This week, we have compiled the most important stories from the decade pertaining to admissions and student aid, the environment, and the common good. We have pulled a selection of actual headlines from former issues, and condensed and synthesized stories relevant to each headline in order to showcase some of the most significant moments and enduring issues covered by the Orient. While our compilation is comprehensive, it is by no means complete. We encourage readers to pursue these headlines and others in our online archives, and to read our future installments of this series over the next several weeks.
Topics to come: College finances, Maine and Brunswick issues, and a look ahead.
Private firm completes environmental audit, February 2, 2001
The Boston-based environmental consulting group Woodard & Curran first visited Bowdoin in September of 2001, after being hired by the College to "evaluate current practices and make recommendations about how the campus could improve the efficiency and environmental operations of its operations, according to a September 22, 2000 Orient article. The recommendation to hire the firm came from the Committee for Sustainable Bowdoin, which was formed in the fall of 1999, and included representatives from the Treasurer's Office, Facilities Management, Residential Life, and the Dining Service, among other departments.
After months of work, Woodard & Curran released the results of an environmental audit, analyzing data collected during two visits to campus. The primary goal of the audit was to "detail the current environmental impact to air, water, and land from all of Bowdoin's activities and operations," according a February 2, 2001 Orient article. Among many recommendations, both general and department-specific, the audit revealed that recycling facilities in both residences and public spaces were inadequate. Additionally, the report revealed that students were concerned about the energy wasted on the "often extreme heat" in campus residences. Finally, the audit reported a significant increase in electricity consumption on campus, which had risen 75 percent since 1995, "partly due to the proliferation of personal computers and electronics."
The audit also recognized the steps already taken by the College to reduce its environmental impact, citing in particular a 20 percent reduction in oil use at the College's heating plant since 1973, despite the increased campus size.
After hearing recommendations from Woodard & Curran, the Committee for Sustainable Bowdoin formulated three major goals: the first, to tackle the easy and inexpensive actions; the second, to conduct a search for an environmental coordinator to work with faculty, students, and staff; and third, to develop awareness training, intended to inform faculty, staff and students about environmental issues on campus.
Bowdoin hires environmental coordinator, May 4, 2001
A two-year search for a sustainable coordinator by the Committee for a Sustainable Bowdoin culminated with the hiring of Keisha Payson in May of 2001, the Orient reported. The committee had identified the need for an environmental coordinator following the Woodard & Curran environmental audit in 2001.
The committee chose Payson, who had previously served as an assistant in the environmental studies program at the College for two years, to provide support for sustainability issues that "independent student and staff initiatives could not sustain over time" without additional leadership and support. In light of the improvements recommended by the audit, a coordinator was especially necessary to provide assistance to the administration regarding proposed changes.
Mills signs green mission statement, April 26, 2002
President Barry Mills, along with the College Coordinating Group, adopted a mission statement in April of 2002 designed to help guide the College's commitment to environmental sustainability, the Orient reported. The statement, written by student members of Sustainable Bowdoin, with help from Payson, then-Director of Facilities Management Bill Gardiner, and environmental studies professors DeWitt John and Matthew Klingle, was to appear in various handbooks and catalogues around campus.
With the statement emphasizing the need for conserving energy and resources, recycling, reducing solid waste, and purchasing more environmentally friendly products, Payson said that the statement emphasized the College's already strong "concern for the environmental actions of our operations."
Seniors graduating in the spring of 2006 were also given the opportunity to sign green pledges, according to an April 2006 Orient article. Throughout their spring semester, seniors could sign a pledge of "life-long commitment to the environment" and wear green ribbons during Commencement exercises to show their dedication to resolving environmental issues.
Payson said that the pledge was one facet of an effort to make graduation 'greener' in 2006 and in future years.
Other measures toward making Commencement weekend more environmentally conscious included a student initiative to compensate for energy used over the weekend by buying "green energy" from renewable, non-polluting sources, in addition to the use of recycling bins and compact fluorescent light (CFL) bulbs in tents during outdoor events.
