Yale has a proud history of environmental leadership — sending some of the first resource conservation expeditions to the Western frontier in the 1800s, founding one of America’s first forestry schools in 1900, and this week setting historic targets for institutional energy conservation and investment in clean energy.
President Richard Levin’s announcement on Tuesday that our university will invest money saved from conserving electricity into purchasing clean energy for residential colleges is a powerful commitment to environmental stewardship and sustainability. This innovative and pragmatic program points the way to a vision for environmental change that can unite both major institutions and individuals.
This commitment to sustainable energy was a team effort. Yale’s journey to this innovative program began several years ago when both students and administrators recognized that clean energy would be one of the most effective investments in a stronger environment that the University could make.
Yale went through a comprehensive and inclusive process that brought together students, staff and faculty. An impressive number of organizations have collaborated to make this commitment a reality. Dedicated work by the Yale Energy Task Force, the Advisory Committee on Environmental Management, the Office of Sustainability, the Yale Student Environmental Coalition, the Climate Campaign, the Yale College Council and New Haven Action have all contributed to the landmark commitment.
The commitment is a partnership between Yale students and administrators. The strategy for achieving conservation and clean energy targets will match Yale students’ energy savings with investments in clean energy. For every 5 percent reduction in electricity use in each residential college, Yale will commit to investing in clean energy for one-third of the residential college’s electricity needs. This commitment means that if students can reduce electricity consumption 15 percent over the next three years, Yale could be supporting its residential colleges with clean energy by the time some of us graduate — an impressive effort to ensure swift action on the University’s clean energy goals.
Since residential college electricity use accounts for roughly 20 percent of Yale’s overall energy consumption, if students can successfully meet the conservation targets set by President Levin, then Yale could support 20 percent of its overall electricity consumption with energy generated from renewable sources.
This commitment will have a real effect. The literal tons of carbon dioxide that will not be emitted will make our university a leader in improving the air we breathe, supporting a healthier Connecticut. The thousands of barrels of oil that will not be burned for electricity will make our nation less dependent on foreign energy sources. Most importantly, Yale has laid out a framework for other colleges and universities around the nation to achieve conservation targets and invest in clean energy.
Yale students can start taking action now. There are many steps students can take to help meet the conservation targets: turning down your heat at night, replacing regular light bulbs with compact fluorescent bulbs provided by STEP, activating your computer’s power management features, washing only full loads of laundry (or, better yet, using cold water wash detergent) and ensuring that all your appliances are unplugged during school breaks. Large or small, every step you take will advance Yale’s tradition of environmental leadership.
Whitney Haring-Smith is a junior in Morse College. He is the executive director of New Haven Action.