Yale began to vocalize its commitment to reducing greenhouse gas emissions in 2005 and released its first three-year sustainability plan in 2010. A similar three-year plan was released in 2013, and now, with that coming to a close, the Office of Sustainability is working to finalize its next set of goals.
The Sustainability Strategic Plan 2013–2016 outlined objectives in five areas related to sustainability: energy and greenhouse gas emissions; natural and built environment; materials management; food and well-being; and sustainability leadership and capacity building. Leaders of the program said they are currently integrating feedback received from the current three-year plan when drafting the new plan for this spring. Virginia Chapman, director of the Office of Sustainability, told the News in an email that, for the upcoming plan, the Office of Sustainability hopes to emphasize materials management, the natural environment and energy and green house gas emissions and connect these areas “to ecological, social [and] financial contexts at the local and global levels.”
“We have been pleased with the progress we have been able to make in all of these areas as well as the lessons we have learned from the process of moving toward our goals,” Chapman said.
Chapman, along with Bradford Gentry, associate dean for professional practice at the School of Forestry and Environmental Studies, said the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions is one of the current plan’s most important and ambitious goals. Chapman highlighted the effectiveness of the Carbon Charge Pilot Program, which was instituted during the Office of Sustainability’s current three-year plan, and added that the University has worked to be more transparent about its emissions by releasing its inventory to a third-party monitor.
The Office of Sustainability’s other efforts to be more sustainable include changing landscaping practices on campus, installing urban meadows and rain gardens to reduce stormwater runoff and promoting use of public transportation, Chapman said. Students and faculty from F&ES, the School of Management, the Yale School of Public Health and Yale College have been involved with these projects, Gentry said. Chapman also noted that Utilities and Energy Management, Procurement, Waste Management and Dining staff helped with these projects.
“These partnerships and opportunities to test creative solutions at the community level — within a museum or school — have enabled us to customize our efforts for various audiences, and have demonstrated great leadership across the University,” Chapman said.
Gentry mentioned that, during a review of the current three-year plan conducted by the Sustainability Advisory Council — a faculty-led group responsible for strategic oversight of Yale’s sustainability effort — in the fall of 2014, he and others agreed that the plan was too limited to Yale’s New Haven campus. They advised that the plan be changed to consider local, regional, national and global impacts, he said.
Yet James Sirch, the public education coordinator at the Yale Peabody Museum of Natural History, noted that the collaboration between the University and the museum has already led to significant improvements for the area’s wildlife, not just on Yale’s campus.
“Yale has begun to make some positive changes in eliminating grass and establishing no-mow areas and small meadows in some places,” Sirch said. “We have documented more birds and insects using these areas.”
In October 2015, the Office of Sustainability published a progress report detailing how the current plan was implemented from July 2014 to June 2015 and what the University could still do to improve efforts toward a more sustainable campus. In most areas, the University had either achieved the Sustainability Strategic Plan’s goals or was on track to do so.
But in some areas – such as waste production, green house gas emissions and energy consumption, single occupancy vehicle use and water use — the campus could “do better,” according to the report.
Chapman emphasized that students can play an important role in helping the University become more sustainable.
“Whether it’s how you use your building, the items you decide to purchase or how you move around campus and town, there are decisions you can make to improve the community around us every day,” Chapman said.
Since 2013, efforts by the Sustainability Strategic Plan have saved Yale 627,766 gallons of water.