Joy Lian

Almost half of the research undertaken at Yale somehow relates to the Sustainable Development Goals, or SDGs, that are promoted by the United Nations as 17 areas in need of universal improvement, according to a new report published by the Yale Office of Sustainability on Nov. 16.

In 2015, 193 U.N. member states adopted the SDGs, with a goal of reaching all of their targets by the year 2030. According to the U.N.’s official website, the SDGs aim to combat social issues such as hunger, poverty and gender inequality, while also targeting environmental issues like sustainable infrastructure and clean energy for cities. Yale launched its own program to mirror the U.N. plan in 2016, with the intention of making all of Yale’s infrastructure sustainable by 2025. And as of the November report, 44 percent of Yale’s research relates to the SDGs in some way.

“The business sector and civil society played very active roles in helping to develop the SDGs, but it seems like universities, as the knowledge sector, can contribute,” said Associate Director of the Yale Office of Sustainability Melissa Goodall when asked about the role of universities in achieving the SDGs.

The SDGs replaced the original eight MDGs, or Millennium Development Goals, which were developed in 2000. According to Goodall, those original objectives were established in order to aid developing countries, while the revamped SDGs aim to improve nations worldwide.

Yale’s foray into sustainability began when the University reviewed the projects of 4,415 Yale faculty to create a database containing information on how University research relates to Yale’s sustainability goals. According to the Office of Sustainability’s report, 2,810 Yale faculty work on projects related to the third SDG, Good Health and Well-Being — the most represented of the goals on Yale’s campus. The report noted that so much of Yale’s research falls under this particular goal because of the projects undertaken by the School of Medicine and the School of Public Health.

Other strengths on Yale’s campus include the fourth goal, Quality Education, and the 16th goal, Peace, Justice and Strong Institutions, with each goal represented by 733 and 933 faculty members, respectively. In contrast, only about 54 Yale projects relate to the 14th goal, Life Below Water.

Two groups at Yale spearhead the efforts to bring sustainability to the University: an advisory council and a steering committee. The former, which includes members such as Yale College Dean Marvin Chun, meets to discuss ways in which Yale can move forward in its vision for sustainability. The latter, which holds three meetings a year, designs projects and directs the implementation of the SDGs on campus.

Goodall also listed current student efforts to promote a more aware Yale population. Yale graduate students involved in the international organization Nature, Health and Built Environment have teamed up with schools like MIT, the University of Cambridge and the University of Oxford to host a lecture circuit on how the environment affects health.

Yale chapter head Misha Semenov ARCH ’19 commented on his group’s mission, saying that he and his team are “trying to bridge between different disciplines so we can be more effective environmental leaders.”

As of December, Semenov’s group has hosted several lectures, including two events that the organization livestreamed from England. He noted that four lectures will take place in the coming semester.

Goodall told the News that the Office of Sustainability is currently developing reports for Yale departments in an effort to further inform faculty of the office’s plans. She also added that the office’s next steps include launching a website that will explore higher education’s role in achieving the SDGs.

The Office of Sustainability was founded in 2005.

Valerie Pavilonis |