UMaine Receives National Climate Leadership Award

ORONO — The University of Maine has received a prestigious national environmental leadership award for its achievement in promoting, researching and teaching green energy and sustainability as part of a 670-institution consortium devoted to reducing carbon emissions and aggressively promoting energy efficiency.

Out of the 670 colleges and universities, UMaine was selected as one of just three winners of the Second Nature Climate Leadership Award in the doctorate degree-granting university category. Award recipients in five institutional categories were honored June 23 at the 5th Annual American College & University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC) Summit at George Washington University.

The award recognizes the university’s work, progress and commitment to creating a low-carbon future with UMaine constituents and the public. In the award nomination form, Misa Saros, UMaine sustainability adviser, noted the campus-wide commitment among faculty, staff, administrators and students to the mission of the university’s Sustainability Alliance. The alliance has been responsible for the UMaine climate action plan and the sustainability-focused campus master plan.

“This award means a lot to the university,” says Elaine Clark, UMaine executive director of facilities, real estate and planning. “It really means a lot to know that our efforts have paid off and have been recognized.”

The University of Maine stood out not only because of its sustainability initiatives, she adds, “but what set us head and shoulders above the others was renewable energy research and academic courses directed to environmental stewardship. We’re going to have majors and minors in renewable energy.”

Three of those minors are open to student enrollment this fall.

Vice President for Administration and Finance Janet Waldron, who has initiated many of the energy-reducing strategies recommended by UMaine’s Energy Team, credits efforts by UMaine employees and students for much of the progress, which has resulted in reducing energy expenses through cost-cutting sustainability decisions. Since 2005, the university has reduced its carbon footprint by more than 16 percent by modifying physical operations and energy infrastructure. Plans are to reduce the footprint to zero by 2040.

Recipients of the Climate Leadership Awards for Excellence at Signatory Institutions of the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment “provide wonderful stories and examples of how higher education is shifting behaviors on campus and within communities to make a low-carbon economy possible,” according to Second Nature, which organizes ACUPCC functions. “We want to share with the entire ACUPCC network and general public the best of the best examples of how ACUPCC signatories are moving society to a sustainable future.”

Cited examples illustrating the university’s leadership include the creation of several new graduate programs that provide opportunities for UMaine students to become environmental leaders; an infusion of $50 million from external sources to create solutions to Maine’s environmental problems through the Maine Sustainability Solutions Initiative; and work by UMaine Climate Change Institute scientists to foster a better understanding of climate change. In addition, Second Nature noted the university’s development of new technologies — offshore wind energy research at the AEWC Advanced Structures and Composites Center, forest biofuel developments through UMaine’s Forest Bioproducts Research Institute, among them — that will catalyze changes in the state’s renewable energy industry.

“UMaine’s innovative academic programs in renewable energy and the environment, coupled with state-of-the-art research initiatives in climate change, land use impacts, offshore wind and forest bioproducts, give our students the opportunity for hands-on learning in issues confronting modern society,” UMaine Vice President for Academic Affairs and Provost Susan Hunter says. “We are confident that these programs, along with our student innovation center, will create a dynamic community of learners focused on renewable energy, sustainability and innovation.”

Outgoing UMaine President Robert Kennedy in 2007 became one of the founding signatories of the ACUPCC, pledging to conduct an annual inventory of all greenhouse gas emissions; implement immediate “tangible actions” to reduce greenhouse gas emissions; develop a customized Climate Action Plan to reach climate neutrality in operations; make sustainability a part of the educational experience for students; and to make periodic progress reports publicly available to facilitate and accelerate progress for fellow institutions and society.

Contact: George Manlove, (207) 581-3756