On Tuesday, Yale’s Presidential Carbon Task Force announced a series of new efforts to engage campus opinion on sustainability measures.
The Task Force, formed by University President Peter Salovey in August, unveiled two competitions this week to solicit ideas for reducing energy use at the University. Since the central charge of the Task Force is to examine the feasibility and effectiveness of instituting an internal carbon pricing mechanism at Yale, representatives of the committee said these competitions will help the group utilize campus ideas and consider “best practices” in reducing Yale’s carbon footprint.
Although the task force was expected to submit a formal recommendation earlier this year, Presidential Carbon Task Force chair and economics professor William Nordhaus ’63 said the group intended to issue its formal recommendation in late February or March, so that a carbon charge — if recommended and approved — may still be implemented next year.
“[The competitions are] a major element of trying to engage the critical constituency that is going to be part of reducing greenhouse gas emissions, and understanding how we can engage faculty, students and staff,” said environmental law and policy professor Dan Esty, who is chairing one of the committee’s four working groups. “[The committee] is thinking about how to put a price on carbon and position Yale for leadership to bring down carbon emissions in a serious way.”
The first competition asks entrants to pitch ideas and consider opportunities to reduce energy use in student and staff behavior and future campus planning, among other areas. The task force sub-committee will then select up to 10 winning submissions for a cash prize of $100 per idea.
The second competition — rather than identify areas of conservation within the University — calls for individuals to submit “best practices” of sustainability, which can be drawn from other institutions, companies and governmental organizations. A grand prize of $500 will then be awarded to an individual, Yale club, group, department or college.
“Students, staff and faculty come to Yale with a wealth of experience, information and knowledge that they have gained over time,” Yale Office of Sustainability Program Manager Keri Enright-Kato wrote in an email. “Sustainability and energy conservation is a rapidly evolving field, and there are many successful strategies out there that we can learn from and adopt as best practices.”
Esty said the task force has been “running on parallel tracks” to develop an answer to how to best implement and blueprint a carbon charge for campus.
However, one difficulty of implementing a carbon charge is that it is most effective for individuals that actually pay energy bills, Esty said. He added that since many students and faculty on campus are not directly looking at these costs, the committee needed to consider alternate ways to enlist this part of the Yale community to reduce carbon emissions.
“The competition is not soliciting ideas about how to structure our carbon charge, per se, but soliciting ideas of how to reduce our carbon footprint on campus, which is the mission of the task force,” said Jennifer Milikowsky FES ’15 SOM ’15, one of the student members on the task force. “We have come across a bunch of these challenges, such as students not seeing their energy bills, so this competition is trying to combine these hurdles we have come across in implementing the charge and also to implement on the ground reductions.”
Despite these challenges, Nordhaus said the task force is considering both the budgetary and behavioral reforms that will make a carbon charge more effective for the Yale community.
“Everything we have heard is encouraging, both from inside and outside,” he added.
In addition to the competitions, the task force will also hire 10 student researchers to investigate energy conservation programs at other universities across North America.
While members of Fossil Free Yale — a student group advocating for divestment — noted that the initiatives by the task force were commendable, they said the policies should not be considered a complete solution by the University.
“Sustainability initiatives should be the norm — that we are doing everything we can to reduce our carbon footprint,” Communications Director for FFY Chelsea Watson ’17 said. “But in terms of the broader societal harms, it can be doing much more.”