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Colby is biggest college yet to go carbon neutral

University Business, July 2013
Colby College's biomass plant.
Colby College's biomass plant.

Colby College (Maine) is now the fourth higher ed institution—and the largest—to have gone carbon neutral. Along with Colby, which has just over 1,800 students, College of the Atlantic (Maine), Green Mountain College (Vt.), and University of Minnesota at Morris have achieved carbon neutrality.

“Smaller schools have the advantage as there are less carbon emissions to eliminate and less moving parts to control,” says David Hales, president of Second Nature, which administers the American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), and president emeritus of College of the Atlantic. “It can also be expensive and can take several years to achieve.”

Colby President William D. Adams signed the ACUPCC in 2008. It asks signees to complete various initiatives to makes schools greener, including setting a target date to become carbon neutral. More than 650 presidents have signed, but meeting that net-zero carbon footprint goal is no easy feat.

Colby reached net zero carbon emissions this April, beating its target date by two years. The project has been in the works for over a decade, says spokeswoman Ruth Jacobs.

“Sustainability is one of our core values, so we never started out with a timeline, per say.” Switching to 100-percent renewable electricity and heating buildings with sustainable wood biomass were the biggest contributors to achieving the goal.

“We estimate that 12 to 15 additional higher ed institutions will reach carbon neutrality by 2018 and more than 400 by 2050,” says Hales. “We in higher education know this initiative is the right thing to do and we want to lead by example.

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