Bowdoin's Mean Green Machines

Story posted November 14, 2012

Tucked away behind Rhodes Hall is the Bowdoin garage, a little known corner of campus that plays a central role in keeping our College in motion. Literally. Under the direction of Karl Perkins, Bowdoin’s Motor Pool Coordinator, Bowdoin’s fleet vehicles and grounds equipment are getting some green makeovers.

Perkins has been at Bowdoin for twenty-eight years, and during that tenure, he has seen (and implemented) many changes to the Bowdoin fleet on which so many students, staff, and faculty rely. In fact, Perkins is instrumental in constantly improving anything on campus that has a motor and wheels, whether it is a lawn mower, generator, snow blower, or truck.

Perkins says he is primarily interested in cars, but fortunately, for an office like Sustainable Bowdoin, he also is interested in the environment. (“I’m the guy who turns off lights when no one’s in a room, who pulls out recycling from trash and vice versa,” he admitted.) As such, the garage does several things that help Bowdoin become a greener campus.

For starters, the oil used in all of the vehicles and grounds equipment is not petroleum-based. Instead, “G Oil” is actually an animal fat synthetic that releases 80% less nitrous oxides into the air. The packaging is also sustainable, as defined by the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM). The bottles that contain the motor oil are made from plastic that ranges from 25% to 100% post-consumer product, are recyclable themselves, and use recycled paper labels that are printed with water-based ink on recycled paper.

Compared to conventional motor oil that needs an oil change every 3,000 miles, G oil can last up to 7,500 miles, meaning that the Bowdoin garage generates less waste from oil changes.

The garage also purchases windshield wiper blades that can be seperated and recycled after their useful life.  The metal portion goes in the college's metal recycling pile and the silicone portion can be returned to the company for recycling.  Both the blades and the G oil are purchased from a New Hampshire company called AutoBeGreen.  Additionally, the motor pool reuses pillowcases, blankets, sheets, or other cloth material from the warehouse for rags.

On a bigger scale, Perkins reviews the fleets’ makes and models each time a vehicle retires. In the past few years, Perkins has pushed for smaller vehicles and ones that get better gas mileage. Bowdoin now offers several hybrid vehicles and is researching more plug-in hybrids and plug-in electric cars.

“The problem with electric,” Perkins states, “is that it requires a new way of thinking about driving.” Drivers would have to get accustomed to plugging in their car, a logistical problem with a fleet like Bowdoin’s. Electric cars would rarely get a few hours between uses to charge and that’s even if students and staff remember to plug in the car. Another problem is that Maine’s climate and batteries do not mix well. Just like how digital cameras lose their charge faster in the cold, the charge of an electric car would not last long in Brunswick between, say, November and April. Perkins also shared his concern that the more complex cars become, the harder it is for mechanics (versus computers at dealerships) to fix problems that arise.

Nevertheless, the next time you hop in a Bowdoin car, you should feel less guilty about your carbon footprint. Thanks to Karl Perkins and the people at the Bowdoin motor pool, the College’s vehicles perform to the greenest of their capabilities, yet another way in which Bowdoin will reach carbon neutrality by 2020. 

Compared to conventional motor oil that needs an oil change every 3,000 miles, G oil can last up to 7,500 miles, meaning that the Bowdoin garage generates less waste from oil changes.