From toilet paper to notepads, College of the Atlantic said Tuesday it will switch to 100 percent recycled, old growth-free, chlorine-free, forest-friendly paper products. COA also pledged to pursue salvaged, recycled or nonwood building materials before buying new lumber for construction on its Bar Harbor campus. The switch takes effect immediately, but the purchasing shift will unfold over months and years.
Founded in 1969 to focus on ecological approaches to education, COA has tried to pay more attention in recent years to such matters as buying paper manufactured from "sustainable" sources and practices. The college buys more than 160 reams of copier paper per year, and the price difference between standard and "sustainable" paper is minimal - estimated for COA to be about $1,000 per year, said Lyn Berzinis, purchasing agent for the college.
The major cost of COA's new purchasing policy will be in the time spent researching potential suppliers, she said. "Its benefits outweigh any cost difference whatsoever," Berzinis said. Being a green college is important to the students. They're trying to do this for a better world."
A Portland company that specializes in recycled office products makes special articles such as environmentally friendly notepads, invitations and stationery readily available, the college noted.
Surprisingly, basic copier paper - the single largest segment of COA's paper budget - has been the most difficult item to acquire. Some recycled papers cannot pass through computer printers or photocopiers because of the difference in texture and density, Berzinis said. Over the next four years, the college will update its technology so all machines can handle the recycled paper, she said.
COA joins the ranks of the University of North Carolina, the University of Vermont and some big businesses and big city governments in becoming an institution that has banned use of products from endangered, old-growth forests. It is the sole Maine college to commit to 100 percent sustainability.
Unity College in Waldo County, also known for its environmental mission, makes a policy of buying 100 percent recycled, chlorine-free paper for all products except copier paper, which is chlorine-free virgin paper, said Cathy Jo King, a college spokeswoman. A number of factors, including cost and compatibility problems with office equipment, affected Unity's decision, she explained.
The University of Maine stocks virgin paper, a basic recycled paper and a chlorine-free recycled paper, said Anne-Marie Nadeau of the Orono university's purchasing department. Each UM department is free to select the type of paper it prefers. The middle option is the most popular among staff. But several departments agreed to commit to the more expensive chlorine-free paper after a student campaign nearly two years ago, she said.
At COA, a year-long student effort led by Rob Fish, a senior who heads the Student Environmental Action Coalition, and his fellow coalition members convinced school administrators not to support just "sustainable"paper, but also sustainable building materials. All materials bought for construction projects at COA now must be certified as sustainable by organizations such as the Forest Stewardship Council. According to the council, about 1 million acres of forestland in Maine already meets that forest management guideline. Additionally, COA has pledged to pursue salvaged, recycled or nonwood building materials before buying new lumber. When wooden materials are necessary, the college will not buy from suppliers whose stocks include wood from old-growth forests, U.S. public lands, new plantations created at the expense of natural forest, genetically altered trees or chip-board created from virgin trees. All construction contracts at COA will include the building materials restrictions.
Because several major building projects, including student housing and a classroom building are to be completed at COA in coming years, the lumber policy was a more difficult decision for administrators, said Davis Taylor, a professor of resource economics who serves on the college's building committee. Costs vary widely depending on which alternatives COA chooses, but the new policy will unquestionably mean more expensive building materials - a sacrifice the school is willing to make, Taylor said.
Although COA's paper and building materials budgets are inconsequential statewide, the college is an important force in Hancock County, Taylor said. By working with local suppliers to make sustainable options available, the school hopes to encourage other institutions to follow its lead. "We hope this will be a wedge into the market, that it will snowball into something bigger," he said. "We've got to practice what we preach."
Meanwhile, Fish announced Tuesday that COA students have launched a campuswide boycott of papermaker Boise Cascade Corp., a major distributor of office products and building materials. Last fall, sudent activists at COA said, they were shocked to find Boise Cascade labels on the reams of copier paper being used by staff at the college. Fish said Boise Cascade has been labeled a "dinosaur logger" for harvesting old-growth forests.
Fish announced that students are joining more than 30 other colleges nationwide in a "Tree Free Campaign" sponsored by the American Lands Alliance and the Rainforest Action Network.
Reprinted from the Bangor Daily News, February 28, 2001.
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