UMaine designated a ‘green college,’ despite aging infrastructure

A student walks across Lengyel Recreation Field as a BAT bus travels along Munson Road past Chadbourne Hall on the University of Maine campus. The UMaine Steam Plant chimneys rise in the distance. Photo taken on Thursday, April 25, 2013.
Brian Swartz | BDN
A student walks across Lengyel Recreation Field as a BAT bus travels along Munson Road past Chadbourne Hall on the University of Maine campus. The UMaine Steam Plant chimneys rise in the distance. Photo taken on Thursday, April 25, 2013.
Posted April 20, 2014, at 3:41 p.m.
Last modified April 20, 2014, at 5:03 p.m.

ORONO, Maine — For the fifth year in a row, the University of Maine was one of 332 colleges in the United States and Canada to be included on a list of “green colleges” released by the Princeton Review. The review cited UMaine programs meant to reduce the number of vehicles on campus, composting and recycling initiatives and opportunities for faculty and students to research sustainable energy among the reasons for the designation.

“I would say the university has been sustainability-focused since its inception,” Dan Dixon, the university’s sustainability coordinator, said.

“Through time, it’s always been a big thing,” he said, citing strong programs in agriculture, entomology and marine science that have existed for a long time.

Dixon said that UMaine’s commitment to being 100 percent carbon neutral by 2040, a plan that was initiated former president Robert Kennedy, is perhaps the most important, but it’s one of a number of ambitious undertakings on campus.

He also said the university is determined to make each of its newly built and renovated buildings LEED certified, which means they will comply with certain sustainability standards, such as water and energy efficiency.

UMaine’s buildings have been criticized for a lack of efficiency. An editorial last week in the Maine Campus, the student newspaper, explained that heat leaking from underground steam pipes is costing the university.

And in January, a report from an outside consultant that said that the University of Maine System’s physical footprint is too big for the number of people it serves was presented to members of the system’s board of trustees. The report identified 18 buildings on the Orono campus that were “good candidates for removal” because they are underused given their size.

Dixon said many of the university’s buildings were built in the 1950s and ’60s when there were no sustainability standards like there are today. He said there are lots of places on campus where mechanical systems could be updated.

“Of course it requires fairly significant investment upfront in order to realize savings over time,” he said.

Finances have been tight at UMaine, making it difficult for university administrators to invest in infrastructure projects. This year, the university had to cut $9.7 million from its fiscal year 2015 budget, which it will do by dipping into savings and leaving 61 positions vacant.

“It’s been an uphill battle,” said Dixon.

Paul Andrew Mayewski, director of UMaine’s Climate Change Institute, said that the university’s research programs have contributed to its designation as a “green college.”

“The discoveries that we’ve made that have come to the scientific community that our students have been involved with have helped bring us to this realization that humans have made a dramatic impact on the climate system,” he said, speaking of the Climate Change Institute’s contribution to the climate science.

Researchers at the Climate Change Institute collect data from all around the world, including from ice cores in Antarctica and Greenland, to create a timeline of climate change.

According to the Princeton Review, students now are considering colleges’ approach to the environment when they apply to schools.

“There is a sincere and growing interest among students in identifying and applying to colleges where there is a demonstrated commitment to sustainability,” the report said.

The University of Maine at Farmington, Bates College, Colby College, Bowdoin College, the College of the Atlantic and Unity College were the other schools from Maine that made the list.

The Princeton Review invited 2,000 schools to participate in a survey to determine which are “green colleges.” The 332 schools profiled in this year’s list offered students a healthy quality of life, prepared students for a green economy and have environmentally responsible policies, the report said.

The Princeton Review looked at where each school’s food came from, whether students used public transportation, how many buildings are LEED certified and how waste is handled, among other criteria.

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