When we at Source decided to make up a fictional “campus map” – the kind you get when you arrive at an admissions office – representing the best and most unusual elements of green infastructure on Maine college and university campuses, we figured it would be a quick job.

We knew that Bowdoin College was putting in a major new solar complex, designed to generate about 8 percent of the campus’ annual electricity needs. But as we counted up the LEED-certified buildings (LEED stands for Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design), the innovative heating and cooling plants and the increasing numbers of schools with actual farms, a funny thing happened.

Our imaginary campus got crowded.

It made sense to expect that the private colleges with fat endowments would be putting money into sustainability. We also knew that Unity College and the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, both founded on the principles of sustainability and environmental responsibility, would be not merely teaching green, but living it. (As the project unfolded we thought, maybe we could reprint the COA’s whole campus map.)

What surprised us were the efforts being made in just about every corner of the state as institutions of higher education, both public and private, gear up for a future where oil is scarce, the stresses of global warming increase and Mainers have to become more self-reliant.

Another discovery: Most of Maine’s colleges and universities are in cohoots with each other on going green. After a 2001 sustainability conference at COA, the Green College Consortium was born. About a dozen members meet regularly to share information and swap ideas. “I’ve learned so much,” said Jeanne Gulnick, sustainability coordinator for St. Joseph’s in Standish. Not that there isn’t some friendly competition. “Sometimes it is spoken and sometimes it is not,” said Kevin Bright, Colby’s sustainability coordinator.

“I think it was meant to breed competition in that way of ‘Look what Bowdoin is doing, I should be doing that,'” said Tyler Kidder, the University of Southern Maine’s assistant director for sustainable programs. “But I do not feel competitive at all.” She and Lucas Kellett, sustainability coordinator for UMaine Farmington, are realistic about what a private school can do versus a public school. They all share the same goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“We are all institutions with different amounts of resources,” Kellett said. “If Bowdoin and Colby can afford to do a lot more, well, we’re happy for them. We are doing as much as we can with what we have and we are all totally committed.”

While we know there is still plenty of work to be done, looking at this map makes us proud of Maine. On campuses around the state sustainability isn’t just a conversation or a fad. It’s a cornerstone, of building and thinking. So much so that our map, while thorough, couldn’t include every effort being made across the state.

Facebook comments

filed under: