Paula Pineda, Contributing Photographer

Students are becoming increasingly disillusioned with the University’s progress on sustainability, according to the results of the Yale Office of Sustainability’s most recent Sustainability Survey Report.

The report, which was released in February, outlined the results of a survey sent to students and staff this fall, which included general sustainability knowledge questions, questions on respondents’ sustainable behavior, opinions on environmental issues and questions soliciting feedback on the University’s sustainability initiatives. The survey was last distributed in 2018. 

According to the results, students’ views toward sustainable progress have become more pessimistic since the survey was first released in 2018. About five percent of first-year students in 2018 strongly agreed that Yale was a leader in sustainability. Almost none of the fourth-year students in 2021 strongly agreed. Similarly, less than 20 percent of both students and staff strongly agreed that their peers or coworkers cared about the environment. 

“I don’t think that there’s much guidance or efforts promoted to students, [so] that even the ones who would choose to live sustainably if they could, don’t have access to those resources,” said Zoe Kanga ’24, a Yale conservation scholar. “There’s no effort, I think, to expand on that knowledge on campus.”  

The Sustainability Survey is a part of the University’s 2025 Sustainability Plan to develop and launch a sustainability literacy initiative. The results of the report will be used by the Office of Sustainability when developing new projects and initiatives, according to Lisa Noriega, sustainability data analyst at the Office of Sustainability. 

The results also did not report significant progress on students’ confidence that they have the resources to act sustainably. Less than ten percent of first-year students in 2018 and fourth-year students in 2021 strongly agreed that they knew how to find information for questions they have related to sustainability on campus or that they knew how to get involved in sustainability efforts at Yale. 

“[A] possible contributor to students’ feelings is the current global reality — the climate crisis has raised expectations for action because the stakes are higher,” Noriega told the News.

While 90 percent of students strongly agreed with the statement that the world faces environmental threats that are real and must be dealt with as soon as possible, a much lower proportion of staff, at 70 percent, strongly agreed. Nearly a hundred percent of students and ninety percent of  staff strongly agreed with the statement that “climate change is happening, and it is caused mostly by human activities.”

Kanga said that she had felt a gap between her classmates’ views on climate change and those of her professors at the School of Environment. Professors were not included in the 2021 sustainability survey.

“I think that the School of the Environment could benefit from hiring new, diverse, young thinkers,” Kanga said. “A lot of my professors are a lot older than me … And none of them look like me, which is disconcerting because, moving forward, climate action needs to be centered around justice and diversity and equity. We can’t have those conversations at this institution if our environmental studies program is all white men.”

Noriega noted the importance of surveying staff as well as students, as she said this gives the University a fuller picture of the community’s attitudes towards sustainability .

“Notably, we are among a small group of institutions of higher education that survey more stakeholders than just students, and we do this so that we can adequately address what the Yale community as a collective thinks, needs, and wants in relation to sustainability,” Noriega told the News.

About 40 percent of staff and 50 percent of students strongly agreed that being involved in environmental issues was their responsibility. 

“There is a perceivable culture around environmental science and sustainability,” said Parker Chang ’25, who serves as a Trumbull Sustainability Liaison. “At the same time, I’m not willing to say that like every single student would necessarily be on board.” 

More than 80 percent of students and staff answered that they would practice more sustainable behaviors if they had a clearer way to see and measure the difference it makes. 

Madeline Meade ’23, the former secretary of Green, a sustainability club, told the News that, alongside many survey respondents, she feels like the University could do far more to address sustainability, especially on the smaller scale.

“Every student can see how much food waste there is or feel our drafty windows.” Meade said. “There’s definitely good, big moves being made or are in the process of being made by Yale as a whole, but I think some things can be kind of hard to see on the smallest scale.”

The University is currently working on its 2025 Sustainability Plan, which the Sustainability Survey is a part of. The nine-year plan was launched in 2016 and outlines the University’s goals towards sustainability, which range from waste management to promoting student engagement and literacy on sustainability.  

Less than 15 percent of students and about 20 percent of staff said they were familiar with the University’s Sustainability Plan 2025, according to the Sustainability Survey Report.

Correction, March 4: A previous version of this article said that faculty filled out the Sustainability Survey, when in fact the survey only received responses from students and staff. A previous version of this article also said the survey is annual, but the survey was last released in 2018. The article has been updated to reflect these changes.

Isabel Maney covers sustainability and environment. She is a first-year in Trumbull College.