We Did It! Solar on the White House

WePutSolarOnIt

Nearly three years after they committed to do so, the Obama administration is installing solar panels on the White House this week. The administration knows that this is an important symbol to an America desperate for climate leadership. In fact, we told them that in person when a crew of Unity College students teamed up with Bill McKibben and 350.org to launch an epic solar road trip from Unity College to Washington in 2010. Along the way, we rallied the troops in Boston, New York, and DC, before delivering a petition of over 40,000 signatures to the White House Council on Environmental Quality with a simple message for Obama: put solar back on the White House and show real leadership on meaningful climate policy.

Courtyard Panels

Since 1991, Unity College has been the proud steward of the solar hot water panels that were installed on the White House roof by the Jimmy Carter administration in 1979. Those panels were removed during the Reagan administration in 1986 and languished in government storage until Unity’s Peter Marbach secured them and brought them to Unity College. Sixteen of those panels heated water on our own cafeteria roof for over twelve years and many others have been restored by energy lab students and Professor Mick Womersley for museum loan and public display.

Two of those restored panels were featured in the 2010 documentary A Road Not Taken, which followed Unity College (now) alums Sara Trunzo and Jason Reynolds on a solar road trip of their own. The film — by Swiss artists Christina Hemauer and Roman Keller – uses the delivery of those panels to the National History Museum in DC and the Carter Center in Atlanta to explore the unrealized hope for a renewable American energy future.

This current White House solar installation brings us closer to that future. Symbols are important, and solar on the White House is a stirring symbol of climate commitment from the top. May this public statement and the President’s full Climate Action Plan portend even bolder climate leadership to come; our students demand and deserve no less.  Thank you, Mr. President, for heeding their call.

Graduation Pledge

Congratulations to our graduating students!  Tomorrow’s commencement activities are a tremendous public celebration of our focus on sustainability science, and the real achievement of our students in the field.  We know you’ll continue to do great things in your communities.

Graduation Pledge AllianceGraduates wearing the green ribbon at tomorrow’s ceremony have signed the Graduation Pledge, which states:

“I pledge to explore and take into account the social and environmental consequences of any job I consider and will try to improve these aspects of any organizations for which I work.”

By choosing Unity College, all of our students have committed themselves to a sustainable future.  By signing the Graduation Pledge, they’ve made that commitment public on this important day.

An open letter to college and university presidents about divestment from fossil fuels

13 November 2012

Stephen Mulkey

Dear Colleagues,

On the 5th of November 2012, the Unity College Board of Trustees unanimously voted to divest our endowment from fossil fuel industries.  While one might think that this was logical for a college where Sustainability Science structures the academic program, it was not easy.   Indeed, the Board’s committee on investment carefully reviewed the potential fiduciary impact of this action.  Some members of the Board were uncomfortable with the choice to close off this source of revenue at a time when the College needs every penny.  In the end, the Board embraced our ethical obligation to stop supporting an industry that has repeatedly demonstrated a lack of commitment to future generations.  I write this letter to urge you to raise this crucially important issue with your governing body.

Why should colleges and universities divest?  It is increasingly clear that climate change will be the defining environmental factor of what will come to be seen as the environmental century.  Recent work at the National Center for Atmospheric Research indicates that our current rate of emissions will carry us beyond 7°F average global warming by 2100.  Other studies show that warming may be more than 9°F.

Either way, this level of warming is catastrophic.  The current generation of college students will experience a dangerously disrupted climate by mid-century.  We must provide strong incentives for fossil fuel industries to invest their gargantuan profits in alternative and renewable energy rather than in the development of new and increasingly marginal sources of fossil fuels.

Your institution must not be on the wrong side of this issue.  Given the recent decade of extreme temperatures and catastrophic weather, America is waking up.  In the near future, the political tide will turn and the public will demand action on climate change.   Our students are already demanding action, and we must not ignore them.  As college presidents, we are committed to the highest standards of honesty and integrity.  Failure to provide ethical leadership on an issue that has the potential to be the most profoundly negative factor in the lives of our students is unacceptable.

