Like many universities, Yale has pledged to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions. Recently, Yale pledged to reduce its emissions by 43 percent from 2005 levels by 2020. Now, as universities and even Fortune 500 companies commit to 100 percent emissions reductions, it’s time to check up on Yale. Though Yale has been putting forward new sustainability, beneath the public eye, the University has only reduced emissions by 16 percent — a decrease too slow to meet the 2020 goal.
Now, as a community, it’s time to look for alternatives. We have a duty not to let our dollars be wasted on fuel rather than being put towards scholarships or programming.
But why wait for the administrators? The path to big decisions can be a slow one for a university. To reduce emissions, why not start with your math professor’s home instead?
Students have been working to decarbonize Yale through formal channels, but progress can begin with the Yale community, inspiring institutional change through private consent. Yale Project Bright, an undergraduate team, has publicly requested the 100 percent decarbonization of all faculty and staff households where it would be cost-neutral or profitable to do so. Other student groups have voiced support, including the Yale Student Environmental Coalition. But the agreement has stretched beyond campus as well, to major solar installers who can help make the vision a reality.
Here’s the agreement Project Bright made: any homeowner (with a 650 credit score) can get a panel installation for free on their roof. The homeowner (your professor or favorite dining hall staffer) pays the installer the cost of their old electricity bill (or less) for fewer than five years, and after that, they get free electricity. Absolutely free. And they get the additional benefit of increased property value. If they sign on through a student, they get an extra month of energy for free. So in that case, it’s free with a bit more free included for free.
Students can take a stand and ask their professors if they might consider a solar array on their home. It’s a proposition many haven’t thought through, but one that even the most nefarious hater of trees could still embrace as a risk-free source of profit. 75 percent of the millions of American households that have gone solar cite reduced electricity costs as their main reason for the switch. Installations are completed in a single day. An average homeowner can expect $714 in annual savings on their electricity bill.
How would you spend $714? The question may be more relevant than you think, as Project Bright and the Yale College Council have partnered to reward students handsomely for encouraging Yale homeowners to go solar.
Imagine a city full of faculty and staff members with roofs adorned in solar panels. The financial savings and emissions reductions they experience will signify to the administration that solar at Yale can have a positive impact on the community. This display of a cost-effective and progressive energy solution will illustrate Yale as a fiscally and environmentally responsible institution. Yale’s status would make this type of solar project even more visible, creating the potential for this strategy to serve as a replicable model for other universities. As we face a climate change crisis, we can no longer waste our energy fretting about red tape.
For this green endeavor, I would suggest walking around the red tape.
Financial savings with environmental benefits is a fantastic double bottom line. Private consent can offer the most clear and convincing evidence for why the University should commit to further carbon reduction.
With an ever-expanding campus, Yale’s power plants will supply a decreasing percentage of our necessary energy. A recent installation at West Campus has demonstrated that solar can be a fiscally sound choice for Yale. But this is just a first step and we need to expand this vision. If greater solar installations prove to provide economic benefits to our community, it is our obligation to convince the University to begin this transition as well. We hope to engage a large group of students to expand the reach and impact of this initiative by having the right conversations with faculty and staff.
It’s easy to talk about change, but we need to take action, and this starts with us.
Tess Maggio is a senior in Davenport College. Contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org .