Green Education: Environmental Initiatives at Middlebury College

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The ecological ethic that appears to be a trademark for Vermont has found its way into the ivory towers of Middlebury College, a liberal arts college in Middlebury that’s making significant strides toward greening the campus.

Nan Jenks-Jay, director of environmental affairs at the college, attributes the outpouring of interdisciplinary environmental initiatives, such as leasing electric vehicles for fleet use and scaling down on the quantity of chemicals used in science labs, to a combination of factors. “Maybe more than anything,” she suggests, “it is long-term commitment in addition to support from the college administration.”

Long-term commitment will be necessary to ensure that the next ten years of new construction on campus, which will include several dormitories, dining halls, a library, and other facilities, adhere to the principles and specifications developed by the Project Review Committee. This committee sets standards so that each building embodies the institution’s philosophy of environmental excellence.

A visitor need look no further than the tallest structure on campus to find evidence of those principles in action. Certified sustainably harvested wood panels the new science center, Bicentennial Hall. The purchase of this wood, which cost 2 to 3 percent more than standard timber, helped jumpstart a local business. Middlebury College was the first customer of Vermont Family Forests, a group of small woodlot owners who banded together for Smart Wood ­certification. The next building slated to rise, a residence hall, will also contain certified wood. In addition, the college just put hundreds of acres of its own forest under green certification.

A set of college and national specifications for green building guides the college’s consultants. Like Bicentennial Hall, which features triple-glazed windows, recycled building materials, and efficient lighting, all new buildings are required to meet the specifications while staying on budget.

“On one hand, we can be viewed as a large business breaking ground on new ideas so others can follow and capture the same kind of benefits that we are,” says Jenks-Jay. On the other hand, the college is clearly an institution with an educational mission that goes beyond profit motives. Each endeavor is viewed as an opportunity for learning. For example, while the in-house composting operation saves money normally spent on landfill fees, students run a greenhouse in which organic greens fertilized with the compost are grown and served in the dining halls. Another greenhouse currently under construction will stay warm in the wintertime using heat ­generated during the composting process.

“These programs should help our students become global citizens and should minimize our impact on the region and world resources,” remarks Jenks-Jay, who is working with educators at other institutions to initiate and improve similar programs. “It is something that we teach and something that we should demonstrate as organizations with huge budgets and hundreds or thousands of students whom we graduate each year.”

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