University announces sustainability goals

University President Richard Levin yesterday announced a set of three-year sustainability goals, recommended by a task force comprised of University administrators.

The new plan is an expansion of the University’s pledge to decrease carbon emissions 43 percent below 2005 levels by 2020. Yale’s Sustainability Task Force, which Levin formed in the summer of 2009, outlined 12 different categories in which Yale can mitigate its environmental impact, including transportation, building design and construction, dining and greenhouse gas emissions.

“Universities have a critical role to play in curtailing global warming and providing leadership to build a more sustainable world.” Levin said in a press release. “As we embark on the Yale Sustainability Strategic Plan, we hope to instill in our students, staff, and faculty a full understanding of what it means to be a part of a sustainable tomorrow.”

Goals include constructing all new buildings to LEED Gold standards or better, increasing recycling tonnage by 25 percent, having 40 percent of dining hall food purchases meet one of four sustainability requirements and reducing the University fleet by 80 to 100 vehicles.

Julie Newman, director of the Office of Sustainability and convener of the Task Force, said that success rests on the ability of Yale students and faculty to work together to change the way they approach sustainability, because investments in energy-saving technology can only do so much.

“It’s not a matter of just setting these goals and doing things differently,” she said. “It’s about shifting the culture,” she said.

Though the Task Force provided the goals in the hopes that groups would find their own creative solutions, it does detail some incentive programs. By January 2011 departments will be eligible to receive recognition for meeting objectives. A new Microloan fund of $100,000 will allow these departments to borrow money for sustainability projects that will earn positive returns on their investments within three years.

“It will be a great opportunity for students and faculty to come up with innovative projects,”Newman said.

Levin said while reducing greenhouse gas emissions will raise operating costs by one percent, other programs such as increased recycling have no impact on the budget.

“Some save money, and some cost a little,” he said.

The report challenges Yale Transportation to increase the ridership of the Yale Shuttle and reduce the size of the university fleet. Newman said many vehicles do not get much use, so she has been evaluating how departments, which range from “facilities” to academic departments, can use vehicles more efficiently.

The task force also recommended that the administration add sustainability to the growing list of topics covered in freshmen orientation.

“The intention is to ensure that as freshmen come on campus, they’re introduced to Yale’s commitment to sustainability and invited to participate,” Newman said.

Over the past five years, Newman has overseen the installation of systems that measure indicators, such as food waste and energy consumption, which have allowed the university to work pursue the goals President Levin has announced.

“You have to be able to measure and analyze the trends over time to have an impact,” she said.

TD STEP coordinator Jake Mackenzie ’12 said he expects STEP to have a large role in helping the university to meet its goal, although the organization has not yet determined how its efforts will change in light of the announcement.

“I think it’s really great that Yale is making an effort to support sustainability,” he said. “It’s important that promoting sustainability be a part of a university’s mission.”

Newman said that while other universities have climate plans, none are as comprehensive as this one, and she expects Yale’s plan to “pave the way for our peers,” just as Yale’s commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in 2005 prompted other universities to make similar statements.

Yale currently emits about 240,000 metric tons of carbondioxide equivalent per year, down from about 258,000 metric tons in 2005.

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