University announces three-year sustainability plan

After meeting nearly all the goals in Yale’s 2010–2013 sustainability plan, the University has embarked on a new leg of its initiative to reduce its environmental impact.

Announced in a University-wide email from University President Peter Salovey Monday afternoon, the new three-year plan is divided into five parts: sustainability leadership and capacity building, energy and greenhouse gas emissions, natural and built environment, food and well-being and material management. The 18-page document further divides the groups into subcategories, setting out a series of broad goals and specific objectives for each.

“The most important thing I see on the horizon is a focus on behavior change,” said senior adviser to the president Martha Highsmith. “The challenge now is to win the hearts and minds of folks.”

Highsmith said that Salovey’s background as a social psychologist will be helpful in implementing the plan. Still, its success will largely depend on whether Yale community members alter their use of resources, she said.

Salovey, who served as provost during the final stages of the plan’s development last year, has reviewed the entire document. On Wednesday, Salovey plans to endorse the plan in remarks made in the President’s Room on the second floor of Woolsey Hall.

“Sustainability calls for new ways of supplying energy, serving food, circulating vehicular and pedestrian traffic, distributing documents and maintaining landscapes,” Salovey said in the introduction to the document, adding that the University has “much of the necessary technology” to reduce its environmental footprint.

According to the goals laid out within the five categories, the University plans to reduce greenhouse gas emissions to 5 percent below 2013 emission levels, reduce potable water use by 5 percent below 2013 water-use levels and reduce both paper and office supply purchases by 10 percent below 2013 levels. The target completion date for these goals is June 2016.

The plan also includes specific dining-related goals, such as increasing the use of plant-based foods in Yale Dining by 15 percent over 2013 levels. Yale will also ensure that at least 37 percent of the food used by Dining is at least one of the following: local, eco-sensitive, humane or fair trade.

In addition to the new University-wide plan, each of Yale’s schools will receive a customized sustainability plan jointly created by Yale sustainability professionals and members of each school. Some schools have already received their plan, and the School of Medicine’s Laboratory Sustainability Plan was released Monday.

The creation of the tailored plans, part of the University-wide Sustainability Leadership & Capacity Building goals, came from the need to “offer more localized context” to the University-wide plan, said Assistant Director of the Office of Sustainability Melissa Goodall. The Divinity School plan focuses on food sustainability, while the SOM plan emphasizes energy and waste management, she added.

“A huge difference between the last plan and this one is the balance between operational change and behavior change,” Goodall said. “The first plan lived largely in facilities — the accountability was behind the scenes. Now that we have come this far, meeting the goals in this plan will require that staff, students and faculty make thoughtful choices.”

Although Highsmith emphasized altering behavior as one of the primary focuses of sustainability efforts at Yale, students, who invariably make up a large proportion of the University’s energy consumption, remained largely unaware of the administration’s efforts to improve sustainability. Of 32 students interviewed on Monday evening, only five had read the plan.

The lack of student awareness stands in contrast to major efforts on the behalf of the Office of Sustainability, where 26 students work in the Sustainability Service Corps and 32 work as research assistants.

Richita Gupta ’16, one of the few students who had looked through the document, said she was pleased with Yale’s efforts to try to become more environmentally friendly.

The initiative’s announcement comes less than two weeks after the appointment of Virginia Chapman to lead the Office of Sustainability, which has been without a director since Julie Newman left to lead sustainability efforts at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in mid-August. Although Chapman will not officially step into her new capacity until Nov. 18, Highsmith said she will play a critical role in implementing the plan. Chapman could not be reached Monday.

The Yale Office of Sustainability was established in 2005.

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