ORONO, Maine — The University of Maine System has cut its carbon emissions by a third in the past decade, a big step toward its goal of becoming carbon neutral by 2040, according to a recent report.
The system’s seven campuses and branch facilities have reduced carbon output by 34 percent since 2006, according to Sightlines, a campus facility management consulting firm that’s been working with UMaine for several years.
That’s in large part thanks to a move away from high-intensity fuels, such as heating oil, and toward more lower-intensity sources, such as propane and natural gas.
Some campuses have taken it a step further. A year ago, the University of Maine at Farmington finished work on an on-campus biomass plant, which replaced 95 percent of the 390,000 gallons of fossil fuels the campus used to heat the campus each year. The university launched that project after plans to bring natural gas to the area were delayed.
The University of Maine at Fort Kent and the Fort Kent school district partnered on a biomass project of their own in 2014.
The system promoted this progress on the eve of Earth Day, at the same time touting a new policy aimed at giving more credence to environmental and social concerns when making decisions about its investment portfolio.
A group of students and alumni called Divest UMaine have been pushing to see UMS trustees divest the system from the fossil fuel industry, arguing that it’s hypocritical for the system to promote climate science research while investing in industries that contribute to carbon emissions.
“We see this as a great step towards our ultimate goal of fossil fuel divestment,” said Cassandra Carroll, a student member of Divest UMaine. “We are proud of the University and very thankful for our positive relationship with the board, but we will continue to advocate for full fossil fuel divestment.”
The group took its first major step toward that goal in early 2015, when the system trustees voted to partially divest itself from investments in the coal industry.
Divestment group members say they plan to continue promoting further divestment at system trustees meetings and urging system officials to take action.
“This is very different from other divestment campaigns around the country that require more traditional actions, such as sit-ins and protests,” Carroll said. “We are very thankful that the board is so willing to work with the students and community members here at UMaine.”
Follow Nick McCrea on Twitter at @nmccrea213.