Hiram College

Sustainability is a social, human endeavor. It is about learning, growing, and creating new connections and opportunities. It is about building community.


This morning, while putting what we hope will be the last of the wiring and LED light fixtures in place at the TREE House, one of our electricians, M.J. Viggiani quipped: “Good thing the Energy Star rating doesn’t include work efficiency….” We were laughing about how the work at the TREE House hasn’t always gone as smoothly as we might have wished. From time to time on this project, we’ve found ourselves dancing two steps forward, one step back while tripping over our left feet, right hand definitely unaware of what the left hand is up to.

But sustainability is not just about efficiency and reducing waste.

If it were, the TREE House project could have been finished long ago. Sustainability is a social, human endeavor. It is about learning, growing, and creating new connections and opportunities. It is about building community. From the very start, our vision for the TREE House has included these important elements. This explains, in part, why we have a sociologist leading the project. Debbie Kasper has been studying and thinking about sustainable communities for years[1]. Community is a key ingredient of creating and enjoying the TREE House.

So, here we are: three years after proposing the TREE House project with more than a year and a half of planning and hard work behind us, and the TREE House is almost ready for its occupants! So, why is it that the last 15% of a major project feels the hardest

There is a seemingly endless pile of details that need thoughtful solutions, skill, creativity, and elbow grease. We all know that those details make or break a project. (Take heed, dear students! It’s not just term papers that need careful revision and proof-reading at the end. Most of life’s projects will require extra spit and polish if you want to move the results from “good” to “exceptional.”) But as the pressure builds and the energy wanes, the last bit can be downright daunting.

And this is one reason community is vital to sustainability. When you’re buried under a mountain work, you need a friend — or a dozen! To our good fortune, that’s what we’ve got. This past weekend under warm skies and brilliant foliage, volunteers arrived at the TREE House to take part in a secret work party – a surprise for Debbie, TREE House leader extraordinaire, who took a rare weekend off to visit family out of state. With this golden opportunity to sneak into the TREE House and tackle a long “to do” list, our crack crew of volunteers have given the TREE House a lot of polish with their thoughtful solutions and considerable skill, creativity, and elbow grease[2].

THANK YOU FRIENDS[3]! Thank you for fixing the hole in the ceiling, putting floor down, planting flowers, installing a fancy faucet, restoring grates, organizing, bringing food, watching children, laughing, and cleaning and painting … and cleaning and painting … and then cleaning and painting some more. Thank you for bringing community into the TREE House.

Your hard work and creativity has cleared the way and we can see the bright lights at the end of the tunnel.

Debbie – these smiles are all for you.

[1] Just turn to her scholarly publications to see what she thinks about, it’s cool stuff – for example: Kasper, Debbie. 2008. “Redefining Community in the Ecovillage.” Human Ecology Review 15:12-24.

[2] I estimate we received the benefit of over 80 hrs of labor this weekend!!

[3] The list of friends is long. I didn’t manage to capture a picture of everyone. Thank you to: Ellie Beach, Matt Begley, Michael and Milene Benedict, Jason & Monica Bricker-Thompson, Jeremie Brown-Austin, Jen Clark, Kathryn Craig, Trish Harness, Kristin Kercher, Tom Koehnle, Steve Kohls, Chris McCreight, John Merrin, Carol Milani, Robin Shura, Chris Szell, and Steve Zabor.