Sustainability plan launched

Sustainability
Photo by Henry Ehrenberg.

Two days after the release of the 2013–2016 Sustainability Strategic Plan to the Yale community, University President Peter Salovey and members of the Yale sustainability community gathered to officially launch the effort.

Salovey noted that while the 2010–2013 plan had focused on environmental policy changes in the Yale community, the new plan centers upon encouraging behavioral change in areas ranging from food consumption to paper use. The event, which took place in the President’s Room in Woolsey Hall, also reflected on the successes and shortcomings in meeting the goals established in the 2010–2013 sustainability plan.

“This is about empowering the community to make mindful decisions and integrating these principles into everyday behavior,” said Amber Garrard, education and outreach program manager at the Office of Sustainability.

Salovey’s remarks addressed the most effective ways to encourage behavioral change. Drawing on counterintuitive research from his field of social psychology, Salovey said the most effective way to have the community adopt attitudes sympathetic to environmental causes is to target behavioral change as a means to change attitudes.

Salovey encouraged the community to embrace behavioral changes. “Fake it ’till you make it,” he added.

Executive Director of Yale Dining Rafi Taherian said the plan aims to increase plant-based food offerings in the dining halls 15 percent by June 2016 and ensure that 37 percent of the food offerings are local, eco-sensitive, humane or fair. Taherian said he anticipates the increased offerings will lead to behavioral modifications among students.

“We plan to seduce our students with plant-based foods, not mandate change,” he said.

Yet exactly how administrators will motivate behavioral change remains unclear. Senior Adviser to the President Martha Highsmith said she hopes to employ social media and promote environmental initiatives in the residential colleges. Echoing Salovey’s remarks, she added that efforts to create behavioral change will draw on research about social norms, specifically trying to understand how the prominent members of the community can influence others.

The University met 34 of the 43 goals in the 2010–2013 sustainability plan, said sustainability program manager Keri Enright-Kato. Although the 2010–2013 plan aimed for a 25 percent reduction in paper use, the University only managed a 7.3 percent reduction below 2010 levels, she said. The University only just slightly failed to reach its 25 percent waste reduction goal, coming in at a 24.4 percent decrease.

In recycling, the University surpassed its 26 percent recycling rate goal by 2.1 percent, and in energy use, achieved a 5 percent reduction rate, surpassing its 4 percent reduction goal. Enright-Kato said the University now gets more of its paper from sustainable sources, with 74 percent of procured paper consisting of 30 percent recycled content and 21 percent consisting of 50 percent recycled content.

According to Highsmith, much of the success comes from the fact that sustainability at Yale is no longer the domain of solely a single office — while the Office of Sustainability previously worked in a more isolated manner, it now is “embedded” within the community in a leadership role, helping schools and museums find solutions for the unique problems they face.

On Monday, the School of Medicine released its own sustainability plan — similar plans from other schools will be released in the upcoming weeks. These individualized plans allow schools to tailor the University initiatives to their own needs, said assistant director at the Office of Sustainability Melissa Goodall. Within each school, Goodall emphasized that administrators, faculty and students will be engaged in environmental initiatives.

“That’s the authentically sexy thing about this plan,” Goodall said. “We’re going to work with all constituencies in an equal way.”

A final progress report on the 2010–2013 Sustainability Strategic Plan will be released in the upcoming weeks.

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