2015 Episode: Carbon Neutrality

Voices on Carbon Neutrality at Middlebury College

In 2007, Middlebury College adopted a pledge to become carbon neutral by 2016.

In 2015, one year before the deadline, eight students in the FMMC0285 Producing Environmental Video course set out to understand the college’s progress, the history of the pledge, and campus attitudes toward Middlebury’s sustainability initiatives. The result of that process is this page, capturing the voices of more than a dozen members of Middlebury’s community debating and reflecting on where we are and where we are going.


The adoption of the Carbon Neutrality Pledge on May 5th, 2007 emerged from thoughtful dialogue within the Middlebury College community between the administration, faculty, and students. What were the motives and driving forces behind this resolution? Have those intentions changed at all since its inception? Who now, will ensure this vision comes to fruition?

Produced by Sara Stadulis

One of the main ways that Middlebury will achieve carbon neutrality is via the biomass gassification plant, which now produces the majority of college’s heat. To understand how the heating system works, plant manager Kelly Boe offered a close-up tour of the facility and process. Tragically, Kelly was killed in a bicycle accident days after providing this interview. We share this video in memory of his spirit, energy, and many contributions to the college and the community.

Produced by Kristina Ohl

The biomass plant generates heat by burning wood chips from local forests in Vermont. The college adopted this fuel instead of heating oil to help achieve carbon neutrality. But what is the sustainability of this system? Is it truly carbon neutral?

Produced by Danilo Herrera

Even as Middlebury College stands at the forefront of environmentalism amongst colleges, students are questioning the institution’s very nature as environmental. What values are conveyed by becoming carbon neutral, and are these shared across campus?

Produced by Alyne Figueiredo Goncalves

The Middlebury College Snow Bowl is a unique facility in terms of its energy usage and approach to carbon neutrality—the snow bowl became carbon neutral long before the campus as a whole, but achieves this via purchased offsets. How do such offsets fit with Middlebury’s environmental and recreational goals?

Produced by Sasha Schell

Although the carbon neutrality pledge was initiated by students, some question whether students still have the drive to make and see change in Middlebury’s carbon footprint and broader efforts toward sustainability.

Produced by Abby Woolf

To become carbon neutral by 2016, Middlebury College is reliant on the Vermont Gas pipeline to provide infrastructure for a biomethane project that will allow Middlebury to stop burning fuel oil. The project, however, is quite controversial among students and activists as it supports Vermont Gas’ fracked natural gas pipeline.

Produced by Nathaniel Wiener

The question of whether and when will Middlebury divest its over 1 billion dollar endowment from fossil fuels is a contentious one at the college. As this debate continues to wage, how does it connect to the Carbon Neutrality Pledge? Can we consider ourselves carbon neutral when our endowment is invested in fossil fuel industries?

Produced by Sara Stadulis

As an institution, Middlebury College has a distinct brand name and identity. How does Carbon Neutrality fit into that brand? To what degree is the pledge driven by branding over values?

Produced by Ben Hoskin

Having committed itself to carbon neutrality in 2016, Middlebury College is now faced with the question “what is next?” Perhaps the answer to this can be found by considering the limits of carbon neutrality itself.

Produced by Alyne Figueiredo Goncalves

Final Thoughts:

After researching, producing, and editing these videos, the students in the course reflected on the state of Middlebury’s Carbon Neutrality Pledge. Here are some of their conclusions:

  • I am confident that Carbon Neutrality, in its present form, will not be an end-all solution to the College’s carbon emissions plan. While the current carbon neutral systems of generating energy may not be the best ones possible, I laud the College’s desire to achieve Carbon Neutrality. The College’s present efforts, even if (as certain community members believe) they are just a PR stunt, are definitely a whole lot better than inaction.
  • We live in an era that is inherently technological, born from a heavily industrial system. There are very few ways of reversing the effects of this, and sustainable progress does not necessarily mean a progress that is harmless to the environment. I believe Middlebury has been choosing more sustainable ways to deal with these problems, and the Carbon Neutrality Pledge is one of them. It is true that “offsets” might seem a way of cheating the pledge, but again, sustainable progress does not necessarily mean harmless progress, therefore we ought to find ways of balancing the equation.
  • I think the pledge is an ambitious and innovative goal, however the aims of the pledge are so radical that it may be hard to implement the needed mindset to make this into an everyday, normal lifestyle.
  • It can sometimes be problematic to set goals that are so ambitious, especially when they have a time limit. I wonder if Middlebury hadn’t been pressured to achieve Carbon Neutrality by 2016, if it would have chosen a different option than the Bio-Methane project. The short amount of time the college had to achieve its goal forced the college to choose some quick, short-term options that in the long run might not be as effective as other more complicated options. The pledge is just too complicated to be something that I can say I completely support or something that I don’t agree with.
  • I like to think about it on the most basic level, which is that we are trying to do something good. Our intentions are obviously good, and whether we acheive them or not, we have definitely inspired other schools and individuals to think about Carbon Neutrality.


Produced by:
Alyne Figueiredo Goncalves
Danilo Herrera
Ben Hoskin
Kristina Ohl
Sasha Schell
Sara Stadulis
Nathaniel Wiener
Abby Woolf

Executive Producers:
Matt Lennon
Jason Mittell

Chris Acker, Acker Excavating
Jeannie Bartlett ‘15
Kelly Boe, Manager of Biomass Plant
Greg Buckles, Dean of Admissions
Bill Burger, Vice President of Communications
Jack Byrne, Director, Office of Sustainability
Andrew Catomeris ’15
Professor Jon Isham, Economics and Environmental Studies
Professor Marc Lapin, Environmental Studies
Jordan Killen ‘17
Ellen Kirschner ’15
Peter Mackey, Director of the Snow Bowl
Gary Miner, Green Mountain National Forest
Morgan Raith ‘16.5
Emma Ronai-Durning ‘18
Anna Rose ‘15
Michael Schrader ‘18

Special Thanks:
Kelly Blynn
Diane Munroe
Ethan Murphy

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