Bates has earned its second Gold rating for sustainability.

It was the famous catchphrase of the late New York City mayor Ed Koch: “How am I doing?” Bates recently asked the question about its sustainability efforts, and the answer is gold. 

A Gold sustainability rating, that is, which Bates earned from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education, an international benchmarking organization that measures and encourages sustainability in all aspects of higher education.

The college’s Gold rating is based on an institution-wide self-assessment submitted in June 2020 to AASHE’s Sustainability Tracking, Assessment & Rating System. Bates first participated in STAR in 2017, earning its initial Gold rating that year.

The Gold was propelled by an exceptionally strong performance in two sustainability “impact areas”: Energy, in which Bates earned the top rating among the 79 U.S. undergraduate institutions participating in the benchmarking program, and Air & Climate, in which Bates was fourth.

Overall, Bates is one of 10 “Top Performers” among U.S. undergraduate colleges.

George Fiske '19, Brent Feldman '17, and Katharine Gaillard '19 are shown up close and personal with a Canadian Solar PV module. (Tom Twist/Bates College)
In October 2016, George Fiske ’19, Brent Feldman ’17, and Katharine Gaillard ’19 install solar panels on the roof of the Bates Coastal Center, also known as Shortridge, in Phippsburg. (Tom Twist/Bates College)

“Because of the hard work of our entire community, Bates has enjoyed a rather meteoric rise to the top of the sustainability field,” said Sustainability Manager Tom Twist. 

In her letter accompanying the college’s STARS submission, President Clayton Spencer said, “Sustainability is a natural priority of our campus culture, and plays an important role here at Bates. We see civic engagement and environmental stewardship as integral and intertwined components for creating and sustaining a just world.”

She added, “Bates will continue to lead by example and offer students working models of new ways to interact with their world. We will continue to work on creating a campus that is a living laboratory of sustainable solutions — examples that are not just theoretical, but solutions that can be touched, observed, molded, and transferred out into the world — and preparing students to shape the future.”

Josie Gillett '19 of Seattle, Wash., and Katharine Gaillard '19 of Boston have created the all new Bates Garden (“the PLOT”) this summer They're cultivating 0.2 acres between Russell and Ware streets, where they are growing tomatoes, cucumbers and summer squash for Commons. They also have kale, onions, basil, berries and apple trees."Our dreams are big for the PLOT, with hopes that someday soon classes will integrate this space with coursework and our community's life could be more involved in growing and creating food," they wrote to faculty and staff in a summer email inviting members of the community on a guided tour.

Here they harvest tomatoes, summer squash, and blossoms for a Commons delivery later in the morning.
Executive Chef Owen Keene of Bates Dining Services looks over a delivery of vegetables from the campus organic garden, the Plot, on July 24, 2018. The student-run garden instills lessons about the value of local, organic, no-till food while creating a space to try out more environmentally benign food-production methods. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

As sustainability manager, Twist works with the college’s standing Committee on Environmental Responsibility. Chaired by Associate Professor of Physics Travis Gould, CER pulls in members and partners from all over campus, including student EcoReps, who support and often take the lead in driving initiatives on clean energy, sustainable food sources, and reducing waste on campus.

A recent example of EcoRep work is the expansion of the college’s support for electric-vehicle use. Students first conducted a college-wide survey that found burgeoning support for EVs. Then they secured competitive grants to fund additional EV chargers.

Ecorep Tamsin Stringer ’22 of Bloomington, Ind., poses at the new electric charger stations behind Underhill in the Merrill Gym parking lot.“Underhill Electric Vehicle Chargers Project “Bates has installed other EV chargers in the past. This project will be different for three primary reasons. First, we have already received a grant from CMP for the make-ready infrastructure portion of the project, which has historically been the bulk of the expenses for EV charger installations. Secondly, this project will include installing level 2 chargers for the first time at Bates, which will allow for monetary collections for charging, tiered charging for different kinds of customers, and incentivize to move one’s car once it's fully charged. Finally, this project allows for future EV charger installations in the same location for much lower cost, because the make-ready infrastructure for more EV chargers will be easily accessible.
EcoRep Tamsin Stringer ’22 of Bloomington, Ind., poses at the new electric vehicle charging stations behind Underhill Arena. Stringer and fellow EcoReps did extensive work, including a campus survey, that led to grant funding for the new EV stations. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)

Broadly speaking, Bates has worked on three sustainability fronts: reducing energy consumption through efficiency measures; strengthening the culture of recycling and sustainability on campus; and switching to renewable energy sources. In 2019, those efforts culminated in Bates achieving climate neutrality a year ahead of its goal.

