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Environmental Protection & Preservation

College of the Atlantic Becomes First Carbon-Neutral Campus

College of the Atlantic announced today that it has fulfilled its NetZero pledge, becoming the first college or university to achieve carbon neutrality.

On Oct. 8, 2006, at the inauguration of President David Hales, COA pledged to be Carbon NetZero by December 2007. Since then, COA students, staff and faculty have calculated the college's greenhouse gas emissions and researched ways to reduce, avoid and offset these emissions. As of Dec. 19, 2007, COA has offset the entirety of its carbon output over the past 15 months-2,488 tons-by investing in a greenhouse gas reduction project operated by The Climate Trust of Oregon.

The college also reduced its projected annual greenhouse gas emissions by obtaining all of its electricity through a low-impact hydroelectric generator in Maine. Next year's emissions offset will thus be reduced by 22 percent, or about 450 tons.

Dr. Rajendra Pachauri, chair of the Nobel-prize winning Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, praised COA's initiative: "College of the Atlantic's NetZero carbon emissions plan is scientifically sound, simple to understand and straightforward to implement. It just requires a commitment to a sustainable future, and I am very proud of the trustees and the college for their leadership in setting such a strong example. Perhaps the most important aspect of this achievement is that it can be matched by any other institution in the world."

To further reduce its carbon emissions, COA has conducted a comprehensive energy audit and begun extensive work to improve energy efficiency in all buildings. Incandescent lightbulbs have been replaced with compact fluorescents where possible. Alternative commuting methods, such as carpooling and biking, have been promoted, as have flexible work plans so employees can work from home.

"Everyone of us is part of the global warming problem; everyone of us can choose to be part of the solution," said Hales. "At College of the Atlantic, we have chosen to be part of the solution."

To determine how the college could best counteract the emissions that it can't avoid, students and staff have spent the past year intensively studying the carbon-offset market. The Climate Trust project chosen by the college will optimize traffic signals and manage traffic flow in Portland, OR, thereby reducing the amount of time cars spend idling at traffic lights in that city. The entire project is expected to reduce carbon dioxide emissions by more than 189,000 tons over five years-the equivalent to taking more than 34,000 cars off the road for a year. Even better, it can serve as a model for emissions reductions in other cities.

The urgency of these actions cannot be underestimated. Upon his return from serving as a member of the youth delegation to the United Nations Conference on Climate Change, COA sophomore Matthew Maiorana called climate change "the challenge of our generation," adding, "After the conference, I realize that COA is a world leader in addressing the climate crisis. While the United Nations and the United States are taking small steps toward creating a just climate future, COA is taking giant leaps."

Beyond its efforts on campus, COA has been working nationally and locally to help other institutions further carbon reductions. It is a founding member of the American College & University Presidents Climate Commitment and a member of the Maine Governor's Carbon Challenge based in the Maine Department of Environmental Protection. Noted Maine Gov. John Baldacci, "College of the Atlantic is demonstrating unprecedented success in meeting the goals of carbon reduction and the State of Maine is pleased with its partnership with the college."

Added Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, "The college's dedication toward ensuring that every aspect of its operation leaves the most minimal footprint on the environment possible is impressive. It is my hope that other institutions across the nation will follow the College of the Atlantic's lead in being good stewards of our environment."

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