Seven months after University President Peter Salovey announced six new sustainability initiatives, the University has released an update on those projects, prompting both praise and renewed skepticism.
On March 20, the University published a progress report on its series of efforts to address climate change, which ranged from capital investment for energy conservation to exploration of an internal carbon pricing mechanism.
However, some students — most vocally, members of the pro-divestment group Fossil Free Yale — have criticized the University for launching initiatives that focus on reform at the campus level, while neglecting harms caused more broadly by the fossil fuel industry.
In the recent update, the Office of Facilities reported that the University is on track this year to exceed the goals of its $7 million investment in energy-efficient capital projects, which will be completed across 10 buildings and five parking garages on both the central and medical campuses. A three-year $21 million capital investment for energy conservation also went towards an “Energy Solutions Fund,” through which the Yale’s Office of Sustainability has awarded $50,000 since August.
According to the Director of the Office of Sustainability Virginia Chapman, seven student proposals — which include the installation of LED lights, replacement of inefficient refrigerators and pilots for new technologies and engagement tools — have been selected for additional concept development.
“The fund seeks innovative ideas that assist Yale in conserving energy, reducing energy costs, lowering greenhouse gas emissions and promoting renewable technologies,” Chapman wrote in an email. “The thought was that the projects would be collaborative efforts that serve to educate and inform the Yale community on energy-saving results of the projects.”
Other projects addressed in the update include the complete installation of 350,000 square feet of solar panels on West Campus by mid-April, sustainability plans for each professional school and two new Green Innovation Fellowships.
Further, Chapman said the Office of Sustainability is “close to finalizing” Yale’s boundary of emissions, which will allow the University to gather data and submit its inventory of GHG emission for 2014 by June 30. This step is part of Yale’s process to adopt third-party verification of its greenhouse gas inventory.
However, some projects appear to have taken longer than initially outlined.
Though Salovey said in August that he asked the Presidential Carbon Charge Task Force — tasked with exploring the feasibility and effectiveness of instituting an internal carbon pricing mechanism — to issue its report “early next year,” the committee currently plans to release its report in April.
Since first meeting in October, the task force has held two University-wide competitions to solicit ideas for reducing energy use at the University and organized a full-day meeting with experts to discuss the implementation of carbon pricing in companies and universities.
According to Ryan Laemel ’14, a Woodbridge Fellow for the Office of Sustainability, the task force is still in the process of incorporating feedback from senior administrators.
Still, FFY representatives have framed the University’s announcement as a direct response to increased pressure on the administration to take action.
On March 5, FFY protested outside Woodbridge Hall and delivered a letter to the President’s Office, demanding the University plan to “address the multiple injustices created by the fossil fuel industry” by midnight on April 1, or risk “escalated direct action” by the group. With the deadline two days away, it appears the response by the University did not sufficiently meet these standards.
“Salovey’s response indicated that Yale is not on our side — yet. But that can change,” FFY said in a statement. “We are taking action until the administration chooses to become a leader for environmental justice and divests.”
But others on campus argued the sustainability efforts do meaningfully address climate concerns beyond the scope of the University.
Sachith Gullapalli ’17, one of the winners of the Green Innovation Fellowship, said the $15,000 in grant funding has been a tremendous opportunity for he and his co-founder to get their sustainability venture “Grovio,” which provides real-time data on crop health for farmers, off the ground. He added that while other universities have awards for student sustainability efforts, this combination of entrepreneurship and sustainability seems unique to Yale.
“One of the University’s stated reasons for not divesting is that it would primarily be a symbolic sacrifice of investment income, which could better be used to address climate change in the long term by investing in the University’s students and faculty,” Gullapalli said. “Whether you buy that or not, investing in green ventures and research is definitely a great way to leverage the talent on this campus and keep Yale at the forefront of the battle against climate change.”