Sustainability is a hot topic these days, in no small part because the Yale administration has prioritized the goal of cutting energy use by 15 percent in three years. The drive to conserve was so successful — we cut 10 percent in the first year alone — that the University was able to expand its reach beyond campus and invest in renewable energy certificates whose purpose is to affect change on a nationwide scale. We can’t help but applaud this worthy goal and encourage Yale to continue eating away at its energy usage.
But as News articles on the subject have pointed out, that’s not going to be easy. The structural changes to upgrade college facilities are already well under way, as STEP has been replacing incandescent light bulbs with fluorescents and has replaced other inefficient equipment. The hard part, of course, has been and will continue to be changing students’ habits — that is, getting us to turn off lights and computers and to ease up on the hot water in the laundry room.
Surprisingly, many students have a cynical attitude toward the University’s sustainability efforts, and our ability to overcome those attitudes will reveal the true depth of the Yale community’s commitment to sustainability. Some STEP people can seem maddeningly self-righteous about their fluorescents, no doubt about that. And it is annoying to sit through a long boot process when you want to use your computer. But with much of the straightforward changes — new light bulbs, adjustable thermostats in some colleges — already behind us, behavioral changes will need to carry us the last 5 percent to our goal.
In that line of argument, the University should continue examining its own practices and continue eliminating inefficient and thoughtless energy usage. Though the administration and students have made Yale one of the most environmentally progressive schools in the country, much work remains to be done. Why do some college dining halls still leave their lights on overnight? We have grandiose plans for new “green” buildings, such as the Kroon Building for the School of Forestry & Environmental Science, but why does the renovated Timothy Dwight College, for example, use 70 percent more energy than it did before the renovation? Needless to say, if new colleges are being planned, we hope Yale makes it a priority that these new colleges be as green as possible.
The real test of Yale’s professed sustainable ideal comes this year. Are students prepared to bite the bullet and make turning off the lights part of their daily routines? Is the administration finally going to turn down the oppressive heat in the dorms?
Taking small steps like that will further enhance our leadership in this area and set the kind of example that could lead to real change in the world. We’re already most of the way to our stated goal — now it’s time to reach that next 5 percent.