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College announces path to fossil fuel-free campus

May 13, 2022

On Monday afternoon, President Clayton Rose announced the College’s “Sustainable Bowdoin 2042” plan in a message to the campus community. The plan aims to transition the College to entirely clean energy over the next two decades.

The plan succeeds one launched in former President Barry Mills’ 2007 commencement speech. In this speech, Mills committed the College to becoming carbon neutral as part of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment (ACUPCC). After deliberations, the College chose 2020 as a date to achieve this goal and established another initiative to entirely eliminate the College’s use of fossil fuels at a later date.

The plan outlined by Rose on Monday will reduce the carbon emissions of the College to net zero by 2042 and allow Bowdoin to become car- bon-neutral without purchasing renewable energy credits and carbon offsets.

The plan has what Rose de- scribed as four “key elements.” The first of which is clean electricity. Rose explained that Bowdoin’s ongoing efforts to invest in renewable sources of energy have already resulted in 88 percent of the College’s electricity being supplied by solar power. All of the College’s electricity needs will be met with solar power by the end of 2023.

The second aspect of the plan is clean heat. This part of the plan is especially critical because 75 percent of the College’s carbon emissions come from its heating and cooling systems. During Phase I of the plan—which will last until 2037—the College’s heating infrastructure will be rebuilt, and building envelopes, the space between exterior and interior walls, will be improved. Bowdoin’s current gas-fired heating plant will be replaced by an alternative energy station during Phase II of the plan, which will run from 2038 to 2042.

Rose added that the third part of the College’s plan is to expand its current efforts in waste reduction and improve commuting options for its employees.

Lastly, the College will enhance its academic programming regarding sustainability and renewable sources of energy through course content and extracurricular programs. Together, Rose hopes that these components will allow the College to preserve its historic architecture while leading the country in the fight against carbon pollution.

“Though the goal [of be- coming fossil-fuel free] is an ambitious one, we should strive not simply to meet it but beat it,” Rose wrote in an email to the College community. “I am tremendously grateful to the members of our Sustainability Implementation Committee who led this effort, as well as to the students, faculty, staff and alumni who have provided enormous insights and challenged us to create a plan that is both achievable and deeply ambitious.”

Associate Director of Sustainability Keisha Payson said that despite the long-term nature of the plan, the College’s work will begin immediately.

“I don’t want people to hear … 2042 and think the College isn’t doing anything [at the moment]. We’re doing a lot right now,” Payson said. “The 2042 part is when we’ll actually get to flip the switch to a new source of what’s heating the hot water in the heating system.”

Sustainability Outreach and Program Manager Christina Honeycutt emphasized that the plan will involve students over the next 20 years.

“I’m going to be working with students … [who are] talking about reducing energy use and waste on campus, and also helping with the academic component in terms of collaborations and working with faculty and students across campus to highlight some of the work that we’re doing,” Honeycutt said.

Payson echoed these sentiments about the plan’s academic nature.

“The biggest impact we will have as a college is educating students about this issue, so that when they go on to what- ever profession they choose, … they have an understanding about climate change and the impacts it’s having.”

Creating this type of im- pact will maintain and further Bowdoin’s position as a leader in addressing climate change.

“This plan is about continuing to live our commitment to sustainability in both our on-campus operations and in the education we pro- vide,” Rose wrote. “We expect Bowdoin to be a leader in this work; we are, and we will be.”

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