History of the Center


The Catawba College Center for the Environment is established with a mission to educate students and the public about environmental stewardship and sustainability and to involve the faculty, staff, students and the Center's partners in programs and activities that promote sustainable solutions to the environmental problems faced by the community, state and region.

The Center, under the leadership of founding director Dr. John Wear, works with the City of Salisbury to establish the Salisbury Greenway. The linear park provides not only a trail for bicyclists and pedestrians; it also preserves open space and provides a riparian buffer to reduce the sediment and filter the nutrients going into Grants Creek.


The Center hosts the first of seven annual statewide Watershed Conferences to address challenges like the pfiesteria outbreak, flooding and pollution. The initiative ultimately leads to the creation of the N.C. Watershed Coalition.


The Center begins to expand its purview, lending assistance to regional and state initiatives over the next several years.

The Center helps to acquire additional land for the Catawba Ecological Preserve, increasing its area to 189 acres. Working with the LandTrust for Central North Carolina, it facilitates the college's placing a significant portion of the preserve under permanent conservation easement. Catawba becomes the first college in North Carolina, and one of the first in the nation, to preserve campus property in perpetuity.


Center staff and students, with the help of the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service and the Natural Resource Conservation Service, create a structure on the Catawba Ecological Preserve to impound 23 acres of water from the surrounding watershed. The project not only expands the waterfowl and shorebird habitat but also helps with water retention and the natural purification of runoff.

Ground is broken for the sustainable facility that houses the Catawba College Center for the Environment. Architect Karen Alexander notes that Catawba is leading by example: "It is showing how a small college can make a big statement about the importance of the sustainable use of the earth's resources." Bill Holman, then secretary of the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources, calls it "the wave of the future in resource and energy efficiency."

The LandTrust for Central North Carolina partners with Catawba College to purchase and establish a 300-acre wildlife refuge seven miles north of the college. The property, which is protected by a conservation easement, serves multiple purposes: It preserves water quality and land; protects wildlife; and serves as an outdoor laboratory for educating budding conservationists.

Catawba becomes one of the first colleges in the state to offer certification for environmental educators. The program, initiated by the N.C. Office of Environmental Education, is a requirement for environmental educators in nature centers, state parks, aquariums and natural history museums in North Carolina.


Catawba students are placed in charge of recycling construction waste on the model green structure to house the Center. The goal is to recycle 70 percent of the material, but they recycle 86 percent. The students find that, in many cases, it is cheaper for contractors to recycle the waste than to take it to the landfill.

The Center for the Environment is featured in a PBS documentary called "Environmental Partners: Designing a Sustainable Future." It is the first of two 30-minute TV documentaries focusing on the Center, its partnerships and its mission to teach others how to be careful stewards of the earth's resources.


Classes are held for the first time in the Center for the Environment facility, which was designed to encourage the integration of its program with environmental efforts in the region. It used recycled and recyclable materials, environmentally friendly geo-exchange system to heat and cool the building and solar panels to provide a portion of its electricity.

The Center launches EcoConnections, its online magazine (www.ecoconnections.org) which features people and programs across the state and nation that promote sustainability and environmental stewardship.

The Center, with the guidance of landscape architect Kevin McCorkle, horticulturalist George Morris and Jeff Sowers of KKA Architecture, develops natural landscaping around the facility. Center staff and Catawba students implement the plan. Nearly 260 native species surround the sustainably designed building, providing wildlife habitat and a rich laboratory for studying plant diversity and techniques for water conservation.


The Center facility becomes a popular location for conferences that focus on everything from environmental policy to environmentally friendly design.


The Center launches the Clean Air Initiative to address air quality problems in Rowan County and the region. Banks, businesses and foundations offer financial support for the effort.

The Center initiates Clean Air Lecture Series, bringing experts to the campus to talk about issues related to air quality. Catawba students have the opportunity to talk with noted authorities on topics ranging from air pollution and health to the importance of land use planning.

Through the Clean Air Initiative the Center supports a multi-faceted approach to cleaning up the air, including efforts involving farmland preservation, sustainable development, energy conservation in municipal and college organizations, truck stop electrification and the retrofitting of school buses with catalytic converters.

The Center receives award for its contribution and dedication to improve the state's air quality from the N.C. Air Awareness Program in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. Noting the efforts of staff, partners and volunteers, Center director receives state and regional recognition over the course of five years: 2005 Airkeeper Award from the Carolinas Clean Air Coalition; 2003 N.C. Conservationist of the Year; 2002 "Guardian of the Earth" by the Charlotte Observer; 2001 Green Builder of the Year by the Carolina Recycling Association.

The Center brings community leaders, municipal staff and American Forests officials together to explore the possibility of conducting a regional ecosystem analysis to help communities plan for development. Less than two years later, the idea comes to fruition.


