Bates creates Environmental Task Force

At the request of college President Elaine Tuttle Hansen, students, staff and faculty at Bates College have created an environmental task force.

Chaired by Professor of Physics John Smedley, the 11-member group is charged with creating a five-year plan to bring the college closer to environmental sustainability. In addition, the task force will facilitate campus communications around environmental issues and help educate Bates students, staff and faculty about those issues.

In essence, Smedley says, “we’re trying to infuse a sustainability ethic at all levels of the college” — affecting not only such obvious factors as energy use, recycling and waste management, but considerations like the environmental friendliness of the school’s financial investments.

“A goal is to think as broadly as we can about the environment,” Smedley says, and how Bates — with 109 acres, 85 buildings, 1,750 students and 700 staff and faculty — affects it.

“The most important objective of the task force at this point is to establish clear priorities among the many things that can be done, so that we’re making sound choices and finding the most feasible, coherent ways to be environmentally responsible,” says Terry Beckmann, vice president for finance and administration at Bates.

The task force aims to have its plan ready by the start of the new year. At the same time, it is creating a Web site that will share information about its work and serve as a means of collecting information and ideas from the campus community.

“In the process of developing a five-year plan, we’re going to be looking for feedback from people,” Smedley says.

“Bates has a history of commitment to environmental issues,” says Hansen, “and to sustain this commitment we need to re-examine periodically what we’re doing and make sure that we’re reaching our goals in the most effective and well-coordinated way.”

Bates Dining Services, in particular, is known for sustainability measures that include an innovative, money-saving system of recycling food wastes that has been held up as a model for other Maine institutions.

Launched in 1996, the college’s interdisciplinary Environmental Studies program was the seventh most popular major among the class of 2004. Coupled with Bates’ robust commitment to service-learning, the ES program puts many students right into the community to explore first-hand the environmental issues affecting local residents.

Bates’ Environmental Coalition is an active student organization with members now serving on the task force.

The educational piece of the task force effort is key, Smedley says. For one thing, given the green consciousness of Bates students, the task force is a necessary symbol of the institution’s commitment to sustainability.

In addition, environmental issues constitute “a really important part of a student’s education,” Smedley says. “What do we want students to know when they graduate from Bates? We just can’t ignore an institution’s impact on the environment.”

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