The administration has begun to move toward making Yale a more environmentally enlightened institution. This year, the University has attempted to raise the profile of its School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. This week, President Levin and Provost Richard pledged $1 million toward a plan to clean up operational and management procedures and to improve the University’s somewhat dismal reputation for environmental responsibility.
In an article last year in the Chronicle of Higher Education, Dartmouth professor Noel Perrin evaluated 20 college recycling plans and ranked Yale’s second to last. “Poor Yale,” the article said, was woefully behind many other schools in the amount of waste we recycle each year. We recycle 19 percent of our waste, he said, as compared to 35 percent at nearby Brown or an enviable 65 percent at Middlebury.
The following summer, Richard convened the Advisory Committee on Environmental Management, composed of University faculty, staff and students and chaired by industrial ecology professor Thomas Graedel. The committee’s yearlong project, summarized in a report to Richard last April, was to evaluate Yale’s standing environmental policies and advise the administration on ways to improve them.
The advisory committee, once established, went on to break down into five subcommittees — design, construction and renovation, energy and water use, land use, and purchasing and waste management — which recommended 11 actions to directly improve the University’s environmental performance and two environmental initiatives for the campus.
In a response to the committee issued Friday, Richard divided the proposals into three categories: individual actions of modest expense that could be implemented right away; more sizeable and costly projects; and systemic plans that would require broad modification of University operating procedures.
The committee’s suggests covered broad ground, advocating the creation of a “Green Web site” under the auspices of the provost’s office; the implementation of an “Environmental Open House” — a colloquial counterpart to Yale’s environmental graduate school — with food, prizes, and promotional items to raise awareness of recycling and conservation among members of the Yale community; the placement of public recycling receptacles and “attractive recycling containers” around campus; and the creation of more committees to investigate the possibility of larger-scale reforms.
Richard has asked the committee to prioritize its 30 pages of suggestions so the University could begin putting the allocated funds toward tangible effects. It is absolutely critical that the administration follow through with its commitment to significantly alter the way Yale approaches its ecological obligations and focus not just on smaller changes that can be made immediately with the allocated funds. Awareness will be good; more recycling bins will be better; but an ongoing commitment to keeping environmental issues a priority will be ideal.
Yale can raise its profile as an ecologically-savvy school by continuing to focus on its environmental education programs, both inside the classroom and in the larger community, and by following the committee’s thoughtful proposals to completion. The administrators who rightly appointed the committee have grand hopes of a greener Blue. But they should remember that “Poor Yale’s” reputation for environmental conscious will only be as strong as Yale’s actual environmental improvements.