Financial managers may complain that divestment will be complicated and insurmountably onerous.  However, it takes no more effort to manage a portfolio for minimum exposure to fossil fuels than it does to manage for maximum market return – and these two goals can coexist.  Admittedly, markets are more complex today than in the time of divestment from companies associated with apartheid.  Depending on your particular mix of investment tools, achieving an absolute zero fossil fuel return may be difficult.  Unity College has chosen to strongly bias its portfolio away from such investments, and we are confident that we can achieve a negligible exposure to fossil fuels.  We also believe that under current market conditions our overall portfolio will generally not perform more poorly than the market average while holding true to our promise to divest.

All board members are acutely aware of their fiduciary responsibilities to the institution, and they will want assurances that investment practices bring an appropriate return.  While endowments must be managed to insure growth, we must turn away from the embedded acceptance of the notion of profits at any price.

Regardless of financial considerations, we must demand the highest ethical standards from our universities and colleges. It is ethically indefensible that an institution dedicated to the proposition of the renewal of civilization would simultaneously invest in its destruction.  In this respect, divestment is not optional.  As presidents, you do not control your institution’s investment policy, but you do have great influence.  Urge your board to take a stand and make it possible for your institution to speak from a position of integrity.

Sincerely,

Stephen Mulkey
president
Unity College
Unity, ME 04988

Unity College Board of Trustees votes to divest from fossil fuels

I am proud to say that earlier today the Unity College Board of Trustees voted to divest the College endowment from fossil fuels.  The following editorial is my statement to the public about this important step.

Time for higher education to take a stand on climate

Stephen Mulkey

Stephen Mulkey
President
Unity College
Unity, ME 04988

5 November 2012

We are running out of time.  While our public policy makers equivocate and avoid the topic of climate change, the window of opportunity for salvaging a livable planet for our children and grandchildren is rapidly closing.

The way forward is clear, though for many confrontation-averse academics the path seems impassable.  It requires action that is unnatural to the scientifically initiated:  to fight to regain the territory illegitimately occupied by the climate change deniers.

Every day that we avoid taking action represents additional emissions, and additional infrastructure that is dependent on our fossil fuel based economy.  In our zeal to be collegial, we engage with those who are paid by vested interests to argue that our Earth is not in crisis.  When these individuals demonize public investment in alternative energy, we fail to point out how the oil industry benefited from significant taxpayer support in its infancy and continues to receive government subsidies today.  We also sidestep the thorny issue of how oil and coal, in particular, fund large-scale organized opposition efforts to deny legitimate science, winning the battle for climate change public opinion with slogans, junk science, and money.

While there is much uncertainty about how climate change will play out with respect to specific regions and weather patterns, one thing is very clear:  Our current emissions trajectory will carry us beyond 5oC average global warming by 2100.   This will be a planet that is not consistent with our civilization and science shows us that the impact will be largely irreversible for a millennium.  I don’t know how the stakes could get any higher.

Higher education is positioned to determine the future by training a generation of problem solvers.  As educators, we have an obligation to do so. Unlike any time in the history of higher education, we must now produce leading-edge professionals who are able to integrate knowledge from multiple disciplines, and understand social, economic, and resource tradeoffs among possible solutions.  Imagine being a college president and looking in the mirror twenty years from now.  What would you see?  Would you be looking at a professional who did his or her best to avert catastrophe?  For me, the alternative is unacceptable.

Those within higher education must now do something they have largely avoided at all costs: confront the policy makers who refuse to accept scientific reality.  We must be willing to lead by example. Like the colleges and universities of the 1980’s that disinvested from apartheid South African interests – and successfully pressured the South African government to dismantle the apartheid system – we must be willing to exclude fossil fuels from our investment portfolios. We must divest.

The colleges and universities of this nation have billions invested in fossil fuels. Like the funding of public campaigns to deny climate change, such investments are fundamentally unethical.  The Terrifying Math of the 350.org campaign is based on realistic, reviewed science. Moreover, in our country it is clear that economic pressure gets results where other means fail. If we are to honor our commitment to the future, divestment is not optional.  This is especially true for Unity College, where Sustainability Science, as developed by the U.S. National Academy of Science, guides our academic mission.

