The New Face of West Virginia: Sustainability and the Importance of Creative Collaboration

Authors: Eric Mathis, Green For All Fellow, Class 3 After five long years of hard work, myself and many others have intentionally developed a proactive platform for "community action" and the new face of success for Central Appalachia in the coming years signifying a shift from an issues-based to a solutions-based approach. The hard work that went into making these projects happen is not just limited to the time frame of my short lived residency in West Virginia; these projects were made possible by many initiatives and projects that were present long before my arrival. For instance, if it were not for a visionary local doctor's dream of revitalizing the Williamson Redevelopment Authority and the Claude Worthington Benedum Foundation supplying funds to make Dr. Beckett's dream a reality, Williamson would not be on the cutting edge of developing some of the most innovative approaches to Sustainable Development today. Moreover, before I had the privilege of meeting ex-coalminer Earl Long, Founder and CEO of Angel Winds Renewable Energy LLC, he was already building a new dream for his home state – developing "mom and pop" wind farms across West Virginia. The fact is, the further I tried to trace the cause of my successes the more complex the mosaic becomes. My message to emerging leaders across the nation today is that among the many struggles that I have had in developing projects during my lifetime the biggest struggle has been to maintain a collaborative/creative atmosphere where:

  • Mistakes are viewed as a process of growth;
  • Oppositions are viewed as opportunities;
  • Assessing overlaps in organizational expertise are far more productive than assessing individual interests;
  • Following through with promises holds far more value than building a perceived reputation among experts and established leaders;
  • As my mentor Keith Pauley has suggested, building relationships becomes the cause and the projects become the effect;
  • The "them" in the all too destructive "us against them" view of the world are typically made up of rational, willing, and often times profoundly ethical human beings.

Although the projects in the video can be seen as a victory for some, more importantly they presently serve as a stepping stone for West Virginia and Central Appalachia as a whole to transcend one of the most destructive mechanism known to them today; A mechanism which is paradoxically maintained by the recent documentary "The Last Mountain" were the only form of local "community action" is a crude example of direct action, a series of symbolic marches/rallies and a misleading wind study which arguably do more harm to West Virginia coal communities than good. These collective (re)actions typically paint a dark and often conspiratorial portrayal of a region marked by corruption, abject poverty, disease, a blatant disregard for the environment and most importantly - conflict. You have to ask yourself, what would happen to Silicon Valley's economic environment if Silicon Valley Toxics Coalition took on the same strategy as other environmental coalitions in our region, that is, attempted to shut down the very industry that maintains a large portion of the state's budget in which they reside? Moreover, how would the employees of the solar industry, Google, Adobe, Facebook, etc. react? With the above reactive forces at play, it is our hope that through building our projects with a long tradition of creative visionaries such as Kent Spellman and his organization's collaborative projects (e.g., CAP, WVSC and WVFFC), we can begin to build a richer picture of a region that has and still is creating innovative approaches to collaboration – an essential ingredient to sustainability. Just this month, we finalized the installation of a 60-meter meteorological tower to measure the wind for Angel Winds Renewable Energy, the 1st locally-owned community wind farm in Central Appalachia. So in the same tradition of Buckminster Fuller, I along with thousands of West Virginians pronounce through past, present and future successes that "you can never change things by fighting the existing reality. To change something, [one must] build a new model that makes the existing model obsolete." The JOBS Project has been featured in: BBC World News, NPR's State of the Reunion, Appalshop, Bloomberg Businessweek, and most recently in the June issue of Photon International: PV in Coal Country and Career Change.

ERIC MATHIS - Williamson, WV

Eric is a committed entrepreneur who has dedicated the past 10 years of his life to new market-based approaches to sustainable development. Throughout the various projects that he has participated in and/or spearheaded, he has remained true to his commitment of promoting diversity by way of sustainable development through various means which include organic farming, institutional development, education, economics, and more. Read more »

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