College of the Atlantic
College of the Atlantic has been ranked number one as the greenest college in America (Image via Mount Desert Islander)

Go Green or Go Home

The College of the Atlantic is setting a nationwide example for how forward-thinking universities should approach environmental sustainability.
January 1, 2018
6 mins read

For the second year in a row, the College of the Atlantic in Bar Harbor, Maine, was ranked as the Princeton Review’s “greenest college,” thanks to its hardline commitment to the environment. The college claims to be the first of its kind, focusing heavily on the interaction between humans and the environment and diffusing that focus throughout the entire university.

Environmental consciousness, in fact, is written into the school’s policies. The College of the Atlantic community works to implement sustainable practices through its student government, instead of the traditional, separate student-government model.

As climate change looms as arguably the most pressing national security issue facing both the United States and the world, the College of the Atlantic presents two interesting strategies that might aid in the fight against Earth’s disintegration.

First, all of the school’s policies take into account their potential environmental damage, making it Princeton Review’s number one greenest college in the nation, which is a huge accomplishment. Second, the faculty, staff and students work together to govern the school, which in and of itself attests to the collective action that is required to defend the world from human-caused climate change.

Policies for Good

Achieving the top rank of Princeton Review’s “Top 50 Green Colleges” is no small feat; to this end, the College of the Atlantic did not accomplish this task instantaneously. The school began the journey to “greenest college” in 1996, when the governing body passed the Campus Environmental Initiative, which formally devote the college to the environment. In essence, any decision, policy or program implemented at the school must allow for environmental responsibility.

The environment is, in fact, a priority to the College of the Atlantic, thanks to its legislation that is now over twenty years old. The Bar Harbor school’s extremely small population aids in its ability to pass such legislation. With only three hundred and thirty-seven students, implementing such a policy is evidently not a stretch. In other words, a school with tens of thousands of students would have an arduous time passing such a bill. Nevertheless, environmental consciousness is imperative for schools to consider, which the College of the Atlantic does and continues to build upon, as its transition to sustainability did not end in 1996.

The university has passed multiple measures to ensure it maintains an edge on environmental issues. Perhaps the most accessible for other schools is that containerized water is no longer sold, purchased, received as gifts or distributed by the college. Though a college with less than four hundred students, this policy puts immense pressure on fellow schools to espouse similar initiatives.

Completely abandoning disposable water bottles, as well as any other form of containerized water (think boxed), is a huge step forward for the planet. If other colleges and universities took similar steps, the results would be monumental. Imagine even a ban solely on plastic water bottles at schools across the nation. Policies like the College of the Atlantic’s Containerized Water Policy, or even variations of this policy that only include plastic bottles, are feasible for any school to adopt in order to achieve a “greener” campus—a goal that should be in every school’s future, no matter the size of the student population.

Governing as One

The College of the Atlantic’s website boasts an inclusive government: “Our students, faculty and staff work together to govern the college.” Below this text, the website presents each policy it has enacted, all of which involve the environment. Again, the distinctly small number of students at the school likely makes this form of government viable; however, the general idea of students, faculty and staff collectively overseeing legislation that coincides with each of their values holds weight.

Perhaps a cohesive governing body that represents each faction of a college community is the key to encouraging more sustainable policies across the nation. Perhaps, though this might be far-fetched, a government that values each group within its jurisdiction is the first step in enabling a comprehensive strategy to fight climate change.

The College of the Atlantic’s government resembles a desirable combination of voices that encompass an entire community. Instead of a separate student-run government and then an administrative board run by faculty, one body presides over the whole school. And although the school has been a historically “green” school since its founding in 1969, the intimate nature of governance at the school allows for issues like environmental cognizance to remain a priority.

Assembling groups similar to the college’s government would allow universities to address concerns that might slip through the cracks during a run-of-the-mill board of trustees meeting. The College of the Atlantic does not provide a perfect template for every university and college in the United States to adopt. Its green policies and varied government, however, set a high standard, and schools across the nation should aspire to reach its level of environmental excellence in order to participate in the fight against human-made climate change.

Leslie Currie, University of Virginia

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Leslie Currie

University of Virginia
Foreign Affairs

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