UNE Takes to the Water to Deepen its Sustainability Efforts

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University of New England adds river ferry service to further reduce its carbon footprint

The UNE river ferry is first active ferry service on the Saco River since 1925

It sails as the most beautiful three-minute commute anywhere in the country.


UNE Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Noah Perlut

In 2008, University of New England (UNE) President Danielle Ripich, Ph.D. signed the American College and University Presidents Climate Commitment with the goal of reducing greenhouse gases and becoming carbon-neutral—a daunting challenge for an institution where transportation contributes significantly to carbon emissions. That same year, UNE faced a problem not unique to a growing institution—parking was at capacity and UNE needed to reduce the number of vehicles on campus or build a new parking lot, an unattractive prospect for this coastal university. In response, UNE launched a successful alternative transportation program offering free bicycles and Zipcar usage to students who agreed to leave their cars at home.

Fast-forward four years, and UNE’s sustainability projects continue to evolve alongside its growing undergraduate enrollment, which has risen 16.5 percent since 2008. The most recent creative project—a collaboration among students, faculty, staff and administration—has resulted in what might be the first commuter ferry maintained by an academic institution.

UNE has recently launched a river ferry service as a transportation alternative for daily commuters to and from the nearby Camp Ellis area of Saco. The seasonal ferry enables commuters to bypass a nine-mile-loop to the nearest bridge that crosses the Saco River. In its four weeks of operation this fall, the ferry has averaged 73 one-way riders per week and eliminated a total of 300 vehicle trips from local roadways and 2,920 miles worth of carbon emissions. Colorful local “Captain Carl” Langerstrom provides the safe passage for the UNE faculty, staff and students who enjoy the 10-minute one-way ride.

The UNE river ferry is the first active ferry service on the Saco River since 1925.

The university-wide project was spearheaded by UNE Assistant Professor of Environmental Studies Noah Perlut, his Introduction to Environmental Issues class, and Sustainability Coordinator Alethea Cariddi. Funding for the project was provided by the UNE President’s Office and Undergraduate Student Government, evidence of the collaborative leadership and sense of value and importance shared by administration and students.

Perlut states, “The UNE river ferry accomplishes three things. First, it increases campus sustainability by avoiding up to 18 miles of carbon emissions per rider created by commuting. Second, it is an education tool for the entire UNE community—students, staff and faculty—to study and experience creative models of alternative transportation. Finally, it sails as the most beautiful three-minute commute anywhere in the country.”

Cariddi adds, “Students, faculty and administrators at UNE have been working closely together over the past four years to come up with creative solutions to reduce our greenhouse gas emissions. The UNE river ferry is just one more tool in our toolbox to help address UNE’s transportation needs while minimizing our carbon footprint in our growing campus community.”

Since its establishment in 2008, UNE’s Sustainability Office has spearheaded numerous initiatives to reduce the university’s carbon footprint. For example, the university installed a solar thermal heating system at Campus Center, as well as building automation controls and parking lot LED lighting; initiated food waste composting; and implemented single-sort recycling. UNE’s Environmental Council has led a bottle-less campaign in partnership with the non-profit advocacy organization Food and Water Watch’s “Take Back the Tap” campaign, and UNE’s student Eco-Rep leaders are involved in peer-to-peer education to expand sustainability into the classrooms, offices and residential halls at UNE.

The University of New England is an innovative health sciences university grounded in the liberal arts, with two distinctive coastal Maine campuses and unique study abroad opportunities. UNE has internationally recognized scholars in the sciences, health, medicine and humanities; offers more than 40 undergraduate, graduate and professional degree programs; and is home to Maine’s only medical school. It is one of a handful of private universities with a comprehensive health education mission including medicine, pharmacy, dental medicine, nursing and an array of allied health professions. UNE's interprofessional education initiatives prepare future healthcare professionals to practice comprehensive and collaborative team-based care. Both graduate and undergraduate students engage in research and scholarship alongside dedicated faculty who are committed to their academic and professional success.

For more information about UNE’s river ferry and other sustainability initiatives, contact Alethea Cariddi at 207-602-2507 or acariddi(at)une(dot)edu.

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Kathleen Taggersell
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