I am proud to be a part of the 350.org program of divestment, and I am especially proud of the Unity College Board of Trustees for their willingness to make this affiliation.  Indeed, the Trustees have been on the path of divestment for over five years.  The Trustees have looked at the College’s finances in the context of our ethical obligation to our students, and they have chosen to make a stand.   I can think of no stronger statement about the mission of Unity College.

Our college community will lead by fearless action.  We will confront policy makers who continue to deny the existence of climate change.  We will encourage those who work in higher education to bravely step out from behind manicured, taxpayer funded hedges, and do what needs to be done.   We will not equivocate, and we will meet those who have been misled by climate change denial in their communities.

The time is long overdue for all investors to take a hard look at the consequences of supporting an industry that persists in employing a destructive business model.  Because of its infrastructure and enormous economic clout, fossil fuel corporations could pump trillions into the development of alternative energy. Government subsidies and stockholder shares could be used constructively to move these corporations to behave responsibly.

Higher education is the crown jewel of the United States system of education, and it remains the envy of the world.  Higher education has always been dedicated to the highest standards of honesty and integrity.  If our nation’s colleges and universities will not take a stand now, who will?

Campus Sustainability Day at Unity College

Join national thought leaders in campus sustainability as we discuss best practices and challenges for preparing students for a changing climate, with an emphasis on curriculum, research, and experiential learning.

Wednesday, October 24, 2-4:30.

Founders Hall North, Conference Room.

Our Campus Conversation will be guided by a few challenging questions:

  1. What is your college/region doing to prepare students for a changing climate?
  2. Where do challenges still exist for your campus/region in creating successful sustainability and climate programs, and what are the solutions to these challenges?
  3. How can your campus/region ensure that all students acquire the skills and education necessary to prepare for a changing climate, society, and economy, regardless of their course of study or career goals?

What do YOU think sustainability at Unity College and in higher education should look like?

Join us Wednesday to be a part of the conversation.

Unity College and ReVision Energy To Add Campus Solar

Solar Project Image

Click for larger image.

Unity College has partnered with ReVision Energy to bring a significant solar energy project to campus this month. The 37.44 kW, 144-panel solar photovoltaic array will be mounted on the Quimby Library and Thomashow Labs roofs and is expected to produce about 45,000 kilowatt-hours of electricity annually – more than 80% of the library’s previous average annual demand. This installation is an important visible addition to our diverse energy portfolio which includes an existing 5.4-kW solar array at the Unity House.

The grid-tied system will send any electricity not immediately used by the library onto the public utility grid, generating a credit for the college to be applied at other times of the year when the solar system is less productive. This net-metering relationship with the grid means no battery storage is needed on site, and essentially treats Unity’s solar project as a tiny power plant. Any electricity demanded by the library that is not met by the system will be drawn from the grid as normal – electricity that Unity College has offset with the purchase of Renewable Energy Credits (RECs) since 2002.

We’re thrilled to be working with ReVision Energy on this project. They have a stellar reputation in the field as the leading solar installers in Maine and New Hampshire, and their team of professional technicians and project managers is chock full of Unity College alums. ReVision Energy is a mission-driven company that makes the extra effort to engage and educate the public about the viability of renewable energy in New England and beyond.

Unity’s solar project is being financed through a Power Purchase Agreement (or PPA) – an innovative financing approach that allows ReVision Energy – more accurately, a third-party LLC specifically formed to develop this project – to own and operate the system on our campus for six years while we purchase from them any electricity produced by the system.

After six years, Unity College will have the option to purchase the system from ReVision for a fraction of the original cost. Once we assume ownership, the college will own the generated electricity and pay nothing for the electricity it produces into the future. At the estimated purchase price in year seven, the system will pay for itself in 5 to 7 years from energy cost savings.

This installation is an important additional step to reaching our climate emission reduction goals and adds another strong component to our sustainability education for all of our students and the Unity community.

See a video explanation of grid-tied solar systems from ReVision online here.

See the specifications on the solar panels we’ll use at Suniva’s website here.

Community Meal and Onion Planting Saturday

The monthly Community Meal to support Veggies for All takes place this Saturday at 5.  Join us at the Community Center on School Street for burgers, beans, fiddle heads , lawn games, and more.

And  help VFA plant onions in the library field at 3pm Saturday. No experience necessary.

