Led by the College’s Sustainability Implementation Committee and with substantial input from students faculty and staff, it sets an ambitious twenty-year path to end our dependence on fossil fuels, not by relying on purchased carbon offsets but through bold leadership and enterprising investments.
Sustainable Bowdoin 2042 cements Bowdoin as a national leader in campus sustainability, taking on the toughest challenges of reaching net-zero in one of the coldest states with some of America’s oldest campus buildings. We have never shied away from tough choices on sustainability and environmental stewardship on campus, in our coastal research facilities, in our classrooms, and in the community.
Now, our path to net-zero must go even further on our electricity use, our building heat, and other sources of carbon pollution embedded in our daily campus life. Here’s how we’ll do it:
- Clean Electricity: The College already produces solar power matching 88 percent of our electricity needs and recently executed contracts to source 100 percent of current electrical usage from new solar photovoltaic (PV) projects located in Maine.
- Clean Heat: Our natural gas-fired central heating plant and stand-alone heating systems on the perimeter of campus are currently responsible for roughly 75 percent of the College’s annual carbon emissions. We’re launching a long-term initiative to transition our buildings to a more efficient hot water system. At the same time, we will invest in making our historic buildings as energy efficient as possible, while dramatically shrinking the carbon footprint of any new buildings through pioneering building practices such as passive house design and mass timber construction.
- All Other Sources: We’ll take a comprehensive approach to making our entire campus net-zero, expanding ongoing efforts to reduce waste, improve commuting options, and making environmentally responsible procurement choices.
This work will be complex and sometimes disruptive, and it will require significant financial resources—but the physical work reminds us of our unshakable commitment to the common good and that we are part of the solution that aims to subtanstanially reduce the global use of fossil fuels in order to limit global warming.
We’ve carefully analyzed what could replace our gas-fired central heating plant. With technology rapidly improving, it’s simply too soon to say. We think it would be a mistake to go all-in now with a technology that could be outdated by the time we’re ready to break ground. Therefore, we’ll split this work into two phases:
- Phase 1 (2022–2037) will completely rebuild the infrastructure that connects most of our buildings to the heating plant. The new system will deliver low-temperature hot water to campus, requiring about 30 percent less energy than distributed steam to keep the campus warm. We’ll upgrade the insulation, windows, doors, and mechanical systems of more than fifty buildings over the same timeframe to ensure the low-temperature hot water can sufficiently reach and maintain the campus set point of 68 degrees Fahrenheit.
- Phase 2 (2038–2042) will replace the College’s natural-gas-fired heating plant with an alternative energy station. Ground-source and air-source heat pumps powered by zero-carbon electricity are the leading candidates today, but we will follow the development of climate technologies closely as we focus on the hard work of Phase 1.
As a leading liberal arts institution, Bowdoin recognizes that its biggest opportunity to make a difference is in preparing students for one of the most pressing issues of their lifetimes. Sustainable Bowdoin 2042 outlines steps the College can take to enhance the myriad academic opportunities both in and out of the classroom and to help facilitate multidisciplinary collaborations that can both cut climate pollution and adapt to changes already underway. Bowdoin students gain real-world experience in mitigation and resilience-planning through internships, work study jobs, and student-led clubs on campus.
This transition will represent an enormous and unparalleled opportunity for Bowdoin students to do hands-on work learning about renewable energy, energy efficiency, and sustainability, to be a part of the generation that will help solve our biggest global challenge. Sustainable Bowdoin 2042 is rooted in a dedication to the common good and a recognition that climate change does not affect everyone equally. Climate change disproportionately impacts public health and financial security within historically marginalized communities both in the US and around the world.
Reaching these goals will be an unprecedented and complex challenge, but they are attainable and, when complete, will represent a monumental achievement in Bowdoin College’s history.
We are all-in, committed, passionate, and excited about how this work will demonstrate the Bowdoin community’s commitment to leading global change.