As the weather begins to cool down, members of the Yale community are invited to participate in a weeklong series of events to “Celebrate Sustainability” from Oct. 5 to 9.
The annual celebration provides Yale staff and students the opportunity to recognize the successes, challenges, and innovations of sustainability at Yale through a series of speakers and activities organized by groups across campus.
Maxwell Knapp, a Woodbridge Fellow at the Office of Sustainability, chose this year’s theme, “Sustainability Solutions: Global Challenges, Local Action,” after reading a recent interview with Norwegian psychologist Per Espen Stoknes. Stoknes argued that presenting environmental issues as catastrophes inhibits problem-solving, and advocated for “stories that tell us that nature is resilient and can rebound and get back to a healthier state, if we give it a chance to do so.”
“The message was really striking for me because so much of what you hear is the gloom-and-doom messaging that he denounces in the article, and I couldn’t shake the feeling that if we wanted to promote a culture in which we fostered creative, productive action, we needed to push against the fatalistic nature of some messaging about climate change,” Knapp explained.
Organizers hope the theme will pull the conversation towards a constructive and creative frame of mind based on the following questions: What exciting work is being done at Yale to solve problems related to sustainability? Where do you fit into Yale’s solutions that enhance sustainability? What solutions could be enhanced by participation from people outside of the Yale community? What concrete problems do we face that still need solutions? How can we present them as opportunities rather than catastrophes?
“This really isn’t a problem that can be solved by a few individuals,” Knapp continued. “It’s going to take actions of varying scales from everyone, and if we’re going to reach everyone, we absolutely must think about the most effective ways to communicate information. Plus, it emphasizes that there is always something you can do. People tend to pull the lens on policy makers and other global factors outside of their control, but making personal choices, like buying local products and making an effort to save energy and water, is enough to make an impact.”
“Celebrate Sustainability” is part of Yale’s larger effort towards achieving the goals set in the three-year Yale Sustainability Strategic Plan that President Peter Salovey announced in 2013. The celebration of sustainability also coincides with Connecticut’s first statewide Campus Sustainability Week coordinated by the Connecticut Alliance for Campus Sustainability, which Yale co-chairs with Eastern Connecticut State University.
“Yale is a great place for an event like Celebrate Sustainability, because there are so many people doing really exciting work,” said Knapp. “By taking a week to give people a chance to showcase their work, we’re making great opportunities for networking and synergies between different departments. Plus, it’s something we host near the start of the academic year, while people are still forming habits, so hopefully the message hits people at a time when they can more easily make changes to be more sustainable.”
Highlights of “Celebrate Sustainability” include:
- “City of 7 Billion: A Constructed World,” an exhibit at the Yale Architecture Gallery about the impact of population growth and resource consumption;
- meditation and yoga sessions across campus;
- a town hall about Yale’s forthcoming Sustainability Strategic Plan;
- a class session — open to all — for the Yale School of Public Health seminar “Early Childhood and the Sustainable Development Goals: What’s Next?” about new methods of how to care for the most vulnerable members of society;
- a tree planting to honor staff members celebrating milestone anniversaries;
- a bird observation walk around the campus;
- an opportunity to explore Yale’s urban meadows with Peabody naturalists;
- a lesson in “How to Compose a Meal” with Denise Appel of Zinc Restaurant;
- Yale Farm workdays;
- the Broadway Open Air Farmers Market;
- a colloquium on the green state of Africa by Carl Death, a professor of political economy at the University of Manchester;
- a lunchtime walk along the Farmington Canal.
In addition, the Office of Sustainability will hold a social media photo context, whereby members of the Yale community can promote sustainability on and off campus by Tweeting and/or Instagramming photos with the hashtag #YSustain while attending events and/or promoting sustainability solutions throughout the week.
A complete schedule of “Celebrate Sustainability” events can be found on the website.
Yale’s sustainability initiative
In 2005, Yale set a target to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from its two power plants and purchased electricity 43% below its 2005 levels by 2020. Yale launched its first Sustainability Strategic Plan in 2010, and with support and commitments set by departments across campus. By 2013 the university achieved a 16% reduction in campus greenhouse gas emissions below 2005 levels; a 24.4% reduction in municipal solid waste; a 28% recycling rate; the composting of 95% of pre- and post-consumer food waste in residential dining halls; 38% of dining hall food meeting one of the four sustainable food criteria; and 100% of new campus construction and major renovations earned a minimum of Leadership in Energy & Environmental (LEED) Gold certification.
The second Sustainability Strategic Plan for 2013 to 2016 built on early successes and expanded goals to focus on systems, such as materials management, which addresses procurement and disposal as interrelated, and leadership and capacity building, which recognizes the importance of empowering behavior change.
The Office of Sustainability looks forward to the next rendition of sustainability planning at Yale, which will incorporate thinking from a broader range of stakeholders across campus. As a part of stakeholder engagement, the Office of Sustainability is hosting a town hall on the first day of Celebrate Sustainability, Oct. 5. All members of the Yale community are welcome to join the discussion in Linsley-Chittenden Hall, room 317 from 5 to 6 p.m. to voice their opinions on how Yale can strive to be more sustainable. They hope to host more town halls in January and February.
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