From New Haven to Mumbai, Yale’s climate and sustainability initiatives build momentum

Yale’s new partnership in a global coalition to promote carbon pricing is just the latest in a series of climate initiatives the university is leading across multiple disciplines.
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A new, 4,400-panel solar array at Yale West Campus will generate approximately 1.6 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually.

Yale’s new partnership in a global coalition to promote carbon pricing is just the latest in a series of climate initiatives the university is leading across multiple disciplines.

In March, Yale announced it would become the first university member of the Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition, a private-public partnership that includes the World Bank, International Monetary Fund, governments, nonprofits, and private companies. Representatives from Yale’s Carbon Charge Project also gave presentations at a pair of international sustainability summits in India, organized by the World Bank.

Yale officials said the university’s prominence in carbon pricing echoes its cutting-edge climate and energy research on Science Hill and at West Campus. From exploring alternative fuels to making the campus a laboratory for sustainability, they said, Yale is harnessing a new generation of technology and teaching to understand and adapt to a changing environment.

Sustainability Initiatives for Yale

Yale President Peter Salovey has made sustainability a major emphasis for the university, outlining a series of sustainability initiatives for Yale. Those efforts include a $21 million capital investment in energy conservation and greenhouse gas reduction, an expansion of renewable energy, and the recent launch of a university-wide carbon charge pilot program.

“There is a momentum building, and my hope is that we can develop an effective network to come at climate change and sustainability from all sorts of angles,” said Brad Gentry, associate dean for professional practice at Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) and co-director of the Center for Business & the Environment at Yale. “We have people doing remarkable things here, engaging in creative teaching and outreach, as well as research.”

Gentry, for example, is teaching two courses on urban resilience, one of which is working with the city of New Haven on issues relating to its hazard mitigation plan for flooding and other predicted effects of climate change.

There is also a focus on water. Yale researchers are helping design mobile units that can bring clean water to millions of people around the world. They’re also sifting through huge databases to create a global Environmental Performance Index. They’re studying clouds, monsoons, reefs, trees, bees, metals, and ponds.

Yale also is studying the human side of environmental issues — analyzing how the public perceives climate change and sustainability, and the way that information is communicated. Likewise, Yale is focused on the impact of climate change on public health and the management challenges of transitioning to a sustainable economy.

“Sustainability is a theme that unites us across academic disciplines and departmental boundaries,” said Virginia Chapman, director of Yale’s Office of Sustainability. “The research happening here at Yale will help the world creatively address the complex challenges of our time.”

“Sustainability is a theme that unites us across academic disciplines and departmental boundaries.”

— Virginia Chapman, director, Yale Office of Sustainability.

News that the Yale Climate and Energy Institute will close later this year prompted questions about the role of climate change research on campus. But university officials say sustainability and climate research remain robust at projects and initiatives throughout Yale.

“There is great interest in climate and energy across campus, and there are a variety of approaches to address the critical issues in these areas,” said Provost Benjamin Polak. “Many diverse units at Yale focus on these problems. The success or impact of any one activity alone is difficult to measure. Over time, these entities and projects will come, go, or change to reflect the best science, research, and policies.”

Polak also stressed that the Energy Studies Undergraduate Scholars Program, which was operated through YCEI, will continue to be funded. As for other ongoing programs relating to the environment and sustainability, many have seen expansion in recent years, Polak said.

A key center for such programs is the School of Forestry & Environmental Science. More than two dozen F&ES faculty members engage in cutting-edge research into carbon cycling in waterways, sea level rise, and the impact of climate change on health, the economy, agriculture and public policy. The Yale Project on Climate Change Communication is located at F&ES, as well — conducting research on public climate change knowledge, attitudes, policy preferences, and behavior, and producing a daily, national radio program, “Yale Climate Connections.”

At the Yale School of Public Health, the school’s new Climate Change and Health Initiative is aimed at training future public health leaders to search for innovative solutions to the growing health threats posed by climate change. The initiative held its first symposium this month, bringing together researchers from across campus.

On Science Hill, the university recently completed a seven-year renovation of F&ES’s Greeley Memorial Laboratory, which will be home for Yale’s Center for Green Chemistry and Engineering. The center advances sustainability by conducting solutions-focused research, educational outreach, and engaging with industry leaders and international policy makers.

Developing technologies to replace fossil fuels

Similarly, Yale’s West Campus Energy Sciences Institute is engaged in the science of clean energy. Chemists, geologists, engineers, and other researchers are exploring ways to boost the efficiency of solar cells, develop innovative ways to store energy, and creating new materials engineered at the scale of individual atoms. West Campus also is the site of a new, 4,400-panel solar array that will generate approximately 1.6 million kilowatt-hours of electricity annually.

“One of the most important issues for the world right now is developing the technology to replace fossil fuels,” said Gary Brudvig, the Benjamin Silliman Professor Chemistry, chair of the Department of Chemistry, and director of the Yale Energy Sciences Institute. “We’re doing innovative, basic science research, with a great opportunity to make a statement about sustainability.”

Throughout campus, and beyond, there are Yale institutes, centers, and researchers focused on all facets of climate study. They include:

Center for Environmental Law and Policy

Yale Sustainable Food Project

Center for Business and the Environment

Center for Earth Observation

Center for the Study of Globalization

Tropical Resources Institute

Yale Institute for Biospheric Studies

Yale Institute for Nanoscience and Quantum Engineering

• Yale’s partnership in the Nanotechnology Enabled Water Treatment Systems center, a joint effort with Rice University, Arizona State University, and the University of Texas-El Paso

Urban Ecology and Design Laboratory

These efforts are in addition to research being done in departments such as geology and geophysics, ecology and evolutionary biology, chemistry, and chemical and environmental engineering.

Yale has pledged to shrink its primary greenhouse gas emissions 43% below 2005 levels by 2020, and the university remains on track to meet that goal. At Salovey’s direction, the university also has funded fellowships for “green innovation” by students, faculty, and staff, and initiated sustainability action plans for each of Yale’s professional schools. Yale also was the first Ivy League institution to commit to third-party verification of greenhouse gas inventories.

The Yale Entrepreneurial Institute recently awarded the first two Green Innovation Fellowships. One went to Grovio, which develops unmanned aerial systems (UAVs) that will allow farmers to reduce their fertilizer and pesticide usage by providing them with real-time, remote sensing data about their farmland. The other fellowship went to Coral Vita, which aims to restore threatened coral reefs through a scientifically supported process known as coral farming.

Each fellowship provides $15,000 in funding, plus mentoring in related business areas

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