Institute for Environmental Negotiation

Empowering communities to create shared solutions


Introduction to the Institute Today

The Institute for Environmental Negotiation (IEN) is an environmental dispute resolution organization at the University of Virginia. The Institute’s expertise has been sought for local and statewide environmental disputes as well as national policy issues. IEN has gained international recognition as a leading environmental and public policy dispute resolution organization and has participated in more than 300 projects. IEN conducts about 60% of its work in Virginia, 20% in nearby states, and the rest is national in scope or performed in localities outside of the region. IEN attracts scholars from all over the world who are visiting or spending sabbaticals here, and IEN faculty serve on numerous local, state and national boards and programs.

The Birth of IEN

In 1977 Allied Chemical Corporation was fined $13.2 million for polluting the James River with the pesticide Kepone. This was the largest water pollution fine ever imposed at the time. By court order a portion of the fine ($8 million) was used to fund the creation of the Virginia Environmental Endowment (VEE).

Gerald McCarthy, executive director of the new VEE, was interested in testing the idea of “environmental negotiation” in Virginia. Environmental negotiation was a new concept at the time. The endowment asked local universities to submit proposals for establishing a university-based environmental negotiation organization. You can read more about the history of the founding of VEE and IEN here.

“The endowment has always believed in taking a middle of the road approach—you can get a lot more done by working together than by suing each other.”—Gerald McCarthy

Rich Collins, who would soon become the Director of the Institute for Environmental Negotiation, was Chairman of the Urban and Environmental Planning Department at the University of Virginia. McCarthy invited Collins to submit a proposal.

Richard C. Collins, Founder

Richard C. Collins, Founder

Founder of the Institute for Environmental Negotiation in 1981, Dr. Collins led numerous successful projects on a wide range of controversial topics during his tenure as Director of IEN. His work included environmental mediation, planning studies, organizational development, regulatory negotiation leading to legislative proposals, and historic preservation. Dr. Collins taught a wide variety of courses in UVA’s Department of Urban and Environmental Planning. He stepped down as Director of IEN in 2000, and officially retired from IEN in November 2004.

The goal of the new organization, according to McCarthy, would be to resolve complex environmental multi-party disputes. McCarthy, Collins and others could see that the many lawsuits going on at the time were not effectively helping protect the environment. According to both McCarthy and Collins, the litigation process is uncertain, sometimes hostile, and expensive for everyone involved. The hope was that through mediation, the various stakeholders would be able to communicate their key interests, which are sometimes obscured in litigation, and that a mutually-beneficial resolution could be reached outside of court.

Dr. Bruce Dotson

Dr. Bruce Dotson

Dr. Bruce Dotson, now retired, joined the Institute in 1981. Today he is Associate Professor Emeritus of the School of Architecture. Previously, he was Chair of the Department of Urban and Environmental Planning and taught a variety of land use planning courses. His recent work addresses issues such as wetlands protection controversies, lead based paint, and ground water issues.

According to McCarthy, the Virginia Environmental Endowment ultimately chose U.Va. because of Rich Collins’ and Bruce Dotson’s commitment to these ideas, and because the university was willing to support the institute administratively. The Institute for Environmental Negotiation was founded January 1981, with financial support from the Virginia Environmental Endowment.

Barbara Jones

Mrs. Jones worked for the University of Virginia for thirty years and served as the secretary for the Institute for Environmental Negotiation beginning in 1985. She has now moved on, but her service was greatly appreciated!

The IEN Today

Each year the IEN undertakes on average two dozen or so projects requiring multi-party facilitation, mediation, negotiation, consensus building, and community engagement. IEN works on a wide range of issues involving a community’s natural, built and social environment. Watershed restoration, land use, community revitalization, heritage preservation, transportation, natural resource management, public health, sea level rise, food system planning, racial reconciliation, environmental justice, and much more, are IEN’s domain. These projects range from a one-day event involving a single organization to a multi-year initiative engaging dozens of stakeholders in multiple ways, with literally hundreds of millions of dollars at stake.

IEN Furthers the University of Virginia’s Mission

IEN exemplifies and furthers the University’s mission as a public university. IEN combines direct public service – building consensus or resolving conflict – deliberate learning – through evaluation, research and reflexive practice – and teaching – university students as well as working planners, public officials, and citizens. IEN’s mission describes this work: we build solutions, we build knowledge, and we build capacity. What we have done – what we are doing still – is changing the way that environmental public policy decisions are made.

Elements from U.VA Strategic Priorities supported by IEN

  • Build on the University’s founding principle as an agent for the common good;
  • Promote public-directed leadership;
  • Connect the classroom with the real world by encouraging students to put theories into practice and build theories based on practice and observation;
  • Connect academic life to public service through academic service learning and community-based research;
  • Ensure that graduate programs serve student expectations, including … future employment;
  • Invite professors and students from other nations to the Grounds as a means of internationalizing the University’s intellectual life.

How does IEN provide this value?

Student mentoring and training – nine-month and summer internships allow graduate students to work on a variety of topical, real world urban and environmental planning issues, often taking on substantial responsibilities of facilitation, planning, and project management.

Other learning opportunities – IEN faculty have been teaching since IEN’s inception in 1980, but recent years have seen an increase in teaching new courses that reflect cutting-edge topics and concerns in the field of planning.

Student recruitment – 25% of incoming urban and environmental planning graduate students describe the opportunity to work with IEN as the most compelling reason for selecting the University of Virginia.

Departmental visibility – IEN’s practice, teaching and writing contribute to the Department’s excellent national reputation within the planning profession.

University visibility – IEN conducts more public service projects than any other academically-based Center or Institute, and brings significant credit to the University as a whole.  Much of IEN’s service occurs in high profile situations involving senior elected and appointed officials (e.g., Governor’s Natural Resources Leadership Summit, Tobacco Communities Project, Shenandoah Valley Waste Solutions Forum, Chesapeake Bay Roundtable, and many others).  IEN-led projects enhance the University’s public service leadership in environmental decision-making, providing University faculty opportunities for research and practical applications.

Continue reading A Summary of the Institute for Environmental Negotiation (.pdf)