The message could not be more clear. Every college or university that claims to be holding a “green” commencement needs to have divested from investments in fossil fuels, or admit that they cannot truly make that claim.
As the first college in the United States to adopt sustainability science as its central focus, Unity College ascended to the leading-edge of higher education, training the next generation of environmental leaders to pursue transdisciplinary solutions to the earth’s most pressing problems including global climate change.
With a unanimous vote by the Board of Trustees in November of 2012, Unity also became the first institution of higher learning to divest from investments in fossil fuels.
“There are no halfway measures when it comes to environmental claims,” said Dr. Melik Peter Khoury, Senior Vice President for External Affairs at Unity College, which with its own divestment in 2012 began a national movement of colleges and universities to divest. To date, Sterling College in Vermont and College of the Atlantic in Maine have also divested. Hampshire College in Massachusetts is pursuing a policy that while not divesting, is no longer investing in fossil fuels.
“Commencement exercises are among the most clear expressions of institutional values,” Khoury noted. “At this point the realities of what the burning of fossil fuels are doing to worsen the crisis of global climate change is undeniable. Institutions of higher education cannot have it both ways, they cannot claim to be working for a sustainable earth and yet support the industry that is driving this planet to extinction.”
Khoury says that Unity’s focus on sustainability science is producing a model for others to follow. Environmental and sustainability issues like the mitigation of global climate change, energy production, biodiversity loss, declining agricultural production, environmental policy and law enforcement, and water shortages are some of the core elements of sustainability science.
“We are at a very exciting time at Unity College, being the first college to divest our endowment from fossil fuels, and ensuring that all of our academic programs view their respective disciplines from a sustainability science perspective,” Khoury stated. “This truly differentiates us. The bar for commencements that represent ecological values has reached a new level. The environmental, social, and economic sustainability of our planet is fated in the moral, scientific, and bipartisan view of our planet’s resources. Consequently, Unity College has a strong vision lead by our President, Dr. Stephen Mulkey, which is fully endorsed by our Board of Trustees, to become the national leader in preparing tomorrow's generation is a fact and research based approach to education, ensuring that our finite natural resources are protected, and finding the true balance between conservation and preservation.”
Jesse Pyles, Sustainability Director at Unity College, says that campus sustainability is more than recycled paper diplomas, and that sustainability in higher education necessarily encompasses academics and administration in addition to operations. It is not enough to “green” commencement exercises, institutions of higher education now must “green” their portfolios.
“Certainly, the greenest commencement in the world from an operations standpoint is a great feather in our cap, as it’s an expression of our core sustainability values, but we can further demonstrate those values by our leadership on sustainability in education and in administration; ‘greening’ our operations is moot if we’re undermining those efforts with fossil fuel investments.”
Pyles notes that Unity’s commencement is also an expression of its core mission for sustainability education.
“Everything we are doing is in service to the mitigation of global climate change,” said Pyles.
Unity College President Stephen Mulkey, a high-profile scientist who has called on higher education to do what it knows is right and take a stand on climate change, is unapologetic about the way forward. He has stated that for the planet to survive, alternative energies must be developed and current fossil fuel reserves cannot be burned. The choice is between preserving a planet that fostered humanity or ceding the future entirely within 50 years.
Ultimately, the College seeks to serve as a model for what higher education ought to become in service to the preservation of the Earth and future of mankind.
“Unity College has a leadership role to play on the national stage,” said Mulkey.
In recent years Unity College has gained national attention for a variety of achievements including: its focus on sustainability science, the leading-edge of 21st century ecological problem solving and the vanguard in the fight for the mitigation of global climate change; its ground-breaking “green” innovations such as the award-winning TerraHaus, the first student residence on a college or university campus built to the Passive House standard, the most energy efficient building standard in the world; and being the first college in the United States to divest from investments in fossil fuels, igniting a growing national movement in higher education.
Unity College is a private college in rural Maine that provides dedicated, engaged students with a liberal arts education that emphasizes the environment and natural resources. Unity College graduates are prepared to be environmental stewards, effective leaders, and responsible citizens through active learning experiences within a supportive community.