College of the Atlantic continued to push the envelope for sustainability and environmentalism at a post-secondary institution in 2016. Whether through exceptional student achievements or the inclusion of sustainability in the the distinct COA curriculum, the college consistently led the fight for environmental justice in higher education. This leadership has often been recognized by a number of widely respected college ranking authorities. This year, however, several awarded their highest praise.
Among COA’s many distinctions cited by The Princeton Review in their ranking of the school as the #1 green school in the nation: The school became the first carbon-neutral college in 2007; COA owns and stewards 300 acres of forest and farmland, which provide research and educational opportunities for students and faculty; and the college’s hands-on curriculum involves students in implementing COA’s commitment to become a fossil fuel-free campus by 2050—already COA classes have participated in energy audits and have researched, sited, and installed solar photovoltaic arrays on campus.
Sierra attributes COA’s number one spot to its successful and thorough integration of sustainability into the curriculum, to the complete divestment of its endowment from fossil fuels, and to 100 percent of its electricity coming from renewable sources.
With the launch of an initiative centered around communicating environmental activism and the implementation of a Community Energy Center, College of the Atlantic continues to break ground in sustainable education.
COA reached its rank as the #1 green college in the U.S. by championing novel initiatives for green education in the past. 2016 helped prove this to be a trend the college has every intention of sustaining.
2016 saw the launch and inaugural gathering of COA’s new Henry David Thoreau Environmental Leaders Initiative. The program is the result of seed-funding from the Henry David Thoreau Foundation - COA is among only 20 colleges that have been awarded seed funding for “visionary programs…that foster environmental leadership and engaged scholarship” from the Thoreau Foundation, and shares its reception of the foundation’s only 2016 faculty grant awards with Harvard University.
A Community Energy Center (CEC) implemented by COA also took off in 2016. The CEC builds on existing sustainability and renewable energy efforts on Mount Desert Island and aims to work with residents, organizations, and business owners to research, develop, and implement innovative projects that enable people and business owners to reap the financial and social benefits of transitioning away from fossil fuels.
The inaugural project of the CEC will be the Solar for Businesses and Farms project, set to begin this summer. Funded by a $65,000 grant from the United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Energy for America Program, the project will provide 30 or more local farms and businesses with solar energy assessments and in-depth information on funding mechanisms. COA graduate student Andrea Russell MPhil ’18 serves at the helm of the CEC as Program Manager.
Whether it is through contributing to some of the most crucial climate change negotiations worldwide or taking the top spot at a regional food system innovation competition, students at College of the Atlantic are every bit involved in the sustainable leadership characteristic of the college.
COA prides itself on its educational experience being student-centered. Those in attendance at COA are often those seen on the front lines at rallies for human and environmental justice and those breaking ground in innovations and research in pursuit of a more sustainable future. 2016 was no exception.
10 students enrolled in Dr. Doreen Stabinsky’s tutorial, “Implementing the Paris Agreement (UNFCCC COP22),” attended the U.N.’s 22nd annual Conference of the Parties (COP22) in Marrakech, Morocco Nov. 7-18, 2016. COP22 marks the first gathering of the 191 countries that signed on to last year’s historic Paris climate agreement. Decisions made in Marrakech will guide the implementation and enforcement of the accord, and proper implementation is key toward a sustainable future, COA delegates say.
While in attendance, the COA delegates took an active role in working-group discussions, were given the opportunity to network with members of international, non-governmental organizations and other delegates, and helped organize and take part in actions within the conference space along with other youth participants.
In COA’s home state of Maine, a team of students split first-place billing and took home $2,500 at the Maine Food System Innovation Challenge. The competition, hosted at Bowdoin College Nov. 21-22, calls for and awards innovative and sustainable business models.
The team is now poised to use the funds to start “[Re]Produce,” their business meant to address food waste by producing frozen vegetables using local farm surplus production and cosmetically imperfect vegetables. COA’s winning group, comprised of Ana Maria Zabala ’20, Anita van Dam ’19, Grace Burchard ’17, and Lilyanna Sollberger ’16, studied food systems and sustainable business strategies during the fall term with sustainable food systems professor Dr. Kourtney Collum and professor of sustainable business Jay Friedlander.
Leadership in environmentalism is often lauded not only by national authorities but members of the local community as well. For COA, this means attracting the spotlight from local news sources to the efficacy of its annual trash audit and its use of college-run farms in the pursuit of food self-sufficiency.
COA has been holding an annual trash audit since 2014. Every fall, one week’s worth of trash and recycling generated at the College of the Atlantic is collected, sorted and displayed under a tent on the school’s North Lawn so students and others can learn more about what they’re throwing away.
In 2014, trash made up 55 percent of the material collected, or 1,151 pounds. Last year, the trash collected made up nearly 40 percent of the material, or 930 pounds. That decline continued this fall, with trash making up just 30 percent of the collected material, or 577 pounds. Bangor Daily News caught wind of the audit’s success and ran a feature in December praising the college for its performance.
In furthering their movement towards a sustainable future, COA also raises its own livestock at the college-owned and run Peggy Rockefeller Farms.
The college is part of the slow food challenge, a commitment by schools to have their food systems 20 per cent self-sufficient by 2020. COA is ahead of the game, already hovering around 25-30 per cent self-sufficiency. Maine’s WABI TV5 highlighted the college’s success in March.