Campus News

Bowdoin Works Hard to Make Sustainable Living Decisions a Reality

Story posted September 12, 2003

Over the past year, faculty, staff and students at Bowdoin College have worked hard to make sustainable living decisions a reality on campus. Campus-wide changes that reduce energy consumption and utilize environmentally friendly products are decreasing Bowdoin's impact on the environment.

"It's really exciting to see the whole campus pitching in with our efforts," said Keisha Payson, Bowdoin's sustainability coordinator. "Even the small decisions we make, like when staff members and students print out their work double sided - it all adds up. Bowdoin community members are genuinely concerned about being good stewards to the environment and are continually seeking new ways to contribute to the campus efforts."

Key successes of Bowdoin's sustainability efforts over the summer include the switch from #6 to #2 fuel oil in the campus heating plant. By converting from #6 fuel oil to #2 oil, Bowdoin produces 57 percent (46 tons) less emissions of sulfur dioxide and particulate matter a year, which is the equivalent of taking 576 cars off the road annually. Nitrogen oxide emissions decrease by 77 percent annually. These emissions are primary causes of acid rain and ozone smog. Reduced emissions also save the College approximately $570 each year in emissions fees to the State of Maine. Additionally, the switch to #2 oil lessens operating costs due to decreased maintenance requirements, fewer fuel additives, and greater combustion efficiency.

Over the summer, the College also installed front-load washers and dryers in student laundry facilities. The newly installed Maytag High-Efficiency washers in college dormitory housing will use significantly less energy and water than the top loading machines that the college had used for over 25 years. Because the new front-loading washers do not have an agitator like a top-load washer, the washer can hold 32 percent more, is more gentle on clothes, and can better hold large bulky items. They also spin faster, resulting in dryer clothes and a 20 percent dryer energy savings due to a reduced dryer time from 50 to 40 minutes. The decrease in water usage from 32 gallons per cycle to 16 gallons per cycle will also decrease the amount of energy needed to heat the warm water wash cycles. It is predicted that Bowdoin's new front-load washers and dryers will annually reduce water consumption by 723,600 gallons and electricity use by 31,356 KwH, amounting to a net annual saving of $7,500.

This past spring Bowdoin Housekeeping switched to new cleaning supplies from Butchers, which are all rated "clean" by Material Safety Data Sheets and include an all-purpose cleaner called G-force. G-force is a biodegradable concentrate that utilizes different, task-specific dilution ratios. By using G-force and Bowdoin's dilution centers, Facilities can reduce waste from plastic bottles of multiple products and ensure they are using an environmentally friendly cleaner.

Bowdoin Dining Service has long been an environmental leader on campus with their rigorous recycling program and waste reduction measures. Recent highlights of their environmental initiatives are a new composting program, a commitment to purchasing more local food, and kitchen herb gardens.

Fruit and vegetable food scraps are mixed with leaves, wood shavings, and grass clippings collected by Facilities Management and are composted in a large vessel. The compost product will be used to fertilize Bowdoin's fields and gardens. The compost program reduces Bowdoin's waste and cuts costs associated with fertilizer and waste disposal. Dining Service now partners with Farm Fresh Connections in an effort to buy more locally produced food. Purchasing local food means supporting farmers who use fewer pesticides, chemical fertilizers and preservatives. Local food doesn't have to be transported as far, resulting in less fossil fuel burned in shipping. Another benefit of buying local is that Bowdoin College dollars stay in the community longer, benefiting the local economy. Plus, locally produced food typically contains more nutrients and is more flavorful. Dining Service staff planted herb gardens next to each dining hall. The herbs are used to make infused oils, for garnishing and some are frozen for future use. The herb garden makes practical use of readily available garden space while enhancing the college landscape.

A recent switch to a new office supply vendor provides access to hundreds of environmentally friendly and recycled products and a detailed electronic reporting system that allows the College to track purchase trends of environmentally friendly products. The focus on online ordering and order confirmation via the Internet will also reduce the number of high gloss catalogs and paper invoices sent to the campus. The new vendor is providing the campus with a 30% recycled, 50% recycled and an 80% recycled/processed chlorine-free paper supply.

It is worth noting that paper consumption at Bowdoin has also declined for the second year in a row. The number of sheets used this past year was 9,139,000 at a cost of about $56,400 - a reduction of nearly $4,000 from our high in the 2000-2001 fiscal year. And paper that has been used on only one side is not wasted. Non-confidential drafts are bound into green pads that are reused by faculty, staff and students for scratch paper.

Bowdoin hopes to cut paper use even further by employing new "Green" Print Release Stations in the basement of Hawthorne-Longfellow Library. Every academic year, reams of paper are wasted in computer labs due to unwanted print jobs' being left behind (either because the print job was forgotten, or was reprinted to correct some error). Now, all print jobs sent to the computer lab printers are sent to the Print Release Station. Documents do not print until the person who has sent the job to the printer has selected it from the print queue on the screen, and swiped their Bowdoin ID to release it to the printer (the pages are free, though for tracking purposes the system records one cent per page). All print jobs not released to the printer after 24 hours will be canceled, saving paper.

While these big changes will substantially improve our environmental commitment, other small changes taking place at the College should not go unnoticed.

Along with less toxic cleaning supplies, new brown paper towels appeared in most bathrooms across campus. Unlike white paper towels, brown paper towels are not bleached, which means that the bleaching agent dioxin, a known carcinogen, is not released in the making of the new paper towels.

Energy conservation also found its way into campus housing by way of an energy conservation dorm competition dorm competition. For a week, first-year dorms and college houses were monitored for their energy consumption. The winning house, MacMillan, cut their energy use by 40 percent. Sustainable Bowdoin will repeat the energy dorm competition in the coming year and extend the contest to two weeks.

Joel Cartwright '06, who helped start the composting program, has found the campus-wide sustainability effort to be a positive and powerful force for change.

"Joining Sustainable Bowdoin gave me a direction and motivation to make the College become more environmentally sustainable and to educate other students on how to help do that," said Cartwright. "Helping to start a composting program gave me a sense of really doing something, especially as other people in my dorm became interested and started helping out. Working with enthusiastic students, faculty, and staff on the project gave me hope for even bigger projects."

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