MIDDLEBURY, Vt. – Recognizing the profound threat of climate change, Middlebury College today announced a 10-year commitment that will put the institution on a path toward a complete shift to renewable energy to power and heat its central campus. The plan also sets ambitious goals to reduce energy consumption, phase out direct fossil fuel investments in the endowment, and, significantly, to create new educational programs and opportunities that will help to empower future generations of environmental leaders.
The Middlebury Board of Trustees unanimously endorsed the plan in a vote at its winter meeting on Saturday, January 26.
The move is a renewal of the Vermont institution’s decades-long commitment to environmental leadership, which began with the creation of the country’s first undergraduate environmental studies program in 1965. Three years ago, Middlebury College fulfilled another purposeful commitment to become the largest U.S. campus to achieve carbon neutrality without the use of purchased credits.
“After much study and discussion, and with the input, encouragement, and even passionate advocacy of many students, faculty, staff, and alumni, the board today has taken a bold step to shape this institution’s future,” said Middlebury President Laurie L. Patton. “This plan is true to Middlebury’s culture and values. It is bold and aspirational while remaining realistic and highly practical. It acknowledges that we do not have all the solutions at our disposal at this moment to meet these goals, but it commits us to make every effort to do so. I could not be prouder or more inspired by our institution than I am today.”
Middlebury’s Energy2028 plan has four primary components:
A commitment to renewable energy
Middlebury will transition to 100 percent renewable energy sources—not derived from fossil fuels—for electric and thermal power for its core Vermont campus by the end of 2028.
Already, Middlebury’s on-campus biomass gasification plant, completed in 2008, mainly burns locally sourced wood chips and meets most of the heating and cooling needs for those buildings that are connected to the central plant. The facility also cogenerates 15 to 20 percent of Middlebury’s electricity—all while remaining carbon neutral.
Under the plan announced today, Middlebury will shift to use renewable natural gas (RNG) and eliminate the use of natural gas, a fossil fuel, as a supplemental energy source for the biomass plant. RNG is generated using cow manure and processed food waste, and Middlebury is partnering on a proposed digester project in nearby Salisbury, Vermont.
Renewable electricity generation already accounts for approximately 50 percent of Middlebury’s usage. Future investments in renewable sources such as solar and, possibly, hydropower, will increase that figure to the goal of 100 percent. In doing this, Middlebury will seek, wherever possible, to make those investments in Vermont.
A commitment to energy conservation
Middlebury will reduce energy consumption on its core campus by 25 percent by 2028.
Meeting this goal will require changes to campus infrastructure as well as behavioral changes that contribute to consumption. Middlebury plans to renovate and update several large academic buildings in the next five years, and each of those projects will produce significant improvements on energy efficiency. The plan also calls for improved energy-use monitoring across campus.
The institution is also weighing the introduction of an internal carbon tax that would add a levy to certain activities that carry a high carbon impact. In addition to encouraging more thoughtful and energy-efficient alternatives, the fees collected would be used to fund conservation projects.
A commitment to reduce fossil fuel investments in the endowment
Middlebury will reduce the number and value of fossil fuel investments in its endowment. That endowment, which was valued on December 31, 2018, at $1.056 billion, is managed by Investure, a firm based in Charlottesville, Virginia, that manages the endowments of colleges, universities, and foundations with a total value of more than $13 billion. Investure began managing the Middlebury endowment on May 31, 2005.
Middlebury, in collaboration with Investure, will begin a phaseout of direct fossil fuel investments in the endowment that will reduce the value of those investments by 25 percent in 5 years, 50 percent in 8 years and, within 15 years, eliminate such investments entirely. In addition, beginning in mid-2019, Investure will not directly invest any new dollars on Middlebury’s behalf in specialized private investment funds that focus on oil and gas.
For the purposes of Energy2028, Middlebury has defined direct investments as 1) those investments held by specialist managers who maintain an investment focus on fossil fuel companies, and 2) specialist fossil fuel index funds. Combined, these direct investments equal about 4 percent of the endowment’s value.
The commitment does not apply to endowment positions in general equity funds that may, from time to time, contain small holdings of fossil fuel investments in their portfolios. Similarly, it does not apply to broad-based market index funds, which typically do include some fossil fuel investments. These investments account for only about 1 percent of the endowment.
For the purposes of Energy2028, Middlebury has defined fossil fuel companies as those whose core business is oil and gas exploration and/or production, coal mining, and those companies whose primary business is oil and gas equipment, services and/or pipelines.
To ensure that the phaseout does not have a significant effect on the performance of Middlebury’s endowment, Middlebury and Investure have established realistic and reasonable targets to prudently reduce existing fossil fuel exposure over time.
Middlebury also will direct Investure to increase its position in sustainable investments.
A commitment to educational opportunities
Middlebury will engage faculty, staff, and students across all of its schools and programs in educational and research opportunities that will help to influence the execution of the plan and its continuing evolution. Middlebury excels at providing immersive learning experiences for students, not just in the classroom but in the lab, in the field, and alongside community partners, and Energy2028 will provide students with opportunities to address today’s most challenging problems in meaningful ways.
“Middlebury students have been engaged in Energy2028 from its very outset, and we want to ensure that engagement continues,” said Patton. “We see students making critical and creative contributions through course work with faculty mentors, independent projects, internships, and in partnership with the Sustainable Solutions Lab. Middlebury faculty at all of our schools will lead in making immersive, experiential education an essential part of Energy2028.”
Middlebury Board Chair Kim Parizeau called Energy2028 a “transformational moment” for the institution.
“While Middlebury has long been a champion of environmental sustainability, our actions today are a signal of even broader leadership at all levels of the institution,” Parizeau said. “The Board of Trustees has been deeply engaged in conversation with students, faculty, and staff for a long time, and we owe those communities a debt of gratitude for their passion, encouragement, and understanding of the complexities involved with creating a plan as far-reaching as this one.”
Middlebury announced the Energy2028 initiative at an open meeting for faculty, students, and staff on January 29.
Middlebury has updated its sustainability website to provide details on Energy2028. It will use this site to track institutional progress.