UNH Sustainable Commencement Makes History

The University of New Hampshire Class of 2009 graduated in May with a ceremony run on garbage. Through its EcoLine™ program, UNH became the first university in the country to receive the majority of its power from purified landfill gas piped from Rochester to UNH’s cogeneration plant.

Mark W. Huddleston, President of UNH opened his commencement remarks by saying they were “the greenest class ever to graduate from the Blue and White…. since the Class of 1892—anyway— when graduates were given their diplomas in the cow barn (then the only building on campus). I’m sure you are all pleased that we’ve moved on from the cow barn—especially those of you wearing sandals.”

Sustainability is a core value at the University of New Hampshire. Since 1997, the University Office of Sustainability (UOS), the oldest endowed sustainability program in higher education in the U.S., has been transforming UNH into a nationally recognized Sustainable Learning Community. UNH is- a land grant, sea grant, and space grant university that integrates innovation, discovery and innovation. In the UNH CORE approach- Curriculum, Operations, Research and Engagement initiatives are designed to demonstrate their commitment in Biodiversity Protection, Climate Protection, Sustainable Food and Cultural Development.

Some of the recent sustainability accomplishments at UNH include:

  • Saving more than $100,000 in energy and water costs since 2006;
  • Since 2005, the alternative-fuel powered WildCat Transit, made more than 4.2 million trips, saved more than 15 million miles of private vehicle driving and avoided an estimated 5,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions;
  • Composting nearly 500 tons of food scraps (17,500 lbs. monthly) since summer 2005;
  • Offering the nation’s first Dual Major in EcoGastronomy, a program combining sustainable agriculture, hospitality management, and nutrition;
  • Investing in retrofit sustainability projects across the campus, including high efficiency lighting, heating and cooling control systems, window upgrades, and conversion of electric clothes dryers to natural gas dryers in residence halls;
  • Transitioning the entire fleet of diesel vehicles to the use of low sulfur B20 biodiesel;

At the ceremony alone, the recycled paper for the commencement invitations and program saved 34 trees; recycling and compost stations were abundant and graduates were asked to leave their graduation robes to be reused.

The dynamic Gary Hirshberg, President and CEO of Stonyfield Farm and a world-renowned speaker on sustainability, climate change, and socially responsible business, was the commencement speaker. He raised awareness of the realities we face in the world and offered advice based on his experience and success in leading a business that is both doing well and doing good.

Hirshberg mentioned Lily Tomlin’s quote “Reality is the leading cause of stress for those who are in touch with it,” as he reminded graduates to challenge conventional wisdom and reality, and adapt to new realities in order to drive new solutions and innovation.

He encouraged graduates to “be a force for positive change”. When Stonyfield Farms was established in 1983, Hirshberg said they asked how it would be possible in to create a business that could help be part of the solutions to our planet’s ecological challenges while also making money. What they discovered is a new business model that is now being adapted by the world’s largest companies.

He challenged graduates to “be relevant” and reminded them that “the world needs those of us who’ve had the blessings of an education to attend to its needs" and that being relevant is not only an obligation, but is also an opportunity.

For those who might be questioning what one person can do, he left them with the thought “anyone who feels that they are too small to make a difference has never been in bed with a mosquito.”

The story of Stonyfield Farms is a compelling one. Learn more about their journey and other remarks made by Gary Hirshberg in next week’s blog.

Read The Sustainable Learning Community to find out more about the UNH “journey to the future”.


Paul Schempp said:

Great story about Stonyfield Farm! It is encouraging to know that one can be profitable and sustainable. Thanks for posting a terrific example.

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