University of Vermont

Students on the Lawn

9/16 Energy Action Seminar Blog

by Lisa Watts Natkin, Curriculum & Community Connections Graduate Assistant










UVM’s Office of Sustainability Director, Gioia Thompson and Green Mountain College’s Sustainability Coordinator, Aaron Witham presented at the Energy Action Seminar’s second session entitled, Energy Planning Starts at Home: Spotlight on the Role of Universities on September 16th, 2013. 

Gioia gave an overview of Energy Action happening at UVM, within its’ energy context situated in Burlington, VT.  UVM signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment in 2007 and has committed to reaching carbon-neutrality for electricity in 2015, for thermal in 2020 and for all major activities by 2025.  These goals cannot be reached by switching to all renewable sources of energy. Part of the solution will be market-based.

Aaron Witham shared Green Mountain College’s story of reaching climate neutrality.  Green Mountain College (GMC) is a small liberal art college in rural Vermont with 650 undergraduates and 200 graduates.  In 1995, an Environmental Liberal Arts Core Curriculum was established.  A student initiative resulted in GMC making the environment as the unifying theme of its mission statement.  GMC’s culture began to change when students asked why the college wasn’t walking their talk. In 2007 President Brennan became the first in Vermont to sign the Presidents Climate Commitment.  GMC retrofitted many of its existing buildings to make them more energy efficient. 

Aaron explained that it is best to avoid carbon-producing activities, then reduce what you are doing by doing it more efficiently, replace carbon producing energy sources with more efficient ones and lastly offset emissions, which cannot be eliminated, replaced or retrofitted.  Students were involved in the challenge of figuring out how to address heating oil.  A policy class recommended biomass.   GMC opened their biomass plant on April 22, 2010.

GMC achieved neutrality in 2011; they were the second college in the nation to do so.  College of the Atlantic was the first.  They significantly reduced their emissions before buying offsets.  GMC has a goal of 100% renewable energy on campus by 2020.  They had trouble with defining boundaries and measuring scope three emissions. 

Aaron’s presentation offered many wonderful examples for how UVM can approach our challenge of climate neutrality by 2025.  Gioia reminded the audience of how important context is to finding the right solution for UVM, given its energy challenges within the city of Burlington.