Student organizer Ben Smith '06 said that he hoped the 2006 Commencement would set a precedent for future graduations, as well as "cement in graduating seniors the idea of the common good, beyond the halls of the College."
Students urge cleaner energy use, April 28, 2006
Members of Clean Energy Now, a student group established in 2006, presented a letter to Mills and Senior Vice President for Finance and Administration and Treasurer Katy Longley urging the College to "purchase 100 percent of its electricity from clean, renewable sources of energy," the Orient reported. According to the April 2006 article, such electricity is produced by wind power, hydropower or biomass, and not by fossil fuels that emit greenhouse gases.
"We ask that the College commit to a purchase of 100 percent renewable energy in its coming contract, which will demonstrate its continuing commitment to environmental stewardship and social responsibility," the letter read.
Before reading the letter, Longley cautioned that while she believed the College could take further steps toward environmental responsibility, it was important to consider both the steps already taken as well as balancing environmental goals with the realities of the budget.
"Right now especially, we are dealing with a highly volatile energy market in terms of pricing," Longley said.
After meeting with members of Clean Energy Now, Mills and Longley asked the group to provide the administration with additional details concerning options for purchasing 100 percent renewable energy, according to a May 2006 Orient article. In particular, Mills asked students to research the policies and energy contracts at peer schools in Maine, in order to more fully understand the economic parameters of their proposal.
"We are 100 percent committed to considering what our options are," Mills said. "Our goal, obviously, is to be responsible from a financial and environmental point of view. I expect that those goals could be consistent."
In October of 2006, the Environmental Protection Agency recognized the College as green power leader for its purchase of clean renewable energy, according to an October 20, 2006 Orient article. At the time, the College was purchasing "12 million kilowatt hours of green power each year from a low-impact hydroelectric facility," in addition to 285,000 kilowatt hours of renewable energy credits. While not the 100 percent renewable energy for which Clean Energy Now had campaigned, these two energy purchases comprised "approximately 65 percent of the College's electricity purchases." According to the EPA report at the time, Bowdoin was the agency's No. 2 green power partner in the NESCAC, with only Bates College edging out Bowdoin, with 12,980,000 kilowatt hours purchased.
Report gives College 'B-' on environmental practices, February 2, 2007
In a report released by the Sustainable Endowments Institute (SEI) in January 2007, Bowdoin scored perfect marks in the campus management categories, but earned significantly lower grades in the categories related to endowment investments. The College earned an overall grade of "B-" in the report, which examined the 100 colleges and universities in the United States and Canada with the largest endowments.
While the College passed with flying colors—receiving all "A" grades for its policies and practices related to climate change and energy, green building, food and recycling and administration—it earned a "C" for its investment priorities, and two failing grades for endowment transparency and shareholder engagement.
The report explained that the fact that Bowdoin had "no known policy of disclosure of endowment holdings or its shareholder voting record" contributed to its failing grade in the endowment category. Senior Vice President for Investments Paula Volent defended the College's policies, stating that allowing students or staff access to specific details about the endowment would raise a number of legal issues.
Though failing grades in endowment transparency have persisted in subsequent reports from SEI, administrators have suggested that the report is an inaccurate measure of Bowdoin's financial policies, according a November 13, 2009 Orient article. After the most recent failing grade related to endowment, released in a report in the fall of 2009, Volent stated that the report card does not take into account the unique financial situations of small schools like Bowdoin, particularly in relation to privacy policies and restrictions.
"We're small compared to a lot of other schools so we don't do any direct investments," said Volent at the time. "Because we're in commingled funds we're under privacy policies. We're not a public fund, which is subject to the Freedom of Information act."
Although a lack of public investments by the College forces Bowdoin to keep its endowment private information, Mills said that he "really [believes] in being straight-forward."
