Sustainability microloans engage community

Although much of the University’s sustainability efforts are conducted by paid professionals, Yale is also giving students and faculty a chance to get their hands dirty while going green.

Established in the fall of 2010, the Yale Sustainability Microloan Fund gives students, faculty and staff money to develop money-saving sustainable projects the University will implement, said Melissa Goodall, assistant director of the Office of Sustainability and chair of the fund’s committee. Another goal of the fund is to encourage people to think critically and differently about their surroundings in order to create a more sustainable environment, Microloan Co-ordinator Kathryn Wright FES ’13 said.

Currently accepting a second series of applications, the microloan fund awarded approximately $40,000 to three different initiatives this spring, Goodall said.

Winning projects, Goodall said, are creative, innovative solutions that are financially viable and result in demonstrable environmental benefits. She added that an “absolutely critical” part of success is obtaining a letter of support from each of the groups on campus involved in the project.

The Office of Sustainability, she said, awards no-interest loans ranging from $500 to $25,000. The loans must be paid back in cost savings within a three to five year period, she said.

Wright added that applicants are asked to calculate the cost savings of their plans, which determine how quickly the loan needs to be paid back. The microloan fund, she said, comes from a fixed allocation of the University’s general funds that had a starting balance of $100,000.

The fund’s decision committee, which last met Nov. 17 to discuss the new pool of applicants, includes members from the School of Forestry and Environmental Sciences, the School of Management, the Divinity School, Yale Dining and Facilities and the Office of the Controller. Due to the ongoing nature of the selection process, Goodall said she would not cWright said she spoke with several people who demonstrated interest in the microloan fund. However, she said many chose not to apply. She added that the committee plans to take a more direct marketing approach and target those who would most likely be interested in the program. She is currently researching other microloan programs such as Harvard’s Green Campus Loan Fund and the University of Pittsburgh’s Green Fund. Harvard University’s Green Campus Loan Fund is a $12 million loan that supports projects reducing Harvard’s impact on the environment. Over $15.1 million has been awarded to 192 projects, according to the university’s Office of Sustainability website.

The first round of the two-part microloan application process focuses on idea generation, Wright said. The second round of the application, she added, requires applicants to provide more information as well as a detailed cost breakdown, which requires applicants to work with experts on Yale’s campus to determine the best solution to the problems identified. Although Wright said she cannot explain the drop in the number of applications, she suggested that the process may seem a bit involved to potential applicants.

Wright, however, stressed that the Office of Sustainability provides extensive Yozwiak used her $1,200 loan to start Project Bright, a program that aims to involve students in the process of designing and installing solar panels for campus buildings.

“A lot of times you don’t really have a chance to see [sustainability in action] or experience it until you really get your hands dirty and have your hands on a panel as opposed to someone just spouting facts about climate change and global warming,” Yozwiak said.

Fifteen student members of Project Bright recently became certified in solar installation after taking outside classes throughout the fall semester. The group’s next plan is to conduct a study of the solar potential of campus buildings.

Yozwiak said the University’s Department of Environmental Health and Safety helped identify five buildings with flat, safe roofs with significant access to sunlight. After winter break, she added, members of Project Bright will work with EHS to determine which rooftops receive the most sunlight and can therefore generate the most solar power.

The microloan from the Office of Sustainability does not cover the cost of installing the solar panels, and for that she is currently looking for an organization to finance the purchase of the equipment needed to construct a solar panel.

Yozwiak said she is confident that Project Bright will have constructed a new solar panel on Yale’s campus by the end of spring semester.

“I would bet my life that we can get it done by the end of next semester. The project’s gaining momentum,” she added.

Yozwiak said she hopes Project Bright can eventually grow into a larger organization of students who install solar panels on roofs throughout campus and New Haven.Microloan recipient Timothy Terway FES ’16 said he used his $17,500 loan to buy energy modlets, which monitor the energy usage of an outlet. These modlets — short for “modern outlets” — are made by New York City-based ThinkEco Corporation, which was founded by Yale graduates. The modlets, he said, have automatic shutoff capabilities that can reduce energy consumption.

He added that the modlets will also be used in a study next semester to determine how social pressure affects energy usage among students at the Divinity School. A third of participating students, Terway said, will view their personal energy usage on their personal computers, while another third will view it using a public screen. The remaining students will serve as a control group. The modlets will be distributed in January, at which point the two-month baseline data collection process will also begin. He added that once preliminary data is collected, the Divinity School can begin a process of target reduction.

The Peabody Museum also received $21,125 to replace the 90-watt halogen lights in the museum’s store with 17-watt LED lights. The LED bulbs last for 10 years, whereas the halogen bulbs last less than a year, said Kathleen Keenan, the store’s retail manager. After applying for a microloan in spring, Keenan said the museum was notified of its award status in May, and funding was received in early fall. All 90 of the overhead lights in the museum store were changed over the course of two days, and the process of replacing the 80 lights in jewelry cases should be completed early next year, Keenan said. These and other changes, she added, will save $11,000 annually in bulb and energy costs, as well as reduce the equivalent of one metric ton of greenhouse gas emissions annually.

“My biggest surprise was just how big an impact one tiny place on campus could have,” she said.

Goodall said the Peabody lighting installation is the first of its kind on campus.

“It’s very nice for us to have the gift shop in particular be a place where the program will be conspicuous and raise awareness about sustainability on campus,” Goodall said.

Wright said interested students, faculty and staff should contact her if they wish to know more about the microloan fund.

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