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Warren Wilson College Environmental Leadership Center in the Early Stages of Developing an International Sustainability Program

by Christian Diaz, News Editor

The Environmental Leadership Center is currently working on a ground-breaking initiative that will recreate Warren Wilson’s holistic approach to sustainability in an international setting.

The fruitition of the program is contingent on several factors, and although nothing is yet set in stone, the ambition and enthusiasm demonstrated by the people at the Environmental Leadership Center (ELC) has been matched by the administration.

Chemistry Professor John Brock knew he would follow Margo Flood as interim director of the environmental leadership center despite being on sabbatical. Although teaching is his passion, Brock has been working non-stop to lay the foundation for a deeper, more enriching student experience at Warren Wilson College, one that expands the college’s mission in a way that hasn’t been done before.

“I’m trying to burst the Wilson bubble, is what I’m trying to do,” Brock said from his new office on the third floor of Morse.

Tentatively titled the Global Exchange for Sustainability, the initiative aims to be a partnership between Warren Wilson College and international institutions of higher learning. Further development of the program depends on two factors: the ability to find an institution willing to work closely with the college and the availability of grant monies to finance the initiatives.

President Sandy Pfeiffer has already signed an agreement with the Universidad Popular Autonoma del Estado de Puebla in Mexico, a university that features an on-going service program that reaches out to rural and urban communities, that commits the two institutions into a relationship of academic exchange. The ELC hopes that this agreement will facilitate the partnership envisioned in the Global Exchange for Sustainability, however it is not yet known whether or not the institution is keen to integrate so intimately with the college.

The program would focus on sustainability, service, cross-cultural understanding, work and academics. The holistic approach will mirror the Warren Wilson experience in an international setting.

The college is currently attempting to negotiate the stipulations of the program as well as writing proposals in order to gather funds to finance the initiative.

If the program pans out perfectly, the first group will travel to Mexico next summer. A group of representatives of the college, including Dave Ellum, Ben Feinberg and Erin Montero among others are slated to travel to Puebla in January. If the initiative is a success it will serve as a model that can then be replicated in other locations.

Brock is careful to emphasize the exchange portion of the plan.

“We’re very interested in creating a two-way relationship,” Brock said. “Folks will come here to teach us how they see sustainability and environmentalism. We will go there and share our perspective. We start to learn from each other in a give and take kind of way. This is not a bunch of people from the developed world going over there to fix something. If we get it to work we will understand our mission in a different way by working with these folk. They see it differently than we do.”

Brock stresses the importance of bridging understanding between the developed and developing world to adapt to climate change.

“What happened in Copehagen [during the climate conference in 2009] is that the developed world and the developing world got in a big fight about how they see CO2 emissions,” Brock said. “We need to start having a discussion at a different level before we get this big blow up in the larger discussions.”

Because of the unique circumstances the triad grants to the college’s mission, the program would be unlike any other, thus making grant monies more accessible.

John Brock will serve as director of the ELC until December 2012. A national search will then begin in order to fill the position.


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