A guide to living local in New Hampshire

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Attainable Sustainable:

Lessons in Sustainability Taught through Practice at UNH

By Tom Long / Fiddlehead Contributing Editor

This feature highlights local businesses and their commitment to their employees, customers, the community and the future of the planet.

The University of New Hampshire is schooling us on sustainability by the book and by example.

“Many universities are talking about being sustainable. We are actually doing the work,” Miriam Nelson, director of UNH’s Sustainability Institute said recently.

Its list of awards and accolades takes up pages on the school’s website. Earlier this year the school was awarded the top rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. It is the third university to achieve the honor. The other schools are Stanford and Colorado State universities.

UNH has made it onto the Princeton Review’s “Green Honor Roll” of Top Sustainable Colleges for the past nine years. The school has been honored by the Environmental Protection Agency for its composting program as well as winning a food recovery challenge.

Most recently, however, the institution is the first university in the country to use landfill gas as its primary fuel source. The main source of heat and electricity for the school’s five-million-square-foot Durham campus is a cogeneration plant that uses processed landfill methane from the EcoLine project, a gas-to-energy program at Waste Management’s Rochester landfill.

A 12.7-mile-underground pipeline transports the gas to the UNH Durham campus and replaces commercial natural gas as the primary fuel at the university’s cogeneration plant. The plant retains waste heat normally lost during the production of electricity and uses this energy to heat buildings, in turn reducing sulfur dioxide and nitrous oxide emissions.

The school also operates an experimental organic dairy research farm with about 100 registered Jersey cows; has developed a greenhouse gas emission inventory program for institutions of higher learning that has been used by more than 2,000 schools; and composts from 25,000 to 40,000 tons of organic waste from its campus dining outlets each month.

The university is home to the Sustainability Institute, which has as its goal “to be a catalyst, convener, and champion of sustainability ideas and actions across and beyond the University of New Hampshire.” It also aims to enhance the culture of sustainability “that permeates the civic, professional, and personal lives of members of the UNH community.”

It is staffed with four full-time and four part-time employees, student interns and faculty fellows. Founded in 1997, it is the oldest endowed sustainability program in higher education in the country.

But the university also teaches what it practices. It offers more than 450 undergraduate and 120 graduate courses with a sustainability component and has three sustainably focused majors. It is the only school that offers a dual major in “ecogastronomy,” which provides a complement to any primary major, and combines elements of sustainable agriculture, hospitality management and nutrition.

The curriculum, somewhat inspired by the slow food movement, provides students with information on food production, ecology, ethics, cuisine, nutrition and health within the framework of sustainability as well as food and beverage management.