Monday, January 21st, 2019

USM Takes Initiative to Eliminate Carbon Footprint by 2040

Posted on January 22, 2017 in Arts & Culture
By USM Free Press

By Deliah Schreiber, Free Press contributor

Organizations of all types are taking the initiative to reduce or completely remove their carbon footprint as evidence of global warming crops up. Back in 2007, USM’s Department of Sustainability, which is responsible for minimizing environmental impact, made it a goal for USM to become a carbon-neutral campus by 2040.

This decision stems from when the nonprofit organization Second Nature challenged the department to help with their mission statement, which is “to build a positive global future through leadership networks in higher education.” Yet, what does it mean to be carbon neutral? Furthermore, in what ways will this decision impact the broader USM community?

Becoming carbon neutral is the process of reducing carbon emissions or offsetting the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere via greener alternatives and proactive activities, such as building windmills, installing solar panels and planting trees. Assistant Director of Sustainability Aaron Witham provided some insight into how this initiative is progressing.

Despite describing it as being an ambitious goal, Witham is confident that becoming carbon neutral by 2040 is well within the reach of the university. Witham has not only developed a soon-to-be released official plan, but that devising the plan has been a long, detailed, community-involved process.

“We’ve met with over 12 different campus groups and departments and over 50 people have given their direct input into this,” he explained. “Overall there are 150 different initiatives that we’re currently planning to carry out to support [our] goals.”

In fact, USM is indeed well on its way to achieving this goal. According to, since committing to the initiative in 2007, the university’s overall carbon emission rate has gone down 8.51 percent. As time goes on, the university’s carbon emission rate will continue to decrease as more action is taken. Different initiatives to continue progressing toward this goal include adding insulation in buildings to reduce energy expenditure for heating, as well as investing in more efficient mechanical equipment and lighting systems.

Waste diversion is a particularly strong point for USM. The university’s Surplus Store, located in the basement of Sullivan Gym, takes commonly thrown out university property, such as office furniture, school supplies, shelves and chairs, and offers them for free to faculty and staff here at USM. What would normally be thrown in a landfill can be reused, which can in turn reduce carbon emissions.

The university’s mission to become carbon neutral by the year 2040 will potentially help contribute to promoting a healthy environment. In spite of President-elect Donald Trump’s denial of climate change, the recent decision by Mayor Ethan Strimling for Portland to begin using 100-percent clean and renewable energy by the year 2040 will help USM achieve its goal.

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