The University of Maine was recently ranked 49th in The Princeton Review’s “Guide to 399 Green Colleges” for 2018. This study claims to evaluate how sustainable a college is based on information supplied by students and administrators.
The Princeton Review considered 2,000 schools in this project. The top 50 were deemed capable and dedicated to the task of training the next generation of leaders that will be responsible for placing green ideas into practice.
The process for gathering information for this study began with a survey issued to university administrators that asked about students’ quality of life in terms of health and sustainability, how well the school prepares students for employment in a green economy and how environmentally responsible the school’s policies are.
Student opinion also went into deciding the university rankings. Students rated how sustainability issues influence their education, how the administration supports environmental awareness and conservation efforts and the impact of student environmental groups.
The Office of Sustainability is a key player in sustainability initiatives at UMaine. According to the office’s mission statement, “The Office of Sustainability is committed to working with all UMaine constituents to reduce the environmental footprint of the campus through ongoing education and outreach efforts.”
Director of Sustainability Dan Dixon agrees with the Princeton Review’s ranking and sees it as a great accomplishment for UMaine.
“This is the ninth-consecutive year that UMaine has been featured in the Princeton Review’s list of Top Green Schools. It takes a concerted effort by all campus constituents to achieve a Green Score of 96 or more … We should all be proud of our achievement,” said Dixon
There are many clubs and programs on campus dedicated to the ideals of sustainability and making UMaine greener, many of which are new. Such groups include the Green Campus Initiative, Divest UMaine, UMaine Greens, Green Team and the student-run community supported agriculture share program Black Bear Food Guild. Some of these groups have helped establish new campus-wide initiatives like the composting program and Zero-Sort recycling.
There is also a sustainability speaker series at the Mitchell Center for Sustainability Solutions, cultural art events, outdoor programs through MaineBound and sustainability-focused living opportunities including the Terrell House Permaculture Living and Learning Center. The most recent project is a student-run sustainability-focused journal called Spire: The Maine Journal of Conservation and Sustainability.
“The UMaine Office of Sustainability will always support students and student groups who are making an effort to make the campus, and the planet, a better and more-sustainable place,” Dixon said. “There is always the opportunity to do more and improve. Next year we will focus our efforts and try to do better.”
Over the years since these programs have started, UMaine has seen immense success in the areas of sustainability research and green living, according to the Office of Sustainability.
Since 2007, for example, UMaine has reduced its Greenhouse Gas emissions by 18 percent (per weighted campus user), according to statistics provided by Dixon.
Dixon also said that, in addition, over 25 percent of UMaine researchers conduct sustainability related research, over 75 percent of departments support sustainability related research, over 60 percent of cleaning and janitorial purchases are green certified, over 20 percent of dining food purchases are locally sourced and UMaine has reduced its water usage by 20 percent since 2007.
“Facts like these are testament to the amazing effort that all campus constituents are making towards increasing UMaine’s environmental consciousness and improving the sustainability of our campus. We continue pushing to improve these figures each and every year,” Dixon said.
UMaine was the first college in the country to offer a sustainable agriculture program. Eric Gallandt, a professor of weed ecology, works with almost all of the sustainable agriculture groups on campus.
Gallandt feels that given UMaine’s history of being a pioneer in sustainable agriculture among universities nationwide, we could be doing more. Sustainable agriculture on campus now faces problems such as poor infrastructure, low staff and a low budget. Nevertheless, he remains optimistic.
“There’s a lot of possibilities regarding local food; there is a continued interest in it and it will not go away anytime soon,” Gallandt said.
He said he has hopes to add more greenhouses and eventually improve infrastructure to better represent the sustainability of our campus.
“There are great students who are committed in the sustainable agriculture program, and sustainability is a great place to be in,” Gallandt said.