April 15, 2013

Colby College nation's fourth to reach carbon-neutral emissions

Unity College, University of Maine at Farmington also trying to reach zero net impact on greenhouse gas emissions

By Matt Hongoltz-Hetling mhhetling@centralmaine.com
Staff Writer

(Continued from page 1)

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The biomass plant at Colby College.

Staff file photo by Michael G. Seamans

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Members of Untiy College faculty and staff along with members of media stand outside the Terra House at Untiy College.

Staff file photo by Michael G. Seamans

In 2007, emissions at the Farmington college were about 5.4 tons per student, a number that will be affected by the planned summer installation of a large geothermal pump, which will heat and cool three buildings on campus.

"All in all, we're very much headed in the right direction, despite our financial challenges," Barton said.

Jesse Pyles, Unity's director of sustainability, said Unity has set a carbon-neutrality date of 2025, a goal he said will be completely achieved with the purchase of carbon offsets.

Unity's current emission levels are already lower than those of either Farmington or Colby, with 2.9 metric tons per student.

"The silver lining, of course is that we're already so low in our emissions impact that it's not a huge jump for us to get to that place where we want to purchase offsets," Pyles said.

Challenges at Unity include the decentralized heating system, which makes it difficult to reduce emissions dramatically with one large project.

"We've got 26 different heating systems for as many buildings," he said.

One of the student residences, TerraHaus, has so much insulation and sun exposure that it is heated for only about $335 per year.

It will take a long time, he said, before each building on campus achieves similar success.

"We know that there's no silver bullet," he said.

Fossil-fuel divestment

Pyles said that Unity has taken a different kind of step that also is important.

One big component of the commitment, Pyles said, is public education and outreach.

"Part of this outreach is our divestment campaign," he said.

Beginning in early 2008, the college began moving its invested funds away from fossil fuels and other industries that significantly contribute to greenhouse gases.

In November, Unity announced that it had shifted all of its investments away from such industries, and that it has seen no loss of revenue as a result.

"By divesting, we're taking a solid values stance, that we do not want to invest or support or make money off of those industries whose business practices wreck the planet."

Pyles said the carbon-neutrality measure doesn't take the divestment issue into account.

"It's not going to be in our greenhouse gas inventory," he said, "but maybe it should be."

Otherwise, Pyles said, the benefits of a college's commitment to limit greenhouse gas emissions can be overstated.

"All the good that you may be doing on your campus to decrease emissions can be undone by a fund manager's trade and the investment markets," he said.

Divestment hasn't been a focus at Colby, Jacobs said, but the issue is on their radar.

"It has been brought up by a group of students and they are preparing to meet with members of our investment committee coming up later this month," she said.

A discussion about divestment is also underway in Farmington, Barton said, where students also took the lead on the issue.

"There is a strong student-led effort for the University of Maine System to divest from fossil fuel companies," he said.

Barton said administrative discussions about divestment are ongoing.

Matt Hongoltz-Hetling — 861-9287

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