Just in time for Earth Day: An update on Yale’s sustainability initiatives

On Aug. 27, 2014, President Peter Salovey announced six sustainability initiatives. Yale officials report that the university has made significant progress on each since then.

“Global climate change and its consequences are critical challenges of our time, and Yale has important and necessary roles to play in addressing them,” Salovey said when he launched the initiatives in 2014. He noted that the initiatives reflected suggestions from students, faculty, alumni, and staff.

The commitments involved investment in energy conservation and greenhouse gas reduction; exploration of pricing the university’s carbon dioxide emissions; expansion of renewable energy; verification of Yale’s greenhouse gas emissions accounting; fellowships to spur innovation in the field of sustainability; and a critical review of the ambitiousness of Yale’s campus sustainability plan.

Below are the university’s progress reports on each of the initiatives.

1. $21 million capital investment for energy conservation and greenhouse gas reduction

The Office of Facilities reports that Yale exceeded its original expectations in the first year of capital energy investments. Projects totaling $7 million were completed in 10 buildings and 5 parking garages on the Central and Medical campuses, resulting in an annual reduction of approximately 6,400 metric tons of carbon dioxide. This $7 million investment was the first of a three-year, $21 million total commitment. The Office of Facilities is actively implementing the second phase of the project with a strong portfolio of energy efficiency measures across the university, which will result in comparable savings.

These capital investments include an “Energy Solutions Fund” of $100,000 per year that is reserved for student-inspired and proposed projects focusing on energy conservation. In the first year, Yale’s Office of Facilities received a number of promising student proposals, selected seven finalists for additional concept development, and implemented four projects that impacted energy use across all 12 residential colleges, multiple graduate student apartments, and also the Gilder Boathouse and McNay Family Sailing Center. Projects included installations of LED lights, replacement of inefficient refrigerators, and new engagement tools.

2. Presidential Carbon Charge Task Force

In April 2015 Salovey and Provost Benjamin Polak shared the final report of the Presidential Carbon Charge Task Force, chaired by Sterling Professor of Economics William Nordhaus, which examined whether it would be feasible and effective for Yale to introduce carbon pricing as a component of its overall environmental sustainability strategy. In December 2015 Salovey and Polak announced that a pilot project was under way in 20 schools, departments, and administrative units to test how carbon pricing can inform and guide climate action at Yale. Feedback from the participants and an analysis of the results will inform a broader conversation about whether and how to consider potential wider implementation at Yale.

Beyond the campus, Yale’s Carbon Charge Project has generated interest among peer schools, companies, foreign governments, and major international organizations. In March 2016 Yale became the first university member of the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition (CPLC), a private-public partnership among the World Bank, International Monetary Fund (IMF), governments, nonprofits, and private sector companies to strengthen carbon pricing policies through the development of a network for sharing best practices. World Bank president Jim Yong Kim and IMF managing director Christine Lagarde launched the CPLC at the recent COP-21 climate summit in Paris. The CPLC coalition includes over 90 business and strategic partners as well as more than 20 governments, ranging from Germany and France, to Mexico and Chile, to Ethiopia and Morocco. At the inaugural High-Level Assembly meeting in April 2016, the coalition praised Yale and called on “Yale University to engage the academic community around establishing carbon pricing programs on campus and documenting the business case for carbon pricing.”

The carbon charge pilot project can serve as a model for other institutions and the world, expanding Yale’s role as a pioneer in researching, teaching, and designing climate change solutions, say Yale officials, adding that it is also an exciting example of how students, faculty, and staff can use Yale’s campus as a living lab and collaborate to build a more sustainable and innovative Yale.

3. Expanded deployment of renewable energy

Yale’s growing portfolio of renewable energy installations now includes a 350,000-square-foot array of solar panels on the West Campus, which came online in April 2015. The success of this solar installation has inspired new projects, and four additional arrays are planned within the next year for the West Campus Collections Study Center, Cullman Heyman Tennis Center, Evans Hall, and the Library Shelving Facility. The four new systems are in design and will total more than 2 megawatts of solar capacity.

