Yale saves green by going green

Even in the midst of construction delays and impending layoffs, at least one initiative at Yale will benefit from the tightening budget: sustainability.

In response to University President Richard Levin’s letter to the Yale community on Tuesday, the Office of Sustainability is launching a campaign to accelerate sustainable, cost-saving efforts across campus, said Melissa Goodall, the office’s assistant director. Going green on a larger scale will not only help the University cut back, she said, but also provide an avenue to raise awareness about the importance of sustainable behavior.

“I think we can all agree that it is preferable to cut back on supplies, reduce energy use and change behavior than making cuts to human resources,” she said. “President Levin’s economic savvy and engagement on sustainability are invaluable during these trying times.”

Although increasing time, energy and resources will be devoted to promoting and implementing green practices, the portion of the budget allocated directly to sustainable efforts will not increase, Levin said Wednesday.

The single largest “green” project that will cut costs, Levin said, is the ongoing renovation of Yale’s two power plants — the Sterling Power Plant and the Central Power Plant — which will proceed on schedule, even as almost all other construction projects have been delayed. The renovation will bring Yale’s electricity under its own control and will effectively pay for itself by offsetting future energy costs, he said.

Meanwhile, since the University’s endowment suffered a hit in October, the Office of Sustainability has been working with the Office of the Secretary to brainstorm ideas to save money. The recurring theme that has surfaced from these discussions is that sustainable behavior is often cheaper.

Now, the two offices are drafting a document outlining measures faculty and staff at Yale can take to reduce their energy use and consumption, such as switching to CFL light bulbs, printing double-sided and replacing bottled water with filtered tap water.

Specifics about these plans will likely be announced at the Yale Sustainability Summit, scheduled for the week of March 30, Goodall said, at which time the Office of Sustainability also plans to launch a Web site offering further support and resources for cutting costs. To ensure the project’s effectiveness, the Office is working with the division of Finance and Business Operations to develop a method to track individual offices’ progress toward cost-saving behavior.

“There is increasing pressure placed on everyone’s budget, so we’re going to continue to … look at ways to both reduce costs and be sustainable,” said Craig Janecek, director of admissions at the Law School and faculty volunteer with the Sustainability Leaders Program. “Fortunately those two things often go hand in hand.”

The Sustainable Leaders Program, which the Office of Sustainability began in October 2007, helps staff and faculty initiate small-scale sustainability practices in their offices.

And it seems some of the program’s green measures are already catching on. Since its inception, the original dozen sustainability leaders have formed their own green teams — who, in turn, have started their own, and so on, said Robert Ferretti, education and outreach manager at the Office of Sustainability. The program now includes more than 50 leaders from 40 offices, professional schools and departments, who lead an estimated 200 volunteers.

“It’s like a spiderweb effect,” he remarked.

Because the Sustainable Leaders Program is a grass-roots campaign, Ferretti said he anticipates that — as it continues to grow — faculty and staff will brainstorm a diverse variety of cost-effective, sustainable practices.

Three green team leaders interviewed said the budget cut is an opportunity to inspire their colleagues to go green. All three said they are currently advocating practices they have implemented in their own offices — ranging from encouraging a system of reusable mugs instead of plastic cups to sending e-mails instead of paper invitations or letters.

“These steps sound small, both on a sustainability and an economic front,” said Abigail Roth, director of alumni affairs at the Law School and former “green team” leader. “But they will add up if we all do them.”

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