Yale Reduces Greenhouse Gas Emissions by 17%

Yale University has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 17% since committing to a steep reduction in 2005, President Richard C. Levin reported today in a speech at the University of Copenhagen.

Yale University has reduced its greenhouse gas emissions by 17% since committing to a steep reduction in 2005, President Richard C. Levin reported today in a speech at the University of Copenhagen.

Additional projects planned by the University will produce a comparable further reduction within several years, said Levin, who has directed Yale to cut its greenhouse gas emissions to 10% below the University’s 1990 level by 2020. Reaching that target will require Yale to reduce emissions 43% below its 2005 level. Based on the planned growth of the University over the next 15 years, Yale’s emissions reduction goal is also 58% below the level of emissions projected for 2020.

“The good news is that we’ve reduced our carbon emissions by 43,000 metric tons in the first two years of our program,” Levin said. “That’s a 17% reduction from our 2005 levels.  This rapid progress has given us confidence that we are going to achieve our reduction well before our 2020 deadline.”

Levin’s speech, “Leading by Example: Creating a Sustainable Campus,” is the first of a series of lectures on climate change sponsored by the University of Copenhagen as a prelude to the United Nations’ climate summit in Denmark in 2009.

Yale’s own greenhouse gas reduction target is comparable to the reduction needed globally to keep temperatures from rising more than 2 degrees centigrade, a level that the scientific consensus forecasts would produce greatly intensified damaging impacts from warming. Yale expects to reach its carbon emission reduction goal at a cost of less than 1% of its annual operating budget, Levin said.

Yale’s strategy to shrink its carbon footprint calls for a mix of conservation measures, the use of renewable energy on campus, and direct participation in carbon offset projects. Yale has achieved its 17% reduction in emissions to date through projects and policies including:

  • Installation of more efficient heating and cooling systems in 90 buildings
  • New automated controls for heating, cooling and lighting
  • Replacement of windows
  • New and modified power plant equipment
  • Achieving LEED Silver or better certification for all new buildings and major renovations
  • Use of ground water for cooling
  • A 10% yearly reduction in electricity consumption by students in Yale’s undergraduate residential colleges achieved through a variety of measures

Planned projects at the University that will produce additional reductions in Yale’s carbon emissions include the installation of a new cogeneration power plant, the adoption of sustainable building design and construction standards, the use of hybrid vehicles and other sustainable transportation measures, and use of solar and wind power on campus.

“Nearly all of these projects require up-front investment, but the good news is that most of the actions we have taken to date have brought sufficient energy savings to yield a positive economic return,” said Levin, who is an economist. “Based on our experience, I am convinced that just about every large organization that carefully examines its energy sources and consumption will find many investments that have an economic payoff.”

While encouraging organizations to take steps voluntarily to reduce their carbon footprint, Levin said addressing climate change requires a carbon tax or emissions quota adopted on a global level.

“Given current levels of emissions in the U.S. and Europe, and the projected growth of the Chinese and Indian economies, we simply cannot make the reductions required on a global scale without the cooperation of the United States, the European Union, China, and India,” he said. “If any one of these four economic powers refuses to participate in an international program to reduce carbon, we cannot succeed in stabilizing global temperatures.”

Levin said that either a carbon tax system or a tradable allowance system could be designed efficiently, but that the latter may be more equitable.

“Developing countries will strongly resist a uniform global carbon tax, which they would perceive as placing upon them an unfair burden; yet different taxes across nations would distort investment incentives,” Levin said. “By contrast, agreement on a global cap-and-trade system could take account of a country’s stage of development by assigning more stringent reduction targets to developed countries and less stringent ones to developing countries. Regardless of the equitable adjustments made in distributing national quotas, as long as allowances are tradable internationally, a uniform price for carbon will result, creating a solution that would be both equitable among nations and efficient in the allocation of investment.”

Yale’s own greenhouse gas reduction efforts are part of a comprehensive sustainability strategy on its large campus that involves protection of ecosystems, water conservation, recycling, and use of locally grown products in University dining facilities. Yale established an Office of Sustainability in 2005 to coordinate these efforts. Yale has been working actively with other universities on efforts to gather data and set targets regarding greenhouse gas emissions, as well as exchanging best practices related to sustainability. Among those groups are the International Alliance of Research Universities, of which Yale and Copenhagen are members, the Ivy Plus group and the Northeast Campus Sustainability Consortium, which Yale chairs.

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Media Contact

Tom Conroy: tom.conroy@yale.edu, 203-432-1345