Some sustainability efforts are the chip-away variety. For example, Bates contracts with a Maine-based cleaning company for environmentally friendly cleaning products. The college diverts liquids from its waste stream, reducing the weight and thus the cost of tipping fees at the local landfill. Bates has also instituted a campus-wide composting option for all organic waste.

The college has installed building sensors and controls in all major buildings, allowing for campus wide HVAC control while providing data on energy use from each building. And, LED lighting is now the norm throughout campus.

Four Bates EcoReps -- Isa Moise '19 of Mount Vernon, N.Y., Beanie O'Shea '18 of Somers, Conn., Hannah Slattery '18 of Gilford, N.H., and George Fiske '19 of West Hartford, Conn. -- show off one of the college's new waste-sorting stations, in Pettengill Hall. (Josh Kuckens/Bates College)
In March 2017, student EcoReps (from left) Isa Moise ’19 of Mount Vernon, N.Y., Beanie O’Shea ’18 of Somers, Conn., Hannah Slattery ’18 of Gilford, N.H., and George Fiske ’19 of West Hartford, Conn., show off one of the college’s new waste-sorting stations, in Pettengill Hall. (Josh Kuckens/Bates College)

Others represent ongoing stewardship. Since 2006, Bates has pursued green building practices, specifically that construction and renovation projects should achieve, at minimum, equivalency to Silver certification under the green-building certification program known as LEED. The construction of Bonney Science Center, opened this past summer, followed those guidelines.

And others are innovative. Since the last Gold rating in 2017, Bates has created a Green Innovations Grants Program that empowers students, staff, and faculty to develop sustainability projects.

Still other projects underscore the importance of institutional flexibility. Modified in recent years, the college’s three-boiler steam plant, which provides heating for 80 percent of the college’s buildings, is capable of using three different fuel sources: natural gas; a renewable heating oil substitute made from waste wood products; and a second renewable fuel, LR100, a recycled vegetable oil

“We’re getting a delivery of LR100 this week,” Twist said, during a recent walking tour of the green hallmarks of the Bates campus. Recycled vegetable oil technology has come a long way since Twist used to pick up containers of former fry-o-later vegetable oil to help fuel Chewonki, the coastal educational center where he worked before coming to Bates. No french-fry smell with this stuff, he says. 

The campus steam plant's Boiler No. 3 will soon be equipped to burn a waste vegetable oil product called LR-100. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)
The campus steam plant’s Boiler No. 3 is equipped to burn a waste vegetable oil product called LR-100. (Doug Hubley/Bates College)

As the college’s vice president for finance and administration and treasurer, Geoff Swift oversees many of the efforts and projects, large and small, that helped move the sustainability needle.

“We’re very conscious of and grateful for the initiatives that are happening in every corner of the campus that keep pushing us forward,” he says. “Whether it’s keeping food waste in Commons to a remarkable minimum — our food scraps go to a local pig farm — or students who take action when they see paper towels that could be replaced with electric hand dryers or the opportunity to expand our EV stations.” 

Sustainability accolades like Gold rating from AASHE “are a big deal,” he says. “But we know we’re not done. The technology that helped us get so green is always changing and improving, so we expect to continue to evolve with it.”

“We’re at the Bates Garden and we’re doing something different this year, which is just cultivating a third of the garden with butternut squash and cherry tomatoes. The rest we’re just leaving to cover crop so we’ve planted oats and peas, and that will keep the weeds down amd also put a lot of organic material back into the soil.What we’ve also done differently is we’ve let a lot of stuff become wildflowers, and it’s really neat. It’s the most insect life I think I’ve ever seen in the garden. So we’re thinking about doing that going forward.The butternut squash we’re growing because it basically takes care of itself. Aaprt from Hermione, whose been volunteering every weekin the garden, we don’t have any paid student gardeners this year.This year we’ll probably send the cherry tomatoes to dining. A lot of the squash we’re going to send to St. Mary’s Food Bank.”Tom Twist, Sustainability ManagerFacility Servicesν “It’s just cool spending time with Tom and gardening. Quarantining can be kind of isolating so it’s nice to be out here and do some physical work, something that’s physical in the garden. And it’s nice to see them grow that fast. And we’ve got berries down there as well: strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries. And apple trees.”Environmental studies major Hermione Zhou '21 of Shenzhen, ChinaTom says: “The blackberries are wild. Everything else we put in.” And they’ll be picking them too!
Environmental studies major Hermione Zhou ’21 of Shenzhen, China, and Sustainability Manager Tom Twist tend to the Plot, the Bates organic garden, in summer 2020. (Phyllis Graber Jensen/Bates College)