Amanda Hu

At the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies, collective action from students, faculty and staff is making Yale’s pilot Carbon Charge Project more collaborative and educational.

After University President Peter Salovey announced the pilot program — which charges 20 campus buildings at different levels depending on their energy use — in December 2015, the F&ES community has stepped into a leadership role among all participating buildings, departments and schools. Kroon Hall’s formerly high levels of energy consumption were reduced after F&ES students and faculty worked with Yale Facilities staff to discuss how the building could be made more energy-efficient.

James Ball FES ’16, a master’s student specializing in sustainable building, penned an April 13 article on the F&ES website that demonstrates how the school is heading the reduction of energy use across all campus buildings participating in the Carbon Charge Project. Ball told the News that he wrote the article in part because the Carbon Charge Project initially appeared too focused on simply reducing energy use across campus and was neglecting the program’s broader educational potential.

In the past four months, Kroon Hall’s energy use has been reduced by 7 percent relative to the building’s 2015 consumption — a decrease Ball hopes other campus buildings will learn to emulate.

“You can reduce energy and still learn valuable lessons, or you can reduce energy and not learning anything from it. But in an academic institution, the learning has to be front and center,” Ball said. “The learning opportunities for [F&ES] are perhaps more than other schools, but the interesting thing is that energy use exists for everybody regardless of what their studies are,” he said. Ball added that the Carbon Charge Project, which is in its pilot year, should be collaborative as well as competitive.

Ball said Yale’s facilities staff got their start on sustainable buildings when working with Kroon Hall, which was one of Yale’s first green buildings when it was completed in 2009. Kroon Hall is the most energy-efficient building on Yale’s campus, and has been internationally recognized for its energy efficiency.

To shift the focus of the Carbon Charge Project from simply addressing energy consumption to educating students about sustainability, a number of student research projects at F&ES have been sparked by Kroon Hall’s participation in the program. Under the guidance of Susan Wells, director of finance and administration at F&ES, students have researched the reduction of Kroon Hall’s energy use. Data gathered from around 2,000 sensors around Kroon Hall that measure temperature and energy use can be used by students both at F&ES and beyond who are researching sustainable buildings. Ball said he has been working to make this data more readily available for student research projects.

The collaboration at Kroon Hall is due, in large part, to Wells, according to Sara Smith FES ’07 MPH ’07, program manager of the Environmental Studies Program at Yale College. Smith said that Wells helped convene a pilot group of F&ES representatives to reduce the building’s energy use.

Wells said that although Yale Facilities has hundreds of buildings to keep track of, several of the facilities department’s staff members meet regularly with F&ES deans and administrators to analyze the latest data from Kroon and address any potential energy problems that arise.

Underscoring the importance of collaboration across the entire school, Mauricio Barragan FES ’17 said his classmates have also assisted in the production of a video for the Carbon Challenge.

While Barragan praised the Carbon Charge Project for allowing students and faculty to test and study sustainability on their own facilities, he said the program’s six-month duration may be too short a period to fully test certain ideas and behaviors.

“Our goal from the beginning was not just to reduce the carbon emissions of the building, but to use this opportunity to make Kroon Hall a living lab, where we could test different ideas,” Barragan said.

Although Kroon Hall is pioneering energy-reduction strategies that non-science departments in the Carbon Charge Project could learn from, some F&ES students acknowledged that F&ES is in a better position to reduce energy use through academic research, making Kroon Hall’s success difficult to replicate across the University.

“The learning opportunities for [F&ES] are perhaps more than other schools, but the interesting thing is that energy use exists for everybody regardless of what their studies are,” Ball said.

Barragan also pointed out that F&ES is well-positioned to approach the Carbon Charge Project because of the expertise of its faculty and students in topics like green buildings, carbon prices and environmental communications.

Today, an F&ES environmental economics group called On the Margin will host a discussion and presentation about the Carbon Charge Project, with a focus on the broader economic and political implications of carbon charge programs.