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Students explore decarbonization at Bowdoin, Roux Institute summit

February 2, 2024

Courtesy of Chloe Sheahan
DECAR-BOWDOIN-IZATION: “Start Summit: Decarbonizing the Built Environment” attendees sit together in a classroom in the Roux Center for the Environment. The College partnered with Northeastern’s Roux Institute, among other organizations, for this two-day event.
Last weekend, Bowdoin partnered with The Roux Institute at Northeastern University to co-host an event titled “Start Summit: Decarbonizing the Built Environment.” State representatives, nonprofit founders and green energy experts led a panel at the Portland Museum of Art last Friday. Fifteen Bowdoin students participated in idea hackathons about green construction, startup pitch competitions and networking sessions on Saturday.

In addition to the collaboration with the Roux Institute and the Portland Museum of Art, the College worked with the Governor’s Energy Office, engineering consultant Thornton Tomasetti, Wright-Ryan Construction, The Nature Conservancy and the Eaton Peabody law firm to organize the event.

Terra Dunham, the entrepreneurship educator program manager at the Roux Institute, said the event had been in the works for several months. Dunham said a college campus like Bowdoin is the ideal place to host an event focused on learning, collaboration and exploration.

“One of the values that we’re hoping people will pull out of this is that learning goes on for a lifetime,” she said. “Most of the people in that room were not decarbonization experts, but I think everybody learned something about decarbonization, entrepreneurship, teamwork or presentation that day.”

Dunham pointed to Bowdoin’s commitment to decarbonization—including at the Roux Center for the Environment itself—as inspirational to participants in the summit.

“The teams were able to hear about the different components of the building that were built into the design. And I think that motivated them and inspired them,” Dunham said.

Students brought their own sustainable construction ideas to the startup pitch competition on Saturday and presented them to the larger group. Gabe Sarno ʼ25 proposed building affordable housing using recycled plastic to help asylum seekers in Maine, especially during the ongoing housing crisis. He noted that his main takeaway from the summit was how environmentalism can go hand-in-hand with entrepreneurship.

“I think oftentimes people, myself included, have the conception that to do something good is to not make money and to make money is to not do something good,” Sarno said. “I think this really emphasizes the point that you can really integrate these opportunities.”

In addition to Bowdoin students, participants in the summit included a number of graduate students from Northeastern, as well as several professionals in the construction, forestry and climate tech industries in Maine. Eva McKone ’26, who brainstormed ideas for carbon sequestration using different bacteria, believes the collaborative nature of the summit was enhanced because professionals attended.

“At first, I was a little bit intimidated because they are very knowledgeable at what they do, but then something that came up was that we’re all from very different fields,” McKone said. “We had our own expertise that we’re able to bring to the table.”

Marko Melendy, animal welfare and facilities manager at the Schiller Coastal Studies Center who also serves on the Brunswick Marine Resource Committee, is an example of fields coming together to work toward decarbonization. He worked alongside a green energy technician, a developmental expert and a construction manager to form an action plan.

“I would never have been able to do [the summit] on my own, and that’s the point of the whole exercise,” Melendy said. “To get different folks together to look at a common problem and then bring their different backgrounds to find some solutions.”

After the event, participants walked away feeling hopeful about the future of decarbonization and sustainability in the construction industry.

“I’m very optimistic about the future,” McKone said. “There’s so many brilliant minds working on things to decarbonize [the construction] industry.”


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