable practices and technologies.
- Engage industry to enable ethical and prosperous commerce
to be an effective agent of change.
- Create tools to make possible the successful transfer and
implementation of sustainable practices and technologies.
The Institute's work - which encompasses the scale of the molecule
to that of the region - is organized into four centers of activity:
the Center for Sustainable Building Technology; the Center for
Sustainable Regions and Communities; the Center for Sustainable
Business and Industry; and the Center for Interdisciplinary Leadership.
The Institute's initial work has been focused in the "Center
for Sustainable Communities and Regions," although projects
are underway in each of the four centers. The "Piedmont Futures
Initiative," a multi-dimensional project which includes student
and faculty research as well as community engagement, is the centerpiece
of the Center for Sustainable Regions and Communities.
With the support of foundations, businesses and civic groups,
ISD's "Piedmont Futures Initiative" is helping to address
the issue of rapid change and development in Virginia's northern
Piedmont region, home of the University of Virginia. This long-term
initiative is designed to enable civic and business leaders, elected
officials and concerned citizens to visualize and articulate a
sustainable future for this area (which covers the Metro Washington-Richmond-Charlottesville
corridor). The institute will illustrate the region's "de
facto" plan - or what will happen in the absence of a deliberate
plan - and initiate a dialogue about alternatives. "Our role
is not to be an advocate for or against any single approach, but
to give people the information to make a choice," explains
Institute Coordinator Kristan Mitchell. "We will share the
'de facto' plan with the region's leadership and residents and
say, 'here is the Piedmont in 2020. What do you think?' I think
there will be lots of discussion about change." The project
involves interdisciplinary student research projects, faculty
research on specific Piedmont communities and issues, a series
of leadership meetings and a public symposium to promote dialogue
on the future of the region.
Ultimately, much of the Piedmont work will be housed in the emerging
Design Resources Center (DRC). The DRC is a community resource
to empower citizens and decision-makers in the Piedmont with the
necessary design and planning tools to assess, envision, and enhance
the vitality and sustainability of their region and individual
communities. It will be a place where students, faculty, and Piedmont
residents can work together to redesign their communities for
Several other projects are under development. For instance, in
ISD's Center For Sustainable Business and Industry, a project
titled "Design Protocol for a Sustainable Hospital: Eliminating
the Concept of Medical Waste by Design" is being designed
in collaboration with the School of Nursing and the School of
Engineering. Medical waste is a growing concern among heath care
providers, communities, and regulators. As volumes continue to
increase and conventional methods of medical waste handling, such
as incineration and land filling, come under question in terms
of their cost-effectiveness and their impact on the environment
and communities. The goal of the overall project is to develop
new sustainable products and processes for the health care industry
that eliminate the concept of medical waste by design, and are
profitable yet cost-effective, equitable, and ecologically intelligent.
McDonough explains the notion of eliminating the concept of waste:
"Sustainable products are designed to eliminate the concept
of waste. In the cycles of the natural world, nothing is wasted,
and everything old becomes food for something new. Everything
must be designed to enter either a biological metabolism, where
it can decompose and become food for other living systems, or
a technical metabolism, a closed-loop industrial cycle in which
technical materials continually circulate." In one scenario,
for example, the waste from the medical community could be used
as fuel for a co-generation plant, where excess heat becomes fuel
for the hospital's energy needs. This approach can turn a liability
into a commodity, but will require redesign of medical packaging,
instruments and handling systems that will allow the incineration
of these waste streams while substantially minimizing harmful
ISD and IEN have realized the value added through collaboration.
Design becomes a more effective tool when it is used as a springboard
for constructive discourse, and dialogue can be enhanced when
accompanied by strong visuals. Thus, ISD and IEN are more closely
linking their efforts with the assistance of a recent major grant
from the Virginia Environmental Endowment in a new project called
"Design and Dialogue for a Sustainable Virginia." The
project supports ISD and IEN's on-going independent efforts, and
will address sustainability in Virginia as a whole by creating
and disseminating "tools" for sustainable design.
The State of Virginia and its communities have a choice: Recently
invigorated economic growth in many regions of the state - or
the desire to develop in economically depressed regions - poses
increasing challenges to seek balance between economic, environmental
and social goals. Virginia's communities can continue current
patterns of decision-making, which in many cases lead to natural
resource degradation, social inequity, and wasted economic resources.
Or they can change. They can seek out actions that are sustainable
and restorative, equitable and profitable, ensuring that future
generations can enjoy Virginia's natural, human, economic, cultural,
and historic resources.
"Design and Dialogue" will facilitate opportunities
for ISD and IEN to work together and with partner organizations
throughout the state to advance sustainability in Virginia, and
to integrate sustainable design into the University's teaching
and research activities. Year 1, "Leading by Example: Creating
Tools in the Piedmont," will allow new, interdisciplinary
design approaches to sustainability to be developed and incubated
in the Piedmont, the University's home region. In Year 2, efforts
will be focused on sharing new tools, best practices, and successes
throughout the state.
People often ask McDonough, "How long will all this sustainability
take?" McDonough's answer: "It will take forever. That's
Kristan Mitchell is a Coordinator for the Institute for Sustainable
Design. She facilitates fund-raising, project development, outreach,
project implementation, and administrative activities. She can
be reached at the School of Architecture, Campbell Hall, University
of Virginia, Charlottesville, Virginia 22903; (p) 804 924 6454;
(f) 804 982 2678; (e) firstname.lastname@example.org; (w) http://www.virginia.edu/~sustain.
/ Wynn Calder is Coordinator of Outreach and Membership for ULSF.
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