When the Yale Office of Sustainability gathered to announce its assessment of the University’s sustainability goals, there was one resounding conclusion: “There are gaps.”
This summer, the Sustainability Strategic Plan of 2013–16 will come to an end. The new strategic plan currently being drafted will span nine years — between 2017 and 2025 — rather than three, and set sustainability targets to be met by 2050. Students were invited to review and comment on a draft of this new plan at a Monday open forum, hosted by the Office of Sustainability together with the Sustainability Service Corps.
The strategic plan begins with a “sustainability vision” to be met by 2050, which is unprecedented in its goal to align sustainability goals with Yale’s academic mission to create, disseminate and preserve knowledge.
The plan highlights the University’s goal of becoming a global sustainability leader that integrates its contribution to social, environmental and financial excellence with sustainability.
The sustainability plan is broken down into eight “ambitionaries” — the highest-priority aspirations of the nine-year stratagem — and further distinguishes between objectives that support these ambitionaries. Following this distinction, the plan goes into depth about the goals of each objective, and outlines step-by-step strategies for achieving each goal.
“Now we are saying, ‘We know where we are; here’s where we’d like to be,’” Amber Garrard, education and outreach manager at the Yale Office of Sustainability said. “As an academic institution, we have the responsibility to ask those questions.”
The proposed plan’s ambitionaries center around eight concepts: Leadership in teaching, research, service and operations, empowerment through diversity, health and well-being, climate action — which Garrard specifically noted is a topic requiring “urgent action” — stewardship, mobility, material flow and technology. Garrard emphasized the importance of “smart goals” that are feasible, measurable and time-sensitive. She added that it is important to support each of the objectives within the broader ambitionary categories, while ensuring the plan is in touch with the priorities of the Yale community.
Further focal points of the plan include student and faculty education and risk-taking. The plan’s steering committee noted that the University should not be hesitant about pursuing a goal it does not immediately have the means to achieve.
The plan also resolves to expand the general knowledge of sustainability initiatives and the impacts of personal actions in order to best use campus resources wisely. Garrard referred to these new perspectives as a “complete shift from how we have been doing things.”
After Garrard opened the plan up to student critiques, Jane Zhang ’19, Sustainability Service Corps residential college coordinator for Berkeley College, made notes on one of the diversity ambitions of the new strategic plan, which she said aims to include communities that may not currently be in the conversation around sustainability.
“It’s important to engage the cultural communities at Yale and ask for their perspectives,” Zhang said. “So we can consider hosting an event that brings all the cultural houses together to discuss how sustainability relates to members’ experiences, culture and communities.”
To this idea, Garrard responded positively, engaging with the idea of individual workshops or group roundtables with the University’s cultural houses. Other student recommendations included developing technology to connect a centralized group of students interested in sustainability initiatives and School of Forestry & Environmental Studies researchers, and seminar-esque open roundtables on the sustainability strategic plan.
National University of Singapore junior Samuel Cheng, who is also an SSC Materials Management Team member, spoke of the importance of the logistics of such a plan.
“If you plan all your initiatives on a vague sense of what constitutes a better outcome, then it is not really going to get you anywhere,” Cheng said.
The Yale Office of Sustainability is currently seeking student recommendations and input on the progress of the new plan.