Catawba College environmental science students spearhead Campus Greening Initiative. Their proposals, many of which have been implemented, range from water and energy conservation to policies which ensure that all buildings constructed on campus will meet Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) criteria.
The Center hosts international delegation that travels to Center to learn about environmental education and community participation in environmental efforts. Delegates are from Finland, Pakistan, Zanzibar, Uruguay and Eritrea.

The Center and Catawba's environmental science students are featured in the nationally broadcast PBS program, "Simple Living with Wanda Urbanska." Urbanska says she chose the Center because "it offers one of the premiere environmental education programs in the nation in a unique physical setting."

The Center hosts a group of Russians who come to discuss common environmental concerns with Dr. John Wear and selected students. The delegation's visit is part of Open World, a 10-day professional exchange that attempts to foster understanding and collaboration between Russia and the United States.

Students in the Campus Greening Seminar research green technology and products for Ramsey Burgin Smith Architects as the firm refines plans for renovation of and addition to Corriher-Linn-Black Library on Catawba campus.


The Center orchestrates air quality conference - "Clean Air: Community Strategies for Action" - to offer a forum for participants to help their communities find reasonable solutions to air quality challenges. Current students and recent graduates engage in a facilitated discussion about air quality issues and what students can do on campus and in the community to help clean up the air.

The internationally syndicated science radio program "Earth & Sky" broadcasts part of an interview with director John Wear on 1,000 radio stations across the globe. The series has 10 million weekly listeners.

Center spearheads Salisbury's First Annual Earth Day/Sustainability Showcase. Partners for the event include the Downtown Salisbury Association, the entire Catawba campus, LandTrust for Central North Carolina, Charlotte Chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council, the "Simple Living" TV Network, Carolinas EcoCrescent, Environmental Defense, Land for Tomorrow, Southern Appalachian Biodiversity Project, N.C. Solar Center, Charlotte Chapter of the Sierra Club, plus many sustainable businesses.

Earth Day will promote sustainability and environmental stewardship, educate the public and showcase sustainable options.

The Center begins planning Sustainability & Community Engagement Institute, designed to prepare regional communities for sustainable growth. It will offer targeted education for current and emerging leaders as well as for Catawba students. Those students selected for the Institute will graduate prepared to step into leadership roles in the communities where they will live.


The Third International Hydrail Conference brings presenters from around the world to the Center for the Environment to discuss the development of hydrogen-powered railways and transit.

Catawba College's 189-acre ecological preserve is approved as part of the NC Birding Trail, a guide that links bird- watching sites across the state. More than 150 species of birds have been sighted on the preserve.

Catherine Pancake, the director of the documentary "Black Diamonds: Mountaintop Removal and the Fight for Coalfield Justice," comes to the Center for a screening and discussion of the film.


The Center hosts 300 people at two and a half day interfaith conference on faith, spirituality, and environmental stewardship. The conference, which features 45 presenters, is a combination of inspiration and practicality – the soaring spiritual “why” and the down-to-earth “how” of caring for creation.

Simple Living television host Wanda Urbanska and green building consultant Jennifer Pippin come to the Center for the Environment to discuss the trials and tribulations of creating their green homes.

Lester Brown, called “one of the world’s most influential thinkers” by the Washington Post, speaks at the Center for the Environment on his lastest book: “Plan B 3.0: Mobilizing to Save Civilization”. Watch the video.


The Center launches the Campaign for Clean Air to educate citizens in Rowan and Cabarrus counties and the surrounding region, and to empower them to take action to address the air quality issues we face. The Campaign includes:

Sustainability designers and engineers from the prestigious Rocky Mountain Institute (RMI) plan to join a diverse group of Catawba College professors in the summer of 2011 to offer a transformative experience for high school students from across the nation: Redesigning Our Future - National Youth Environmental Summit, which will be hosted by the Center for the Environment.

The Second Faith, Spirituality, and Environmental Stewardship Conference is hosted by the Center. Featured speakers included Dr. Matthew Sleeth and his daughter Emma Sleeth.

The Center for the Environment lends its support to nearby Hood Theological Seminary as the school moves to include environmental studies in its curriculum. Dr. Samuel Dansokho, associate professor of religion, society and culture at Hood, invites Center Director John Wear to teach classes during the pilot phase of his newly adopted course, Globalization and the Environment.


Amory Lovins, Rocky Mountain Institute’s cofounder and a scientist Time magazine recently called “one of the world’s 100 most influential people” speaks at Catawba College on "Profitable Solutions to Climate, Oil, and Proliferation." Watch the video.

The Center begins hosting EnviroMingles, bringing "green-minded" people together to network and build relationships.

The Center sponsors a presentation at Catawba College by bestselling author Sarah Susanka, called "an innovator in American culture" by U.S. News & World Report and one of the "most influential people in the building industry" by Builder Magazine. Watch the video.

The Center is awarded a $184,000 grant from the N.C. Energy Office’s Student Energy Internship and Fellowship Program to launch the Catawba College Energy Corps.