Emory Report
September 24, 2007
Volume 60, Number 5

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September 24, 2007
No man is an island

By kim urquhart

Participants should not be afraid to get their hands dirty,” read the brochure for Stuart Turner’s European holiday. “Working outside in any weather in the mud will be a main part of this project,” the description continued.

Yet that is how Turner, assistant director of production for Emory Creative Group, spent his summer vacation: on a tiny island off the coast of Germany mucking through a vast mudflat, taking mud samples and collecting seashells delivered by the North Sea.

Turner was one of 22 International People’s Project volunteers from around the globe who converged in Hallig Hooge to participate in various service projects while studying the relationship between ecology and economy.

Hallig Hooge is little more than a mound of mud and sand in the North Sea. At 5.74 square kilometers, it is the second largest “hallig” in the “Wattenmeer”— a unique tideland ecosystem that contours the coastlines of Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands.

The hallig is largely undeveloped due to its lack of bedrock. Houses are clustered atop man-made hills called “warfts” to protect them from the rising tide that floods the island almost completely.

“In the winter time, when it is high tide and there’s a storm, all of this land literally up to the bottom of the buildings will become flooded,” Turner says. “It’s called ‘Land Under’, and it’s sort of like something out of a Roald Dahl novel. Its bizarre.”

Counting worms

The receding water of low tide leaves behind a vast mudflat, where the volunteers walked for miles scooping core samples from the mud every few meters and counting the number of worms, snails and other wildlife. The wildlife monitoring project helps the volunteers’ host, a nonprofit organization that protects natural habitat in the North Sea, to determine the overall condition of the area. The movement of the animal population indicates the direction of the shifting “japsand,” a large sand bar.

“The japsand is moving toward the hallig, and is a concern because it keeps wind and water from coming unimpeded at it. When it’s gone their protection against rising water will be gone,” Turner explains. “Rising water is a big threat to the hallig,” he continues. “Their projections say that in 80 years — if water levels around the world keep rising — that it will be completely underwater.”

Hallig Hooge’s inhabitants live according to nature’s schedule. “Its incredible, yet people have scratched out a living here for nearly 1,000 years,” Turner says. “Life is hard on the hallig. Even today, if you want groceries beyond some very rudimentary things, you must take the ferry back to the mainland, and in the wintertime it goes only once a day so you’re stuck overnight on the mainland.”

Yet he found the simple life appealing. Walking instead of driving, for example, was an expression of the project’s conservation theme. The group harvested their own oysters and bought cheese and milk from the dairy farmer next door to the headquarters of their host organization, Schutzstation Wattenmeer. They used public transportation exclusively. “I didn’t ride in a car for two whole weeks,” Turner says with the incredulity of an American.

Cultural immersion

Turner first became involved with IPP, an offshoot of the Children’s International Summer Village, when his daughter went through the program in Brazil.

He viewed the Hallig Hooge project as an opportunity to return to his roots. In high school, Turner spent a summer as an exchange student in France.

“I’ve always been wanting to get back to Europe, but not as a tourist,” he says. “I like immersion experiences.”
The project also included an international education component, where volunteers shared examples from their home countries of conflicts between economy and nature conservation and offered possible solutions.
“We gained perspective on a broad range of topics,” Turner says, which he found invaluable.

International affairs was his major at George Washington University, and it was a line of work he had originally intended to pursue. Yet his life took a different track. He married young and started a family, which made going abroad to pursue a career difficult.

Turner graduated the day Iraq invaded Kuwait and could not find work during the recession that followed. He began working at a restaurant and rose to manager, then managed a photo lab. Recognizing scanning and digital output as the wave of the future, he became skilled in visual communications. Turner moved to a digital print facility, then an advertising agency as a traffic manager. He then joined Emory as a print production manager, where he works with vendors, bids on print projects, and manages the relationship between the printer and the creative team from proofing to press check.

Sustainability in practice

In his seven years at Emory, Turner has seen hundreds of thousands of cartons of paper consumed every day. “That is one thing that influenced my interest in sustainability and related issues,” says Turner, who is a founding member of his division’s Sustainability Committee. “I’m in a position where you can either be very, very green or you can be pretty harmful to the environment. The industry itself is waking up to the fact that it must become greener.”

Turner works with Emory’s purchasing department to establish a preferred vendor’s list, using paper and print facilities that seek Forest Stewardship Council certification.

“This relates to how a job is produced from the point where the timber is harvested and taken all the way to the end user, and you ensure a chain of custody that has green aspects to it,” he explained. “We’re actually trying to influence the behavior of our printers through our purchasing. It’s nice to be able to make meaningful strides in that area by purchasing in a more responsible way.”

‘A watershed experience’
Turner hopes to apply his experience on Hallig Hooge to his work at Emory and share new ideas with the Sustainability Committee. “I was struck by how much we learned,” he says.

The group learned the value of teamwork when they banded together to build a bicycle shed, a salt soil garden, a new patio for the Schutzstation and several benches for the island’s increasing number of tourists.
“Despite language barriers and cultural differences, we somehow managed to coexist for two weeks in very close quarters, while getting a tremendous amount of work done,” Turner says.

He also learned a lot about himself along the way. “It was a centering experience. When you are completely taken out of your element, you learn a lot about yourself. You can check your baggage at the door, and you can coexist with people and work toward a positive goal,” he says. “It was pretty much a watershed experience.”