Carbon Neutrality and Solar Initiatives

Carbon neutrality is an extension of Colby’s longstanding commitment to the environment expressed in the curriculum, campus operations, and institutional culture. In 2013 we became one of the first carbon neutral colleges and has now been carbon neutral longer than any other college or university in the U.S.

Becoming carbon neutral took more than a decade and a focused, multi-pronged approach, starting with our first greenhouse gas inventory—conducted and reported by an environmental studies major.

Following the inventory, we began addressing energy sources and consumption, waste management, and sustainable development through the following:

  • Installing a cogeneration turbine in 1999 to produce about 10 percent of our electricity as a by-product of generating heat and hot water for the campus.
  • Purchasing all of our electricity from renewable sources in 2003, replacing roughly one-third of “business as usual” emissions.
  • Adopting LEED standards for all new construction and major renovation projects for occupied buildings.
  • Converting central heating plant fuel source from #6 oil to mostly wood chip biomass, and replacing oil with natural gas as a back-up fuel, significantly reducing emissions.
  • Reducing emissions through increasing recycling and composting efforts, contracting with local landfill that uses methane recapture.
  • Completing many energy-efficiency projects designed to reduce electricity consumption and improve efficiency of heat and hot water.
  • Installing geothermal heating and cooling systems in two major new construction projects.
  • Purchasing fuel-efficient vehicles for the maintenance fleet.

Reaching carbon neutrality has three key components:

  • Utility purchasing strategies (in our case, these include electricity and heating fuel) that use renewable energy sources.
  • Reducing campus-based emissions by converting to renewable wood-chip biomass and natural gas energy sources, reducing waste through reuse, recycling, composting, and methane recapture.
  • Offsetting emissions by purchasing “offsets” for remaining carbon and other greenhouse gas emissions that we cannot yet reduce or replace (primarily travel-related emissions).

Offsetting our environmental footprint is a natural goal for a college that includes sustainability as a core value. Reaching this milestone highlights Colby’s commitment to the environment in a public way, puts Colby in a leadership position on an important public policy matter, and provides students with a real-life example of sustainable living that will accompany them long after graduation.

Colby hopes to serve as a model for other colleges and universities that seek to reach this goal. More than 600 college and university presidents have signed the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment.

Beyond achieving carbon neutrality, Colby continues to further its efforts in sustainability in the areas of waste reduction, energy, fuel, and water consumption, campus environmental conservation, purchasing local and organic food, enhanced sustainable land management, encouraging alternative modes of travel, reducing toxic chemical use, among many others.


Completion of a biomass plant in 2012 allowed Colby to switch to low-grade wood as its primary fuel, saving close to one million gallons of oil per year.


In 2015 solar panels on the Schair-Swenson-Watson Alumni Center started to provide 10-15 percent of the building’s electricity.

In fall 2017, a 5,300-panel solar installation adjacent to Mayflower Hill began producing an expected 16 percent of Colby’s total electricity needs.

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