WATgreen Founders James Kay (left) and Muthu Chandrashekar (right)

The History of WATgreen:
It's Founders and It's Evolution

There have been many efforts over the past twenty years by students, faculty and staff to improve UW's ecological profile through the reduction of resource use and waste production. Some of these efforts were done as part of courses, some where undertaken purely on a volunteer basis, often as part of a WPIRG[1] initiative. In the late 80s, when the notion of sustainable development became popular, several faculty members, students and members of WPIRG began talking about how to focus these efforts. They organized visits to UW by Dr. David Orr who spoke on his idea of the campus as laboratory and biosphere. These talks galvanized the group into formalizing itself.

The group consulted widely with staff, students and other faculty, ultimately drafting a proposal to the University President (Dr. Doug Wright, 5 September 1990) on a new initiative called Greening the Campus. (The pseudonym WATgreen comes from a long UW tradition of calling all activities WAT.......) The support from the president was immediate and supportive. (6 September, 1990)

WATgreen was officially borne October 1, 1990 at a student organized week of environmental activities called Not Another Green Week. The opening event of this week was a presentation by the president of UW, Dr. Doug Wright announcing WATgreen and the university's commitment to its transformation into a sustainable campus. This was followed by speeches by Dr. David Orr and Paul Muldoon (which are available on video tape)

During the fall of 1990, a second year E.R.S. course on problem solving concentrated on "Greening the Campus". This provided a crucial nexus for consolidating WATgreen activity during its initial startup. It captured a group of students and faculty and focused their attention on projects related to the campus as an open ecosystem. The very fact of having a course devoted to WATgreen made it a mainstream activity for students and faculty rather than an add-on.

The success of this course and later student projects depended on enthusiastic staff participation. The President's memo in this regard legitimized staff spending time working with students on projects. This crucial component of WATgreen was helped immensely by the position taken by Bob Elliott, the Associate-Provost for General Services. He made it very clear to all support staff at UW that he strongly supported WATgreen and expected staff to aid students as required. He established a liaison process between students, faculty and staff to make sure that the right staff were contacted the first time, rather than having students and faculty navigating an unfamiliar bureaucracy and potentially wasting staff time and alienating them in the process. The importance of support from the top of the university and their taking an active role in facilitating staff involvement in projects is vital to the success of any campus greening activity.

During the time that WATgreen was first being formulated a Task Force on Waste Management (Report, 6 July, 1990) put together a set of recommendations to the administration and documented much of the campus greening activities to that date. The administration responded by hiring a full time Waste Management Co-ordinator in January 1991. This position has effectively evolved into an environmental officer for UW. The most important contributions of this staff member have been her liaison between students and staff and her action as an animateur for WATgreen. This person is the focal point for the operation of WATgreen. It would be very difficult for a greening the campus initiative to proceed without a full time person who understands the service side of the campus and who can connect students with appropriate staff members.

In the fall of 1991 a course devoted to WATgreen was started. This course focuses on teaching students how to evaluate the environmental implications of their life on campus. It serves to identify aspects of campus life which have the potential to be improved by further student projects. A list of these projects is made available to other students interested in greening the campus. The data collected by students in this course are used as the basis for other student work and as a baseline for measuring improvement in UW's environmental profile.

The projects to date have generated much interest both on and off campus. A second Not Another Green Week was held in the fall of 1991. The Canadian Unified Student Environment Network (CUSEN) held their annual conference in conjunction with this event at UW. Seventy students from 30 universities, colleges and Collage Etudiement General et Professional participated in discussions about Greening the Campus in a Canadian context. In 1992 WATgreen won the environmental achievement award for innovation for the Kitchener-Waterloo Area, and in 1993 followed up with the General Ecology award. WATgreen has provided a mechanism on campus for students, staff and faculty to deal with some contentious issues. For example the issue of using chemicals on lawns is currently being dealt with by a subcommittee of WATgreen, the Turf Management Committee. This committee is made up of students, staff and faculty and students are doing the research to determine possible alternative methods of turf management.

To date most of the projects have involved students from engineering and environmental studies. Our current focus is on broadening the scope of involvement in WATgreen. This information package is part of this effort and will form the basis for a publicity campaign. This campaign will involve both print articles and presentations to various groups on campus. One important form of communication is the WATgreen pamphlet. It provides a quick overview of WATgreen, is easy to hand out to people, and formalizes the WATgreen initiative.

As a final remark we point out the importance of a committee structure that allows all members of the campus community input and a sense of ownership. We have found that on our campus it is useful to have forums in which individuals are speaking to their peers as they are much more frank. We have also found that it is important for communication to get all the players to sit at the table on a regular basis. All of this is in the service of making WATgreen an initiative which is owned by all on campus and which empowers all to act to better their community.

WATgreen Chronology:
The Evolution of an Idea

Winter, 1990 - Dr. David Orr - Visit to the Waterloo campus . Formation of an ad hoc committee on "Greening the Campus".

September 5, 1990 - Letter to the University of Waterloo President, Dr. Doug Wright, outlining the WATgreen proposal.

September 6, 1990 - Dr. Doug Wright - Letter supporting the WATgreen proposal.

October 1, 1990 - "Not Another Green Week" organized by students opens with the official launch of WATgreen.

Fall, 1990 - Environment & Resource Studies Project Course & Systems Design Engineering Course on the theme of "Greening the Campus".

January, 1991 - Hiring of the University Waste Management Coordinator.

Fall, 1991 - Environment & Resource Studies first course on "Greening the Campus".

November, 1991 - Canadian Unified Student Environment Network annual conference at the University of Waterloo on "Greening the Campus".

June 1992 - Environmental Achievement Award for Innovation (WATgreen) presented at the first annual Kitchener and Waterloo Chambers of Commerce Environmental Achievement Awards.

September, 1992 - WATgreen Task Force on Turf Grass Maintenance begins deliberations.

June 1993 - Environmental Achievement Award for General Ecology (WATgreen) presented at the second annual Kitchener and Waterloo Chambers of Commerce Environmental Achievement Awards.

July 1995 - Representatives from each faculty are appointed to serve on the university WATgreen committee, which has its first meeting 9 July

September 1995 - WATgreen and ERS 285 are presented as examples of using the WWW in teaching as part of the annual teaching fair at UW hosted by TRACE.

December 1995 - WATgreen featured in the UW TRACE newsletter on teaching techniques

January 2002 - Grand Opening of the University of Waterloo Sustainability Project

[1]WPIRG: Waterloo Public Interest Research Group, a student run and funded organization modeled after those started by Ralph Nader, and dedicated to environmental and social justice initiatives.

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