Yale should set example on sustainability

Since 1701, Yale University has educated its students to make responsible decisions not only for their own futures, but for the future of our nation and the world. Our generation’s future will be determined by decisions made now regarding energy: our international choice to maintain our climate, our national choice to regain energy independence and our individual choice to reduce our energy consumption and lead more sustainable lives. Yale is training us to recognize these issues, and we hope that Yale, too, will take this opportunity to become a true leader in sustainable energy policy.

Last week, the Yale College Council passed a resolution encouraging President Richard Levin and the University administration to implement the Yale Energy Task Force’s recommendations, which were endorsed by the Yale Student Environmental Coalition, Yale Climate Campaign, Student Taskforce for Environmental Partnership and the Office of Sustainability. We are asking the administration, when they review the resolution, to take this opportunity to support the purchase of 20 percent renewable energy by 2010 and the goal of a 10 percent greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction below 1990 levels by 2020. The New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers made the long-term goal of a 10 percent reduction in GHGs in August 2001, while New Haven has already committed to 20 percent renewable energy by 2010. These are goals Yale can and should meet.

In early 2004, Mayor John DeStefano Jr. committed New Haven to purchasing 20 percent of its energy from renewable sources, such as wind and solar power, by 2010. In announcing this plan, DeStefano said New Haven can pay for these initiatives through aggressive energy conservation measures. New Haven has provided exemplary leadership, and Yale can and should join our city to lead Connecticut, New England and the United States to a clean energy future.

Our Ivy League peers provide great examples of college campuses going green. The University of Pennsylvania has been purchasing 10 percent of its energy from wind turbines since April 2003, spurring the construction of a new 20-megawatt wind farm in western Pennsylvania. Harvard has committed $100,000 per year for the next three years to purchase renewable energy. So far this program has included the installation of 192 photovoltaic cells at Harvard’s business school and the purchase of “renewable energy certificates,” which pay for clean energy that does not power the institution. Together, these efforts account for 7 percent of Harvard’s electricity for 2004. The Energy Task Force’s recommendations give Yale a chance to do something even greater: make long-term goals while implementing short-term changes. Yale has the power to seize the opportunity before us and become a leader among our peer institutions in our commitment to sustainability.

As students, we are fortunate to be surrounded by sustainability projects started by our peers, many of which have been generously funded and supported by the administration and faculty. Yale’s renowned observatory runs on biodiesel fuel made of waste vegetable oil from our dining halls and processed by a student-designed processor, with support from the Green Fund and the Environmental Engineering Department. The Engineering Design team is designing and building a solar-powered boat and converting a Chevrolet Suburban to run on straight vegetable oil with the help of the Chemistry Department. Team Lux, Yale’s solar car design team, traveled to Greece in 2004 to compete internationally, taking 7th place.

STEP is doing an incredible job of increasing energy education and coordinating projects including the installation of compact fluorescent bulbs that use far less energy than their incandescent counterparts. First-year students at the Yale School of Architecture have recently completed the first solar-powered house in New Haven, whose photovoltaic panels are generating more energy than the house consumes and feeding their electricity back into the city grid. The Yale Sustainable Food Project, which has truly made Yale the country’s leader on college campuses with regards to sustainable and locally grown food, reduces energy use in both the growing and transport of food. The desire for energy efficiency and independence is increasing, and students are taking their own actions to make it happen.

All of this has made a difference. A growing number of new students attribute their decision to come to Yale partly to the momentum of such projects, and other schools are using our example to create their own biodiesel programs and organic gardens. Yale is doing its job incredibly well to train these student leaders to follow through on their ideas and support them in their efforts. Yalies will continue to create independent sustainability projects, but we need to know that we have the University behind us. We need to know that we are part of an institution that seeks not only to make leaders, but also to lead.

The Energy Task Force’s recommendations are now on the table. We believe it is Yale’s time to lead our peers, our state and even our country by making an official, institution-wide commitment to renewable energy. Moreover, this is a chance for President Levin to show us, the students of Yale and future global decision-makers, that environmental sustainability should be a priority for every future leader.



Steve Engler, Caroline Howe and Wells O’Byrne are juniors in Saybrook College. Howe is co-chair of the Yale Student Environmental Coalition, and Engler and O’Byrne are Yale College Council representatives.

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