Location: Bowdoin / Sustainability / Activity / 2012 / The Roof Less Traveled

The Roof Less Traveled: The Insider's Sustainability Tour

Story posted October 01, 2012

It was a sunny and breezy morning - perfect weather for my first venture onto the rooftops of the College. I work for Sustainable Bowdoin and was charged with taking some photographs of Bowdoin's less visible sustainability efforts on top of our buildings. My guide, Mark Fisher - the Manager of Environmental Health and  Safety - and I set off towards the Buck Center at a brisk pace. Mark is a really amiable and knowledgeable guy, and I was firing questions at him left and right about his work. As we all (hopefully) know, Bowdoin's "Carbon Neutral by 2020" plan goes a lot deeper than encouraging students to turn off their lights and take shorter showers. The college has been re-working itself from the inside out for years to be a leader in collegiate sustainability. Projects have ranged from renovating dorms and buildings to minimizing food waste in the dining halls. One of our recent projects was the installation of a new, high efficiency boiler and a back-pressure steam turbine, increasing Bowdoin's heating efficiency considerably while allowing us to generate electricity from the steam. To top off the project (literally), Bowdoin planted a garden on the roof of the heating plant to collect and absorb rain water on site, rather than sending it to the local storm drain system, which empties directly into local streams. The rooftop garden, planted with chives and sedum, is still green at this point in the fall, and is really a sight to see in the height of summer! 

From the rooftop, we could also see ventilation pipes from the nearby buildings. Mark gave me a rundown of what air circulation system was installed when, and how efficient our buildings are. The Buck center itself has a white roof, which reflects the sun's radiation, preventing heat gain during the summer months.  The roof was one of the many features that contributed to the building's LEED silver certification. As Mark explained all of this to me, we made our way towards Thorne. As we wound our way through the inner workings of Thorne, climbing up stairs between racks of cooling pastries and pots of simmering dahl, we emerged on a the slanty-rooftop above the seating area. From there, I had a view of the 48 solar hot water panels on the roof. In the summer, up to 56% (42% in the winter) of the energy used for hot water in Thorne is generated from these solar panels. Does it get any cooler!?! The panels are regularly checked and maintained by facilities, and Mark pointed out some of the safety features the college has implemented on the roofs recently to make them more accessible, especially in the winter when it can be icy.

As we descended through the hectic kitchen area and snuck out a back loading dock (more neat places I've never been!) I got Mark to tell me more about Dining's Sustainability efforts. The food is delicious, we both agreed, but even cooler is that much of it is local and organically grown. Mark explained how Bowdoin was really a leader in the local food movement, and that the industry has grown significantly since he's been at Bowdoin. Between the locally grown food, the solar panels, and the meat-packing facility in the Thorne basement, Bowdoin is making huge efforts in its Sustainability goals. I really got the insider's tour of big-picture sustainability at Bowdoin!

As we returned towards Rhodes Hall, I mentioned to Mark that I felt really cool for getting to climb around ladders on the roofs of Bowdoin's buildings, and that it felt very "behind the scenes." Mark agreed not many Bowdoin students get to clamber on Bowdoin's rooftops, as there are strict regulations about who, how and where this can happen. Hopefully you are all now motivated to become the Sustainable Bowdoin photographer so that you, too, one day could experience the singular glory of stepping where few students have stepped before.  My co-worker back in the office has now suggested I change my name to Shaggy-spidey-roof-climber. I'm thinking about it.

"Between the locally grown food, the solar panels, and the meat-packing facility in the Thorne basement, Bowdoin is making huge efforts in its Sustainability goals. I really got the insider's tour of big-picture sustainability at Bowdoin!" -Sarah Johnson '13