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After a decade of work to measure, prevent, and reduce carbon emissions, Colby College announced April 4 that it has achieved carbon neutrality. The accomplishment makes Colby one of the first colleges in the country to do so, and it comes two years before the target date that the College had set for itself.
Colby achieved neutrality as a result of major initiatives including a switch to 100-percent renewable electricity starting in 2003 and using sustainably harvested wood biomass instead of oil as its primary fuel for heat and hot water beginning in 2012.
Beyond those major initiatives, carbon emissions were reduced in a number of other areas, including
• Increased energy efficiency and lower temperatures in buildings,
• LEED certification of all new construction and major renovations,
• Use of geothermal heating and cooling in two new buildings,
• Waste management, composting, and recycling.
“This milestone is part of a much larger, and very significant, commitment by the College to sustainability and environmental education—areas in which Colby has been a leader for decades,” said Colby President William D. Adams. “I am particularly proud of the ways our students have engaged with this work. As in other environmental initiatives, they helped provide both the impetus and the research that led to this outcome.” An honors project by an environmental studies major produced the first inventory of Colby’s greenhouse gas emissions in 2007.
In 2008 Adams signed the American College and University President’s Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). To achieve carbon neutrality, Colby followed the best practices of the ACUPCC and used methodology and industry standards established by the organization Clean Air-Cool Planet to measure and reduce emissions.
“Colby is the fourth signatory of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment to achieve carbon neutrality and the largest institution to reach that goal to date,” said David Hales, president of Second Nature, the support organization of the ACUPCC. “Colby’s achievement is particularly significant; they have followed both the spirit and letter of the commitment to insure that their net contribution to atmospheric concentrations of greenhouse gases is zero, while setting a practical example of sustainability in every aspect of their institutional life.”
“It’s a win-win-win,” said Vice President for Administration Douglas C. Terp ’84. “We’re saving a lot of money burning biomass instead of oil. We’re helping the Maine economy by buying locally produced fuel. And we’re putting a lot less carbon into the air.”
A small portion of Colby’s savings on energy costs goes toward the purchase of carbon offsets to cover difficult-to-avoid emissions such as College-related travel and commuting. The money from those offsets will help to build and sustain a market for projects in New England that directly affect the impact of human activity on climate change.
“Carbon neutrality is a long-term commitment, but it is far from the end goal for Colby,” said Terp. The school will continue to reduce emissions through additional energy-efficiency projects, through education encouraging changes in individuals’ behavior, and through leadership in creating paths for other institutions to follow. While the purchase of offsets now and in future years will pay for carbon reduction projects elsewhere, future reductions in emissions on campus should decrease the school’s reliance on offsets over time.
Sustainability is one of seven core values that Colby lists in its catalogue. Colby’s Environmental Studies Program is one of the oldest and best in the country, and it has seen recent growth in the faculty and student enrollments. Colby’s Environmental Advisory Group, comprising students, faculty, and staff, advises the president and the College community on issues related to environmental stewardship, including sustainability, conservation, and alternative energy. It played an important role moving Colby toward carbon neutrality.
Increased focus on energy conservation led the College to seek a minimum of silver LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) certification from the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) on new construction and major renovations on campus beginning in 2005. Since then Colby has earned LEED certification (including two silver and five gold) on eight projects and has five more projects registered. Colby has more LEED buildings than any of its peer institutions.
Additional information, including frequently asked questions, is online at colby.edu/carbonneutral.
Founded in 1813, Colby College is the 12th-oldest independent liberal arts college in the nation. Colby provides a rigorous academic program that fosters transformational relationships between students and faculty. Graduates emerge as leaders ready to make an impact on their world. Colby is committed to making the full experience accessible to all qualified students, regardless of their ability to pay. The college enrolls 1,825 students.