Friday, November 24th, 2017

Living Smaller: Sustainability at USM

Posted on October 23, 2017 in Arts & Culture
By USM Free Press

Sam Margolin

In her book, Homegrown and Handmade: A Practical Guide to More Self-Reliant Living, Deborah Neimann writes, “Homesteading is a lifestyle of self-sufficiency. It is not defined by where someone lives, such as the city or the country, but by the lifestyle choices they make.” Adding to that, sustainable living is the lifestyle of anyone who is willing to make the choices in their life to better the health or wellbeing of themselves, the people around them, and the Earth by using non-destructive practices. This makes sustainable living a practical choice for anyone who wants to better themselves or their community, not just those in rural areas with access to land. Even as students and professors, people can make a difference and show the world a cleaner, better way to live.

 

USM’s Office of Sustainability works across all campuses, departments and disciplines to reduce environmental impact. Using strategies such as alternative transportation, recycling and waste reduction and sustainable landscapes. The program began with separate efforts to divert waste and conserve energy. Former staff Tyler Kidder and Dudley Greeley, as well as current staff Steve Sweeney and Brett Hallett, played key roles in creation and advancement of the program. Aaron Witham, Assistant Director for Sustainable Programs at USM, is the current sustainability coordinator overseeing the office. Witham believes that setting realistic goals will provide a solid foundation for the future of the Office of Sustainability at USM.  

 

According to Witham there are three pillars that will aid in reaching the goal of carbon neutrality by the year 2040. The first pillar is energy which includes  goals such as reducing heat and electricity emissions by 35% by 2025. The second pillar is material resources which includes goals such as reducing waste creation by 25% by 2025.

 

“The third pillar is education and outreach” Witham said it, “includes goals to build community, increase sustainability literacy, and engage students, staff and faculty in meaningful hands-on experiences that lead to increased retention, enrollment, and giving.”

 

Witham, along with students and local organizations, hopes to create an environment in which people are more aware of the impact their choices have on the world. The Eco-rep program helps student leaders engage and lead their peers in sustainable practices. Witham said, “Our Eco-reps are engaged in about a dozen projects spanning growing sustainable food on campus to implementing a carpooling program to carrying-out waste diversion outreach in athletics…even the really big ones like our forthcoming effort to do some major efficiency upgrades across campus.”

 

Tess Melton, a class of 2019 environmental science major and sustainability minor, said, “As an eco-rep, I am working with Steve Sweeney and Aaron Witham to develop ways to increase sustainability on the USM campuses.”

 

Melton said that composting bins were once used in the cafeteria, but now are restricted to the kitchens. People were putting trash into the compost bins, resulting in the decision to remove them.  

 

“I will be focusing on increasing recycling and getting composting back into the cafeteria,” said Melton.

 

Other students in the Eco-rep program see the importance of getting involved. Students must keep pushing the boundaries of what can be fixed or streamlined. The search for those problems is the beginning of the solution. Dalton Bouchles, a class of 2020 economics major, describes the different environments that sustainable practices can help and influence.

 

Bouchles emphasizes that the human race must be responsible for the protection and education of the next generation.

 

“Sustainable living is important to learn about,” said Bouchles, “because we, as humans, need to think about what future generations are going to be living like and what environmental problems they will have to deal with. At the university level, sustainable living is important because we need to keep learning, and we can only do that if we have a healthy environment to live with. And with Maine, if we are not living sustainably, then Maine will suffer losses of flora and fauna on a very large scale due to rises in temperature and harmful chemicals in the soil and air.”

 

Some of the efforts to solve the problems of the future are already happening at USM. One of the classes offered is Environmental Economics, which blends environmentally friendly practices with economic development and renewable energy. Bouchles, who is enrolled in the class this semester, said, “My final project for the Renewable Energy class is going to be developing a vehicle that is powered by wind. I will also work with a business in order to develop this idea.”

 

The involvement of local businesses and organizations is crucial to a successful sustainability education program. Without real-world experience, students would struggle with application of their new skills. USM partners with local businesses and organizations to help create a pathway to jobs and community connections. For example, programs like GoMaine, a statewide commuter service which was started in the early 2000s, funded the Maine Turnpike Authority and the Maine Department of Transportation.

 

The program’s director, Rebecca J. Grover, offers incentives and commuter options that are beneficial to students and professors alike.

 

“We offer ride matching for car and vanpools,” said Grover, “and we offer information about other green commute options such as biking, walking and transit. We also reward commuters for taking any sort of green commute.”

 

Currently there are 28 people who have listed USM as their employer in GoMaine’s database. The hard truth is that most people in rural Maine do not have the option for green transport like biking, walking, or busing. Instead, we can reduce our destructive footprint if we try to embrace ride-sharing opportunities like GoMaine.

 

Grover ended by saying, “Biking, walking and transit only work for the most part if you live in or around the urban cores. Carpooling cuts transportation costs in half (more than that if you carpool with more than 1 person). It reduces wear and tear on the roads and it reduces your carbon footprint.”

 

The future seems bright for education and practice of sustainability in Maine. The tools are there to create a brighter and better future for tomorrow and the generations that will follow. Witham is confident that the future is bright at USM. Witham highlights the necessity of these efforts and the impact they can have on our state:

 

“Our hope is that the efforts we are making on campus can serve as inspiration for the rest of Maine to follow suit. Progress has already been made in cities like Portland, South Portland, Waterville and Bangor, as well as smaller towns across Maine,” said Witham.

 

Witham believes that Maine’s future will include a combination of wind power, solar power, cold climate heat pumps for energy and applications of permaculture for growing sustainable food. These tools and many more are available to any person who desires them. Witham acknowledges what sustainable living really means: living smaller.

 

“At some point,” said Witham, “I believe we will all be living smaller, simpler lives, where we appreciate the little things more and rely more on our local community to meet our needs.”