Yale also joined with the State of Connecticut through its “Solarize U” program to encourage faculty, staff, and the community to install residential solar photovoltaic systems. The program launched in March 2015, and Yale-affiliated sign-ups far exceeded those of five other Connecticut colleges and universities that Yale “competed” against over a six month period. The friendly competition was designed as an added incentive to take advantage of local renewable energy options. Of the 519 properties throughout the state registered to receive quotes from solar providers, nearly half were for Yale employees. Roughly one-third of the resulting solar projects were installed on Yale-affiliated homes.

4. Greenhouse gas emissions disclosure, third-party verification, and comparability of data

In October 2014 Yale joined The Climate Registry, a U.S. nonprofit that sets consistent and transparent standards to calculate, verify, and publicly report greenhouse gas emissions into a single registry. Using the internationally recognized GHG Protocol Accounting Standard and working with an outside consultant, the Office of Sustainability and Yale Facilities defined Yale’s boundary of emissions, collected greenhouse gas emissions data for 2014, and submitted the inventory to the Climate Registry in June 2015; the inventory was third-party verified by an accredited firm in December of 2015. The calculation of Yale’s 2015 greenhouse gas emissions inventory is currently underway and will be completed by the end of April 2016. The third-party verification will be completed by the end of June.

Adopting standardized accounting and verification is central to making useful comparisons among our peers and to learning from each other’s examples, say Yale officials. To this end, Yale has been actively working with peer institutions in the Ivy Plus Sustainability consortium over the past year to advocate for participation in the Climate Registry. The majority of them have now agreed that the Climate Registry’s GHG Protocol for emissions tracking and reporting should be the consortium standard.

5. New Green Innovation Fellowships 

The Yale Entrepreneurial Institute (YEI) recently announced its latest Green Innovation Fellowship. This year, the honor goes to Catherine Wu (SOM ’17) and her startup Re-Harvest Foods, which addresses the environmental issue of food waste by finding a secondary market for small farms’ surplus produce. Their initial product is UglyFruit applesauce, made from surplus fruit from local farms, and marketed to adults with flavors like apple spice, apple bourbon, and apple earl grey. Re-Harvest will participate in the YEI Fellowship this summer, a 10-week bootcamp for accelerating ventures.

The Yale Entrepreneurial Institute has seen an increase in sustainability-focused student ventures recently.

YEI has seen an increase in sustainability-focused student ventures recently, and has several additional teams in this year’s fellowship with green missions. One is Renewal Mill, from founders Sumit Kadakia (MEM/MBA ’16) and Claire Schlemme (MEM ’11), the recent winner of the $25,000 Sabin Sustainable Venture Prize from the Yale Center for Business and the Environment. Renewal Mill utilizes undervalued waste streams from current food production processes to create nutritious products—beginning with okara, a flour-like substance that contains a nourishing mix of fiber and protein.

Each fellowship provides between $15,000 in grant funding and offers mentorship, education and pitching opportunities. The ventures selected for these fellowships are eligible to apply for up to $100,000 in follow-on funding through the YEI Innovation Fund. Fellows will have access to the growing array of green innovation programs being developed at the Center for Business and Environment, the Center for Engineering Innovation and Design, and related initiatives across the university. 

6. Ambitious goals for the university and school-specific plans

In August 2014 Salovey asked the Sustainability Advisory Council to review the university’s current Sustainability Strategic Plan and to consider whether Yale’s university-wide goals were ambitious enough. The council’s report initiated the planning process for the development of Yale’s visionary 2025 Sustainability Strategic Plan, which will be launched in October of 2016. The 2025 plan will support Yale’s academic mission by combining operational excellence with academic inquiry, and aims to make a positive impact locally and globally, to provide long-term visionary ambition, and to engage the entire campus community in setting specific sustainability goals. 

In addition to the Sustainability Action Plans developed for each professional school, robust Sustainability Action Plans are now in place for the Peabody Museum, Department of Athletics, and Yale University Library. The Office of Sustainability regularly convenes a Sustainability Summit where each group offers highlights from their plans.