The journey of sustainably harvested wood for Middlebury's campus began with Bicentennial Hall, where 125,000 board feet (b.f.) of green certified wood were used. Seven species of wood common to the northern hardwood forest (red oak, hard maple, soft maple, birch, beech, cherry, and white ash) were used throughout the six-story science facility. Specifications were expanded from the traditional uniform standard in top quality wood to feature a broader standard that highlighted natural characteristics of the wood such as grain patterns, coloring and sound knots.
The college developed a partnership with Vermont Family Forests (VFF), a non-profit organization based in nearby Bristol (VT) that promotes the cultivation of local family forests for economic and social benefits while protecting ecological integrity of the forest community as a whole. Seventy percent of the wood for Bicentennial Hall came from VFF member woodlots within thirty-three miles of campus. The certified wood for Bicentennial Hall was VFF's first project. In addition to following VFF's eco-forestry program, the wood was certified by an independent third-party organization, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC).
The next benchmark was the enrollment of 388 acres of Middlebury College's own forest land at its nearby Bread Loaf campus in VFF's certified eco-forestry program and receiving FSC certification in 2000. According to College Forester Steve Weber, when land is enrolled in Vermont Family Forests' certification a commitment is made to create a comprehensive forest management plan, a natural community map, a stable access network, and marked property boundaries. A forest management plan for additional college forest land is currently under development in preparation for expanding the acreage under VFF's green certification program.
Sixty percent of the certified wood used in the Ross Dining Commons and adjacent LaForce Hall (a sixty-seven bed residence hall that opened in the fall of 2002) was harvested from the newly-certified parcel at Bread Loaf. This harvest, plus that from four local VFF member woodlots, produced 58,000 b.f. of beech and birch that comprise approximately 95% of the architectural wood in the buildings. Beech and birch were selected, despite the architects original plans for clear cherry, because they were the two locally available species in readily available yields.
For the Ross/LaForce facilities, the College also set a goal of using local services wherever possible. Two foresters, three loggers, four sawmills, four kiln drying operations and six truckers—all from Vermont and most from Addison County—cut, moved, milled and dried the lumber that accentuates the walls, ceilings and floors throughout Ross and LaForce. Three local woodcraft businesses added value to the lumber by shaping it into a thousand sets of ceiling panels, radial display cabinets for the food service islands in the dining hall, and a strikingly unique ambiance of horizontally sequenced panels for the Commons Lounge, in which one can actually trace the internal pattern of individual trees around the perimeter of the room.
Next, the College furthered its growing network within the local wood industry to include furniture and cabinet manufacturers. Beeken-Parsons, Pompanoosuc Mills and Neudorfer (all Vermont furniture manufacturers) crafted tables, chairs, couches and sideboards for the library, lounge, seminar room, residential suites and dining hall, all highlighting the beauty of character wood from green certified sources. Student Andrew Savage '04 designed a winter term independent study in January 2003 that resulted in the crafting of a table from this beech and a reflection of the meaning of this wood in an article "Lessons from a Beech Table" published in Northern Woodlands (Autumn '02).
In the same harvest from the Bread Loaf woodlot, 16,000 b.f. of spruce were cut to be used as rough-sawn board and batten siding for the exterior of the College's Recycling Center that opened in May 2002. This smaller project moved from purchase order to paint contractor in just six weeks. The kiln-dried siding was pre-primed in southern Vermont before being installed.
The College has openly shared its learning curve with such entities as the Cornerstone Project, a formal group of Vermont-based institutions gathered together under the vision of Senator Leahy to collectively explore opportunities for steering institutional buying power towards the purchase of environmentally-sound Vermont goods and services. The use of sustainably harvested certified wood from Vermont forests, based on Middlebury's success, has been Cornerstone's first major initiative. Both Fletcher Allen Health Care, and the State of Vermont are incorporating certified wood into current building projects. In addition, there are on-going inquiries from and tours with universities, colleges and private companies about the use of certified wood. In the fall of 2003, Professor Glenn Andres of the Art, History of Art and Architecture department hosted the Vermont chapter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) for a day-long conference that included highlighting Middlebury's commitment to green certified wood.
On Earth Day 2003, the College received an Environmental Merit Award in Boston from the US Environmental Protection Agency honoring Middlebury's institutional leadership and commitment to creating environmentally and economically sustainable communities in Vermont based on the College's role as a catalyst in the use of local, green certified wood. Two weeks later, the College invited an extensive network of individuals and businesses who had worked with the College to launch a green certified wood industry in Vermont. From woodlot owners and loggers to truckers, sawmill and kiln operators, architects, building material and furniture manufacturers, the College honored these wood-related individuals and restated its commitment to the Vermont community, celebrating the outcomes of investing in locally-based ecological forestry.
The evolution of certified wood continues. Awarding a $509,000 contract for study carrels and bookends for the College's new library to a group of former employees striving to reopen a woodworking cooperative business in the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont after the closing of an Ethan Allen furniture plant, this work order from the College leveraged other funds to allow Island Pond Woodworkers to receive the financing they needed to begin operation.