Growing Pains: Student Response to Mulkey’s Vision for Sustainability Science

Last month, President Mulkey made a presentation to the faculty introducing the ideas in the white paper he wrote, titled The Imperative of Sustainability and Opportunities for Unity College. His speech, as well as the white paper in greater detail, (both available here: http://www.unity.edu/AboutUnity/PresidentWelcome/PresidentMessages.aspx ) outlined how Unity College’s instructors should go about integrating the concept he refers to as sustainability science into the way courses are taught. The goal of integrating sustainability science into all of the courses is to equip students with what Mulkey calls the “right tools” for facing a changing climate and an economy which has to step up to the task of addressing those changes.

“The thing that matters most for Unity College is that climate change will be the single-most important determinant of our environmental practice and programming,” Mulkey told faculty after beginning to delve into some of the hard facts behind climate science, which he feels will affect every field offered at this college. “It will amplify everything that we do…especially,” he emphasized, “in conservation and natural resources.”

In the white paper, Mulkey, whose previous experience as a research-gathering climate scientist predisposes him to trusting peer-reviewed literature, supports the need for sustainability science with information about climate change and the need to address it. One of the more practical applications of this that I saw was his mention of the zone maps that tell growers where their plants will survive based on the temperatures the plants can tolerate. These zone maps may normally only play a small role in horticulture, but the changes in the location of the zones in the past ten years has much larger implications, such as those that Mulkey warns about. As a sustainable agriculture major, I couldn’t help but notice when the recently revised map was released, and couldn’t help but wonder, How many times will this map have to be re-released to reflect the changing climate across the country before the world will realize what the changes mean?

Mulkey’s plan caused me to realize that Unity College students should already be, and if not, should start, asking in-depth questions about these maps. Almost all students here have chosen to dedicate their lives to managing living organisms whose range is very likely dependent on those USDA-developed zones. To “give our students the tools to deal” with climate change, Mulkey believes we need an “increasingly sophisticated curriculum.” This curriculum, in his vision, will be based around the framework of sustainability science.

The idea of sustainability science as an interdisciplinary tool –rather than a course or degree track –is one that is rapidly being developed by graduate institutions across the country, Mulkey tells us. At Arizona State University, one of the country’s largest universities, a whole school has been devoted to sustainability. There, students can attend a School of Sustainability just as easily as they could attend a School of Technology and Innovation or School of Journalism and Mass Communication. It’s hard to deny that sustainability is an up and coming issue in the world and in education –one that is increasingly in demand, and for good reason. Mulkey assures us that the numbers of green jobs will burgeon as the world realizes a need for sustainable practices.

Continue reading

New Local Foods on Campus

This semester, Unity College’s Dining Services are putting some new local foods on their students’ plates. Heiwa Tofu and Northern Girl, LLC have now come to be a part of the local food family offered in the Unity College cafeteria.

The tofu comes from nearby Lincolnville, Maine, where a family of four presses their own tofu from soy grown in Pittston and Skowhegan, Maine. The protein-packed food is featured in most vegan dishes served in the cafeteria, said Lorey Duprey, Manager of the Wyman Dining Commons. In addition to being local, Duprey commented on the tofu’s superior quality, being “more firm and easier to work with” than tofu they have worked with in the past.

Located in Aroostook county of Maine, Northern Girl, LNothern Girl, LLCLC, is run by a second generation of farmers that have taken on their family farm to create a distributor for cold-weather-hardy vegetables. Starting with potatoes, they expanded to include carrots, beets, cold-resistant broccoli, and more. These vegetables, distributed by the Crown of Maine Organic Cooperative, expand the number of local vegetable options available to us in the winter, says Duprey. At Wyman Dining Commons, these vegetables are often featured as the ‘Veggie of the Day’ on Thursdays of each week. This week, they’ve got an order of beets coming in. Their potatoes make it into the skillet most days at breakfast, too.

Students have been eating these great foods in the cafeteria all semester!  “We are always looking for new ways to incorporate local foods” into the dining commons’ repertoire, Duprey reminded me. Check out last year’s  local foods map, for more on foods from the region.

Recycling at Unity College

Big thanks to Connor W. for putting together our first Sustainability 101 video.

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