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Warren Wilson College
Campus Box 6323
P.O. Box 9000
Asheville, NC 28815-9000


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The Swannanoa Journal - UNC-Asheville Sustainability

 by Casey Doyle


In 2010, UNCA was ranked one of the nation’s top green colleges by the Princeton Review. They have an environmental studies department with about 30 faculty members, and offer over 100 courses that contain content relating to environmental issues.

The State Energy Office has granted UNCA $280,000 to employ 18 interns to work for the Student Energy Internship and Fellowship program, which focuses on energy efficiency and sustainability both in the surrounding community and on campus.

UNCA also has the Student Environmental Center that works on a variety of projects, including both an off-campus community garden, and an on-campus garden, a free store, and a program called Eco Reps, which places environmentally concerned students in dorms as go to people for all issues relating to sustainability. There is also the Student Green Fee, which tacks $5 on student fees, and is the reason the Student Environmental Center was able to begin in 2006.

Joan Walker, a founding member of the Student Environmental Center, who now leads interns at UNCA, says that the mission of the Student Environmental Center has always been: To serve as kind of a hub for sustainability on campus, so we interface with faculty with staff, with other student organizations. The Student Environmental Center since the beginning has served as a liaison group and has served to just institutionalize sustainability here so it is ongoing, no matter what students are on campus.” This mission is very similar to that of Warren Wilson College, which is known for it’s “green” reputation. As UNCA institutionalizes sustainability, so does Warren Wilson, both focusing on not only teaching environmental sustainability in the classroom,, but putting this sustainability into practice both on campus and in the community.

But despite UNCA’s tremendous efforts towards sustainability, the university does not have the reputation of environmental college. UNCA puts forth efforts in sustainability and environmental issues just as Warren Wilson does, so why is only one of the schools dubbed “hippie, granola, and green?”

Iris Gottlieb, student director of the Student Environmental Center describes UNCA students’ attitudes towards sustainability, “It’s a really mixed bag. I think that a lot of people think that they are environmentally friendly and their actions don’t actually represent that, but I think that there are a lot of really well read, well versed people about environmental issues, and I think that the environmental program is growing every year, getting stronger and having more interest.”

This is similar, however, to the student body at Warren Wilson; while some students are highly involved in environmental issues, there are some who choose to devote their efforts to other issues. Lack of student interest is clearly not the reason why UNCA does not have the reputation of environmentally friendly college, despite their sustainable practices.

Iris goes on to explain, “Maybe just a lack of publicity is a big issue, I don’t think there has been enough effort to really put it out there that we are equal to Warren Wilson in terms of environmental stuff, and I think as the campus grows there is starting to be more literature about it, and they are starting to make an effort to put it on the website and write articles about it.”

Joan pointed out that they may not have a sustainable reputation because they do not talk about their achievements enough. She says, “But we really should be talking about it, because we are doing awesome stuff and we have been for 20 years, we have been leading the system.”

Iris also suggests that UNCA may not publicly have recognition for their environmental practices because of its location in Asheville, which is a very environmentally conscious place. As UNCA continues to practice sustainability and advocate for environmental issues, the University is a part of a community that places great importance on such topics. While UNCA may not be known for their environmentalism, it is rather amazing that an environmentally conscious place may lack recognition because it is a part of a community in which sustainability is a norm. And this norm of environmental consciousness makes Asheville a great home for UNCA, Warren Wilson, and all other environmental institutions.