UM Colleges and Universities Take Lead in Sustainability
Preparing the next generation of moral, Christian leaders to deal with ecological challenges of the twenty-first century will be the focus of the 2011 Institute of Higher Education in Sante Fe, N.M., June 15-17.
Green Mountain College is completely climate neutral – the second higher education institution in the country to achieve that status. Other United Methodist-related colleges and universities are making strides to lower their carbon footprint with rain gardens, biomass generators, LEED certified buildings, wind and solar power. Southwestern University graduates even wear biodegradeable graduation robes. Green Mountain, a small liberal arts college in Vermont, achieved climate neutrality through conservation, Cow Power, a biomass generator that burns wood chips, a cleaner energy diet, and purchase of quantifiable local carbon credits. College of the Atlantic, a 300-student institution in Bar Harbor, Maine, is the only other carbon neutral campus in the U.S.
“We’ve emphasized real change here through investing in sustainable energy and reducing our carbon footprint,” President Paul J. Fonteyn said. “I think we’ve come up with a creative approach that can be replicated at other colleges and universities.”
Students spearheaded many of the changes at Green Mountain and other schools. Green Mountain’s biomass plant originated with a 2005 freshman Honors Seminar studying the energy crisis, peak oil, and alternative energy sources that decided burning No. 6 fuel oil for campus heating was undesirable. Students created the Honors Club and began to investigate alternative fuel sources – including conversion from oil to biomass.
Since 2006, Green Mountain has purchased more than half its electricity from the Central Vermont Public Service “Cow Power” program, which produces power from methane generated on Vermont dairy farms. Customers pay a premium of 4 cents per kilowatt-hour and the premium provides grants to farm owners to develop on-farm generation.
Jose Galvez-Contreras, student Senate president at Green Mountain, says higher education needs to lead the way in taking the environment more seriously.
“But the things we have done are not the complete solution. I think we can still do more and I would like to see that. We still need to look at wind power and solar,” Galvez-Contreras says.
Many United Methodist-related colleges, universities, and seminaries are turning to alternative, cleaner energy sources. Ohio Northern Universityin Ada, Ohio, now gets 5 percent to 10 percent of its electricity from three 220-foot wind turbines that were installed after more than a year of research and design work by seven students with help from the university’s civil engineering department.
American University, Ferrum College, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary, Iowa Wesleyan College, Martin Methodist College, Southwestern University, and Albright Collegeare all using cleaner energy – solar, biomass, geothermal or purchasing wind power.
“The commitment to environmental stewardship and care of the earth is one of the core values of the college, stemming from our United Methodist heritage,” Albright College President Lex McMillan said in an Earth Day letter this year. “The college seal depicts the lamp of knowledge, books, and the words truth and justice. These signify not only the value we place on wisdom and knowledge, but the interrelatedness of all things and our belief that the search for knowledge should not be separated from the search for wise and just solutions in human affairs and in the conservation of the natural world.”
Albright’s sustainability plan includes a co-generation plant—a combustion turbine that includes a waste-heat recovery boiler and will reduce the campus's carbon footprint by approximately 43 percent, as well as save a projected $450,000 annually in energy costs.
In July, American University will install more than 2,150 solar photovoltaic panels on six buildings, and 174 solar thermal energy panels on four campus buildings.
“Not only is solar power the right thing to do, it will also reduce the university’s energy costs the day we flip the switches on the new systems, proving that solar can be clean and green,” says Chris O’Brien, director of sustainability at American University.
Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary heats two buildings by gathering solar energy stored in the earth and cools by using the ground to remove heat from the buildings.
"Including geothermal energy in our facility remodeling will save money on energy costs. It also demonstrates a commitment to the responsible care of God's creation. We are demonstrating to our students, the church, and the broader community a commitment to environmental stewardship," says President Philip Amerson. “These current renovations provide a tangible example of putting a theology of creation care into practice.”
Bennett College for Women, a historically Black UM-related college in North Carolina, is beginning to plan for sustainability.
“We have a student who will be working with the Environmental Defense Fund’s Climate Corps to do a complete assessment of the campus this summer,” said Andrea Coleman, vice president of Administrative Services at Bennett. “They will stay for 10 weeks and determine where we have the potential to put in place more sustainability practices.”
She said the campus already has a student-led recycling program and a greenhouse which the college hopes to expand and use to teach students about healthier eating and living. “A lot of our students are from the city and not experienced in growing things,” she said.
Watch a short video about Green Mountain College's combined heat and power (CHP) biomass plant. Video courtesy of Green Mountain College.
A number of campuses are making sure new buildings are LEED-certified. LEED is an internationally recognized green building certification that verifies that a building was designed and built using strategies to improve performance in energy savings, efficient use of water, reduction of carbon dioxide emissions, improvement of indoor environmental quality, and stewardship of resources.
Willamette University in Salem, Ore., partners with local farms, ranches, and fisheries to offer organic, hormone-free, sustainably produced food. A number of colleges are moving to local purchasing both to save energy and to support local farmers.
*Brown is associate editor and writer, Office of Interpretation, General Board of Higher Education and Ministry.