Thursday, December 20, 2007

College stakes a green claim to fame

Portland Press Herald
December 20, 2007

College of the Atlantic says it is the nation's first to reduce its
atmospheric carbon impact to zero.

By JOHN RICHARDSON, Staff Writer December 20, 2007

College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor has become the first college
or university in the United States to claim it is no longer adding
heat-trapping carbon to the earth's atmosphere.

The college, already regarded as the most earth-friendly campus
in the world, reduced its carbon dioxide emissions by
conserving energy and using more renewable power, its
president said Wednesday. It then offset, or canceled out, the
remaining emissions by investing $25,000 in a creative
pollution-reduction effort on the West Coast, he said.

"We have much more to do to directly reduce our emissions, but
it is satisfying to know that the last 15 months of College of the
Atlantic's contribution to the increase of greenhouse gases in
our atmosphere adds up to zero," said President David Hales,
who pledged two years ago to make the school carbon-neutral.

The presidents of more than 450 American colleges and
universities, including the entire University of Maine system and
many private schools in Maine, have signed a pledge to go
carbon neutral over time. The American College and University
Presidents Climate Commitment requires each school to come
up with its own plans and deadlines.

College of the Atlantic became the first "net-zero" campus in
part because it is a small school with a proven environmental

"They have been a leader on this already, so they have done a lot
to reduce their emissions," said Lee Bodner, executive director of
the national climate commitment program. "The path that they
have blazed is something that other schools can follow no
matter what their size."

The college was founded as an environmental school in 1969,
and its students helped pass Maine's landmark bottle-
redemption bill in 1973. All 300 students on the 31-acre island
campus major in Human Ecology, the study of how people relate
to the environment.

Students did much of the work to achieve the net-zero status,
including finding ways to reduce energy use and finding an
offset investment that will provide a real and verifiable reduction
in emissions, according to Hale.

Cutting energy use 22 percent and eliminating more than 400
tons of carbon emissions turned out to be the easy part, he said.
The improvements included more efficient lighting and
insulation, more carpooling and making the switch to
hydropower for electricity.

The school plans to keep reducing its emissions. New dorms are
going to be heated with wood pellets, for example.

But there's no way right now to eliminate all emissions on
campus, Hales said. Students and faculty drive cars and fly in
airplanes, and the school relies somewhat on fossil fuels to keep
warm in winter.

"I knew that (conservation) wasn't going to get us to zero and
that we were going to buy offsets. But the challenge of buying
offsets that we were comfortable with was a very, very difficult
process," he said. "Some offsets are doing nothing but making
somebody rich."

There are no uniform standards or regulations in the growing
market for carbon offsets, which basically allow investors to pay
someone else to reduce emissions. Some offsets, for example,
might promise to plant trees or build windmills that might have
been planted or built anyway, giving the investor only a false
sense of security.

College of The Atlantic eventually chose The Climate Trust, a
program that is reducing carbon dioxide emissions by
coordinating traffic signals in Portland, Ore. and shortening the
amount of time cars spend idling. The project is expected to
reduce carbon dioxide emissions by nearly 190,000 tons over
five years. The college's $25,000 investment effectively pays for
nearly 2,500 tons of reduced emissions, the same amount it put
into the atmosphere over the past 15 months, according to the

Although the school had hoped to invest in a program closer to
home, Hales said reducing emissions in Oregon has the same
impact on global warming as reducing the emissions in Bar

The college has published details of its efforts on its Web site

Carbon offsets are controversial. Frank Heller of Brunswick said
the school deserves credit for reducing energy use and
emissions. "That's worthy and more people should emulate
them," he said.

But he doesn't buy the net-zero claim.

"I think it really is a bit like buying indulgences," said Heller, a
critic of the trend. "Buying the carbon credits may be a
convenient way out of going the extra mile and actually
installing solar" panels or other renewable energy technology.

Advocates of the trend among colleges say the first goal is to
reduce emissions, but that the investments – if carefully selected
– will also slow global warming.

"All of the schools are going to end up reducing as much as they
can before they go to offsets," Bodner said.

He called College of the Atlantic a good example to follow. "They
didn't take any shortcuts."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

Staff Writer John Richardson can be contacted at 791-6324 or at:

Copyright © 2007 Blethen Maine Newspapers

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