Mark Pires, coordinator of the University of Maine at Farmington’s Sustainable Campus Coalition, highlights the coalition’s accomplishments during an anniversary celebration. Fall 2021 marks 20 years of the UMF SCC. Photo courtesy of the University of Maine at Farmington

FARMINGTON — University of Maine at Farmington’s Sustainable Campus Coalition (SCC) celebrated its 20th anniversary in October.

The SCC was established in 2001 as an initiative to “promote environmental sustainability on campus and in the regional community.”

The initiative began with implementing “green design” in the construction of the UMF Theodora J. Kalikow Education Center, completed in 2006. The SCC’s efforts resulted in the use of geothermal energy for heating and cooling, as well as sustainable materials in the construction of the center. Consequently, the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design, a green certification program, awarded the center a “silver” rating.

SCC Coordinator Mark Pires and former coordinator Luke Kellett, a UMF assistant professor of anthropology spoke with the Franklin Journal to reflect on all that the SCC has accomplished throughout the years.

“I’ve always been very impressed by what this small, rural, public institution has been able to do with its commitment to sustainability over the years,” Pires said.

Those accomplishments and initiatives include:

• Efforts to convert other energy sources on campus to sustainable sources.

• Establishing the Farmington Compost Cooperative with the town of Farmington and the Department of Environmental Protection to compost food from the UMF campus and the community. This cooperative has removed food waste from the “waste stream” and creates “some pretty darn good compost” that is then used on campus and in the community, Pires said.

• Further eliminating food waste by “saving excess food for the homeless community and shelters,” Kellett said.

• The completion of the campus’s biomass heating plant, which “puts UMF on track to be the state’s first public college to rely almost entirely on a sustainable energy resource for heat,” Kellett said. At the time of full operation, “95% of the campus will be heated by renewable biomass.”

• The creation of the UMF Community Garden & Greenhouse, a “small-scale, sustainable organic garden” that also addresses food insecurity and contributes to local food pantries.

Pires said that the SCC and its subsequent projects, initiatives are special because it impacts and includes the town of Farmington, not just UMF.

“What we do here is not just a bubble happening on campus but extends beyond to the cooperation and collaboration of lots of the local community here in Farmington,” Pires said. “There’s that collaborative aspect to problem solving.”

People and institutions in the community include local churches, municipal government officials, members of the business community, organizations such as the United Way of the Tri-Valley Area, etc.

Kellett added that the initiatives, contributions to “leave the world hopefully in a better place than we find it” are accomplished through “direct action.”

“We’re doing something valuable, empowering,” Kellett said. “For an otherwise sort of depressing topic when we think about climate change and sustainability, it’s the action part that keeps us going.”

Though UMF staff are involved with the coalition, both Pires and Kellett said that the driving force behind the coalition is really the students.

“Students bring in an enormous amount of interest and passion to the work of the Sustainable Campus Coalition,” Pires said.

“The students have pushed the majority of the major successes that we see,” Kellett said. “The (SCC’s) energy and the ideas, the majority have come from students. Even the day-to-day operations, they are being supported by students.”

“In the success of (UMF’s) sustainability over 20 years, I would go first to thank the students,” he added.

As the current coordinator, Pires said it is “rewarding … to help (students) develop the habits of mind about environmental stewardship and learn skills of collaboration.”

Pires said that the SCC’s impact also extends beyond graduation as training for their futures. Students involved with the SCC have gone on to work in the sustainability field and “advance the agenda on (combating) environmental issues” in the public and private sectors.

This is “educating a generation,” said UMF Associate Director for Media Relations April Mulherin.

Ultimately, both Pires and Kellett feel that the SCC’s efforts, both big and small, have had quite the impact on UMF and Farmington. Additionally, there is potential for the SCC’s impacts to extend beyond the town and Franklin County.

“Given the nature of Farmington and Franklin County — and our agricultural roots and experiences here — I see what we do here and the successes that we’ve achieved with that as a really great example, a model to share with other communities,” Pires said.

Sustainability efforts are “just what a public institution of higher education should be doing,” Pires said. “This has got a lot of potential as a very powerful learning tool for people that live here in Maine.”

Pires added that he’s “always thought that for its size, UMF outperforms larger institutions … in terms of its commitment to sustainability.”

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