Yale’s Sustainability Strategic Plan 2013–2016 is on track despite an increase in greenhouse gas emissions by the University in 2014, according to a report by the Office of Sustainability.
The report tracks the progress of Yale’s Sustainability Plan in its first year and reveals that the University has achieved, or is on target to reach, its goals for the three years. These aims include cultivating environmentally conscious practices across Yale’s offices, departments and professional schools, as well as reducing the use of paper in office supply purchases by 10 percent.
However, there have also been several setbacks. Chief among these is a 3.38 percent increase in greenhouse gas emissions, despite the plan’s goal to reduce emissions by 5 percent by 2016.
Director of the Office of Sustainability Virginia Chapman said the deviation has resulted from factors outside the University’s control.
“This slight increase can be attributed to the colder-than-average winter experienced in New England,” Chapman said. “The cold weather necessitated an increase in the generation of steam to heat campus and a curtailment of natural gas as a fuel source. As an interruptible natural gas customer, Yale voluntarily switches from natural gas to oil, a more carbon intensive fuel source, in times of unusually high demand.”
Despite this hiccup in the three-year plan, Chapman maintains there is a larger trend toward lowering Yale’s energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions. The office recognizes, she added, that the emissions-reduction path will likely be made up of a series of victories and setbacks that will ultimately lead to the goal of an overall net reduction of emissions by 2020.
Students surveyed largely agreed that the University’s greenhouse gas emissions should decrease.
Fossil Free Yale Project Manager Mitch Barrows ’16 said the goals of the University’s sustainability efforts and the goals of Fossil Free Yale, the undergraduate organization committed to divestment, diverge considerably. He said that while the University’s efforts are well-intentioned, administrators are nonetheless avoiding larger issues of social and climate justice.
“What the University is doing and what Fossil Free Yale [is] asking for are two different things,” Barrows said. “I think they’re using the sustainability initiatives not to address broader issues that Yale has the capacity and the obligation to address; they’re using sustainability as an excuse to avoid the larger questions.”
Brad Gentry, associate dean for professional practice and co-director of the Center for Business and the Environment, said lowering greenhouse gas emissions is not an easy task, especially considering that the University has already taken the biggest possible steps it can to reduce emissions. He added that further reduction of greenhouse gas emissions can be accomplished by building new structures and maintaining existing structures with sustainability in mind.
Another success laid out by the Office of Sustainability report is the efficacy of LEED certification programs for ensuring energy-efficient buildings on campus. LEED certification is an initiative designed by the U.S. Green Building Council that requires certain sustainable attributes like energy and water conservation. According to Chapman, LEED certification provides a third-party verification of Yale’s own sustainability design requirements for construction projects.
Gentry noted that while the facilities office is tasked with meeting the sustainability goals set out in the three-year plan, he believes academic and outreach departments are taking a growing role in supporting these efforts.
The report recorded the greatest successes in cultivating environmentally conscious behaviors among Yale’s departments, offices and professional schools. According to Chapman, with the aid of the office, people all across the University have become increasingly accustomed to these practices and behaviors. For example, the goal of cutting paper use in offices by 10 percent laid out in the three-year plan has been exceeded in the first year alone — demonstrating the substantial support for sustainable practices across the University.
Gentry said that cumulatively, the University is halfway through its three-year plan, and preparations are beginning for the next phase of sustainability initiatives. He said that students from Yale’s professional schools have been researching similar initiatives at peer institutions, corporations and cities, in order to decide on the best way for Yale to move forward.