"Even though the report card makes endowment transparency an important issue, I know from my experience as a corporate lawyer that these issues have nothing to do with anything people would be interested in," said Mills.
Payson expressed frustration with the survey, saying that its own policies were not transparent, and that SEI had not provided explanations for some of the scores. Despite this, however, she added that the report was useful in sparking conversations on campus.
"The report definitely increases the level of discourse among the administration," she said. "Even though it may not be transparent, it is worth it because it gets people talking about it."
College aims for carbon neutrality, September 7, 2007
As part of a nationwide pledge signed by Mills to eventually eliminate the College's carbon emissions, a College committee began meeting in the fall of 2007 to determine how the campus could achieve carbon neutrality, the Orient reported. The committee, which consisted of the faculty, staff and one student on the College's Environmental Action Committee, was charged with establishing a process for fulfilling the pledge's five steps, as designated by the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment.
The steps of the pledge required Bowdoin to inventory its emissions, set a target date by which to achieve carbon neutrality, and eventually make sustainability a part of its curriculum.
Payson said in 2007 that the College would be most challenged by determining how and when Bowdoin would go carbon neutral, given that the College had already kept an emissions inventory for years, and had also already fulfilled some of the immediate requirements of the pledge, the Orient reported. According to Payson, though indirect emissions, such as purchased electricity, are more easily reduced, decreasing direct emissions—those from the heating plant or college vehicles, for example—presented a more complicated challenge to the committee.
"This isn't going to be easy, and it's not going to happen tomorrow," said Payson. "We have to realize carbon neutrality is a big change from what everybody's been operating at."
Despite the economic crisis that put pressure on College finances, Mills stated in February 2009 that Bowdoin would continue to strive toward its pledge to become carbon neutral.
"All of the efforts that we've put into place, and continue to put into place, we'll continue to evaluate for their costs and their efficacy for their ability to make us carbon neutral," wrote Mills in an e-mail to the College community.
In order to bring about significant change at low cost to the College, Environmental Studies Program Director and Associate Professor of Environmental Studies and Biology Phil Camill said that the College would "target areas that would have a large immediate effect on sustainability at the College," the Orient reported.
Camill added that the College hoped to finalize a timeline for making the campus completely carbon neutral by September 2009, estimating that the process might reach its conclusion by 2050, with benchmarks in place for the years 2020, 2030 and 2040.
With its presentation of the Climate Neutrality Implementation Plan in October of 2009, the College unveiled its commitment to becoming carbon neutral by 2020, the Orient reported. According to trustee and member of the Climate Commitment Advisory Committee Leonard Cotton '71, the trustees were "almost universally enthusiastic" about the draft of the plan.
The plan to meet a zero-emissions goal by 2020 focuses on promoting energy efficiency and methods to incorporate environmental literacy into the academic program.
The College also stated that it would continue to purchase Maine-sourced renewable energy credits (RECs) to offset 41 percent of its total carbon emissions, and another 28-percent reduction will come from a drop in own-source emissions. Planned changes to the campus include switching to efficient LED lighting, Energy Star-rated equipment, natural gas heating, replacing all single-pane windows in Hawthorne-Longfellow Library and Coles Tower, installing a more efficient Coles Tower elevator, transitioning to an all-hybrid vehicle fleet, and installing solar energy systems at Farley Field House and the Brunswick Naval Air Base.
Mills again emphasized that the College's "commitment to sustainability, to climate change, to [its] place in the environment hasn't wavered because of the economic crisis the world has felt." Consequently, however, administrators stressed the need for smart, gradual spending.
Longley said that the College will seek funding through grants, long-term debts and major maintenance budgets to help cover the significant costs of efficiency upgrades and RECs, the latter of which are expected to cost the College approximately $500,000 to reach carbon neutrality in 2020.
Though many of the plan's goals will pose challenges, Camill said that the "fairly aggressive timetable for 2020 neutrality...demonstrates our leadership and our ability to engage these issues in a serious way."