OSN History (as of September 2006)

In just a few years, the Oklahoma Sustainability Network grew from a small group of people meeting for community gardening and coffee chats in Norman to a statewide, non-profit organization with 439 listserve members, five regional chapters, and an annual conference that draws hundreds of attendees.

Conceptual leader of that small Norman group and creator of OSN’s first listserv, Emma McCauley, an OU student at the time, is revered as founder of the Network. By creating a listserv in December 1999 entitled, “Oklahoma Sustainability Network,” Emma established the framework to share information about sustainability issues in the State.

In the meantime, Jay Yowell, OSU School of Architecture graduate, who returning to Oklahoma after a stay in Texas, contacted Emma to see if anything was going on with sustainability in his home state. Not long after his return in March of 2001, Jay was speaking at the EnvironDesign Conference in Atlanta and met Vicki VanStavern and Laura Tribble (the only other Oklahomans at the conference). They began meeting at 501 Café in Edmond to discuss what could be done to “green” up Oklahoma .

Through Emma, Jay met Susie Shields, Environmental Educator with the Oklahoma Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), who also was an active member of the Sierra Club and Oklahoma Association of Environmental Education. He also met Robert Waldrop, founder of the Oscar Romero Catholic Worker House, who later would create the Oklahoma Food Cooperative.

Jay and Emma began to hold meetings at the Red Cup and Grateful Bean in Oklahoma City and others joined at this time: John Rushton, Francis Kubier, Ed Cunliff, Lee Fithian, and Ilda Hershey. The Network expanded as a result of Susie’s contacts: Dianne Wilkins, Fenton Rood, and Jim Horne. Soon there was interest from Tulsans Ande Reed, Corey Williams, and Earl Hatley.

Jay continued to make additional contacts and in August, 2001, sent introductory e-mails to Shauna Struby, Nick Bentley, Dru Meadows, Jim Sedlacek, and Chris Hise. Soon he met Charles Ward, who was going door to door in Edmond educating people about wind power, and from Charles he learned of wind power enthusiasts Mike Bergey and Tim Hughes.

The first discussions about an annual OSN conference and website occurred in October, 2001. By November, the group had developed an OSN mission statement, purpose and objectives, including establishing a web-based resource guide. By December, the May 2002 conference plans were well underway.

By January 2002 the group had outgrown local coffee shops and held a meeting at the DEQ with approximately 25 in attendance. The attendees, recognizing the group’s growth and momentum, decided to become a non-profit, 501c3 organization (granted October 2002). The first OSN board also was formed at this meeting. The board was comprised of individuals that had consistently attended meetings and were playing a vital role in planning the first conference. The first board members were: Jay Yowell, Laura Tribble, Lee Fithian, Susie Shields, Francis Kubier, Vicki VanStavern, Ilda Hershey, and honorary member, Emma McCauley.

The first OSN conference was held May 10, 2002 at OSU-OKC: “Sustainable Solutions: Envisioning Oklahoma’s Future.” Susie chaired the conference planning committee and Michael Patton was keynote speaker. About 125 attended. The Oklahoma Sierra Club was the only financial sponsor for this first event. They donated $1,000 and the conference profit was $1,000, the first seed money for OSN. The conference broke even with exhibitor fees covering reduced facility costs and registration fees covering the food. ODEQ provided the printing and other supplies in-kind.

The conference generated tremendous interest in sustainability issues and OSN. Having good press from “The Oklahoma Gazette” and “The Journal Record” also helped to spread the word about the work of the Network.

To expand upon the OSN listserv, Emma created the OSN website, which proved to be absolutely vital in OSN’s mission of connecting to those in Oklahoma who were doing or interested in doing sustainability work. The OSN website was launched in 2002.

As a result of the May OSN conference, Sustainable Tulsa was formed and held its first meeting in September 2002. The group’s original name, “Tulsa Metro Chapter of the OK Sustainability Network,” was later changed to “Sustainable Tulsa.” Lead by Corey Williams and later by Ande Reed, the chapter became official upon approval of its bylaws, September 2004.

