Clare Davitt, BRLI Class of 2016
Reference Librarian, Bangor Public Library
I don’t spend a lot of time thinking about forest bioproducts. In fact, before our fifth class day on January 7th, I wouldn’t have been able to hazard more than a guess as to what they are. Then, came Energy Day.
Now, I’m not saying I could teach a course on it but I could give you a general idea as to what they are, and more importantly, why they’re so important to you as an individual and as a Mainer. I find myself telling people about what I learned. It’s so easy for folks to not pay attention or attempt to understand how things work.
I know I wasn’t. Yet, the forest and energy industry affects every aspect of our lives, down to the minutiae. But it is a convoluted, complicated system that can be a struggle to understand.
We spent the day at the Forest Bioproducts Research Institute, a place I previously didn’t know existed. It’s in Old Town and is a part of the University of Maine. It’s impossible to live in Maine and not see the impact of the mill closures and layoffs around our state.
The effect has been catastrophic on the lives of many Mainers and towns that relied upon the mills for their citizens’ livelihoods. The mission of the Forest Bioproducts Research Institute (FBRI) is to offer tools and resources to support innovation that addresses some of those issues.
Here’s my (decidedly unscientific) understanding of what FBRI is doing:
Forest bioproducts are really cool because they do things like take the wood pulp and make it into stuff that, among other things, can be used like plastics but without all that nasty oil business. They have all sorts of really neat machinery that require you to wear safety goggles to be near them. FBRI offers research opportunities to UMaine students and faculty, as well as people from around the world, to find out if their idea works, it can be scaled up to be useful, and rather importantly, money is made with it.
Here is how FBRI describes what they’re doing (it sounds much better than mine):
FBRI’s Vision is to advance understanding about the scientific underpinnings, system behavior, and policy implications for the production of forest-based bioproducts that meet societal needs for material, chemicals, and fuel in an economically and ecologically sustainable manner.
There were multiple presenters and panels throughout the day that focused on energy in various ways. From discussions of oil pipelines and gas prices to solar and wind energy to making sure your home is not losing your heat or bringing in the frigid air, we covered an awful lot. Everyone we heard from at Emera Maine, Penobscot Home Performance, ReVision Heat, and Bangor Gas spoke with passion about their work and the impact it has on our lives.
In the afternoon, between a scrumptious lunch and a panel on home energy, we had a conflict resolution training from the Ward Green Corporation. The leadership aspect of the Bangor Region Leadership Institute is something worked on at every session. There are 26 of us in this year’s class. We bring all sorts of management styles and backgrounds.
This time, we focused on having difficult conversations between managers and employees, something no one particularly enjoys doing. We broke up into pairs to role-play the conversations. Each person got to try being the manager and the employee. While some of us may have had a bit too much fun being either an uptight manager or unruly employee, I know we also came away with new skills that will make us better managers and staff.
Our day at the Forest Bioproducts Research Initiative added a whole new piece of the world to my knowledge, just as every class day we’ve had has. Only four more days left, something I refuse to accept at this point. Learning about the innovation, ideas, and inspiration brewing just up the road from me, work that is changing our lives even when we don’t know it exists is incredibly inspiring.
Meeting and hearing from people who make it possible for me to charge this computer, heat my home, and do those things in safer, more environmentally sustainable ways makes me feel better about the world we live in. Spending a day with my 25 classmates and our fantastic BRLI staff is simply awesome. Chalk this day up to another one full of learning, laughing, and of course, selfies with safety goggles.