On March 21, 2003, OSN’s second annual conference, “Strategies for a Sustainable Oklahoma” was held at OSU-OKC. Susie again chaired the conference planning and Michael Patton was keynote speaker. About 170 attended.

Also in March 2003, Emma established an online Resource Guide on the OSN website. The purpose of the resource guide is to assist interested parties in locating regionally available materials. The guide is a living document that allows for resources to be changed and updated on an ongoing basis. As of this writing, it contains 334 total resources.

The momentum created by the annual conferences, the website, listserv, and online resource guide all served to lift OSN to an entirely new level. As the Network began to grow beyond a grass roots organization, the leaders realized that regional satellite groups were needed to continue the grass roots effort at the local level.

At this time, the Stillwater Recycling Coalition voted to broaden its scope and became Sustainable Stillwater. OSN approved the chapter’s bylaws in December 2003 with Scott Byrd as President, Linda Marston as VP/Treasurer, and Ilda Hershey as Secretary.

Given the growth of interest in sustainability issues and momentum created by OSN conferences, it was clear that the annual conference had outgrown OSU-OKC. On March 12, 2004, the 3rd annual conference was held at OU in Norman. “Actions Speak Louder than Words,” co-chaired by Susie and Ilda, featured international keynote speaker, Mathis Wackernagel and attracted about 200 attendees. Major conference sponsors such as DEQ, OG&E, Johnson Controls, Inc., OU’s Interdisciplinary Perspectives on the Environment, the Sierra Club Oklahoma Chapter, and the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, provided essential financial support and credibility as well.

In an effort to reach a wider Oklahoma audience, it was decided that the annual conference should rotate around the state and be hosted by the regional chapters. On April 8, 2005, Sustainable Stillwater hosted “Building Bridges to a Sustainable Oklahoma.” Ilda was conference chair and L. Hunter Lovins was the keynote speaker. About 280 attended the conference and another 53 attended the concurrent LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) workshop.

In spring 2005 Sustainable OKC was created and OSN approved its bylaws in June 2005 with Jennifer Gooden as chapter chair, Hannah Harder as vice chair, Laura Brunson as secretary, and Lisa Wood as treasurer. The Norman Sustainability Network also was created in 2005 with Kara McKee and Jennifer Boyle as chapter co-hairs.

Over 2005 and 2006, a new board was developed to carry the charge of OSN’s mission into the future. The new board members are: Seneca Scott, president; Jennifer Gooden, president-elect; Jay Yowell, immediate past-president; Todd Stephens, Treasurer; Jennifer Boyle, Secretary; Kim Cooper and Chad Settle, at-large board members; Ande Reed and Ilda Hershey, chapter chairs.

In May 2005, the OSN board and at large members of the Network gathered in Oklahoma City for a brainstorming session regarding the Network’s past and future objectives. A month later, the group gathered in Tulsa to continue the strategic planning process.

In June 2006, the new OSN board held a visioning retreat facilitated by Dr. Charlie Warnken. The objective was to refine and develop organization strategies. The board decided on these areas of emphasis for the next few years: Land Use-Smart Growth; Transportation; and Energy.

Latest developments include the creation of a Sustainable Shawnee chapter and the 2006 conference. The 5th annual OSN conference, “Smart Growth: Building a Sustainable Community,” hosted by Sustainable Tulsa, will take place September 15, 2006 at the Tulsa Convention Center . Ande and Seneca are co-chairs and Robert Waldrop will be the keynote speaker. Nearly 400 attendees are expected. Again, a LEED workshop will be offered in conjunction with the conference.

Through OSN’s website, listservs, and conferences, the Network has fostered the development of the Oklahoma Food Cooperative, the Oklahoma Chapter of the U.S. Building Council, and increased visibility of wind power in the State. More and more Oklahomans are aware of sustainability issues and are incorporating positive changes at home, at work, in transportation, design, and food consumption. There is still much work to be done; in the meantime, OSN continues to honor its mission to connect and educate the people of Oklahoma concerning the many aspects of sustainability.