Yale Bulletin and Calendar

October 7, 2005|Volume 34, Number 5















Julie Newman

In Focus: Office of Sustainability

New office adds energy to the drive for a 'greener' campus

In a letter she sent to incoming freshmen over the summer, Julie Newman, the director of Yale's new Office of Sustainability, offered some suggestions to help the students start off on the right track -- or, as she described, to "get off to a sustainable start."

Newman urged the students to use compact fluorescent light bulbs instead of incandescent ones, bring more energy-efficient laptop computers instead of desktops, and pack for Yale using recyclable packaging materials (e.g., newspaper instead of styrofoam), among other suggestions. She also invited them to join in Yale's efforts to become a more environmentally friendly campus by being "smart consumers and responsible citizens."

The Class of 2009 is the first to receive a letter urging a commitment to environmental stewardship, reflecting Yale's goal to become a sustainable campus, says Newman.

Educating and encouraging students to take an active role in helping to create a "greener" Yale is just one part of Newman's mission. She joined the Yale staff in 2004 as the University's first director of sustainability; the formal Office of Sustainability was created in June of this year.

Newman, who formerly worked in the University of New Hampshire's Office of Sustainability Programs, has made a career of facilitating the development of institutional policy that leads to the creation of sustainable systems. She holds a B.S. in natural resource policy and management from the University of Michigan, a M.S. in environmental policy and biology from Tufts University, and a Ph.D. in natural resources and environmental studies from the University of New Hampshire. While a graduate student at the latter school, she worked for University Leaders for a Sustainable Future.

Newman was also an environmental management volunteer with the Peace Corps in Guatemala and was a founding member of and educator for the Global Rivers Environmental Education Network, working on water quality monitoring in countries in Africa and the Middle East, as well as in Australia. More recently, she founded and chairs the Northeast Campus Sustainability Consortium, which represents more than 40 higher education institutions from the northeast United States and eastern Canadian provinces, including Yale.

The Yale Bulletin & Calendar recently spoke with Newman about the mission of the Office of Sustainability. An edited version of that conversation follows.

How do you define sustainability?

Sustainability, in the context of institutions, is the challenge of integrating knowledge in all of its forms to establish patterns of living that sustain us now and generations into the future. At an institution such as Yale, we refer to sustainability as a decision framework that challenges us to balance economic viability with environmental health and human well-being.

To be a sustainable university means more than simply complying with environmental standards created by federal and state regulatory agencies. A compliant university is not necessarily a sustainable one. We must strive to reach beyond compliance by creating policies, systems and actions that lead to a sustainable society.

Does the establishment of your office reflect a greater commitment by the University toward that end?

I think the development of the Office of Sustainability reflects the evolution of Yale's commitment. The development of a position such as mine does not happen overnight.

Many of the environmental and human health concerns here at Yale initially grew at a grassroots level, with activism by student environmental groups. Yale's Recycling Office was established in 1987, and several years later, the University formed the Advisory Committee on Environmental Management (ACEM) to recommend long-term sustainability goals. Since then, the University has converted the Central Power Plant into a more fuel-efficient co-generation facility [producing both steam and electricity], created the Green Fund to support projects that advance sustainability across campus and established the Yale Sustainable Food Project, among other endeavors.

The creation of my office adds momentum to and energizes this movement toward the goal of a sustainable campus.

What specifically is your role?

My job is to provide the structure and facilitate the process by which we can create short- and long-term sustainability goals and implementation strategies to realize those goals. I do not create those goals alone; this is an inclusive process that engages all segments of the University and involves a lot of open dialogue. We are all stakeholders in that process.

I also ensure that our goals and recommendations are well-grounded in data and informed by what's happening at the local, state, regional, national and international levels.

Additionally, I am working toward "mainstreaming" sustainability, helping to raise awareness and promote a culture of sustainability, one that encourages individuals all across the campus -- administrators, faculty, staff and students -- to engage in behavioral patterns and actions that promote long-term public and environmental health. (see related story)

What are some of the current strategies for achieving that goal?

I always emphasize that promoting sustainability on a campus involves a thoughtful, comprehensive and inclusive process that considers a host of complex issues and community debate. The first part of that process is to develop a strategic plan for sustainability, which has evolved throughout the year.

We are creating a long-term vision in eight particular areas: energy consumption and production, food systems, water management, transportation, land use, waste management, building design and construction, and procurement.

To begin that process, I developed, with the support of my staff, the Yale Sustainability Metrics. The development of the Yale Sustainability Index will enable us to determine our current state of the campus and benchmark our progress into the future. We will be able to measure the success and failure of adapted recommendations and policies as well as critically examine and evaluate the course we have chosen. The metrics framework is shaped by the sustainability strategy. On an annual basis we will measure the University's use of natural resources such as water, land, food, minerals and energy; review our systems and processes such as waste management; procurement policies; transportation; and building design and construction. We are also tracking other factors such as courses and research that contribute to sustainable development; related outreach programs and projects; and institutional policies governing many of these areas.

We have also established four campus-wide committees to analyze current systems and practices and to recommend short- and long-term objectives: the Transportation Policy Committee, which is examining multi-modal transportation options; the Energy Task Force, which is reviewing renewable energy and the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions; the Integrated Waste Management Committee, which is focusing on waste reduction strategies; and the Marketing, Communication and Outreach Committee, which is overseeing outreach efforts. A fifth committee, Sustainable Building Design and Construction, which will convene in the coming year, will grapple with the development of campus-wide sustainable design standards.

Have any recommendations been implemented thus far?

Two new University procurement standards were recently announced by Provost Andrew Hamilton and Vice President for Finance and Administration John Pepper.

The first calls for departments within the Office of the Vice President for Finance and Administration and in the Faculty of Arts and Sciences to purchase paper that is at least 30% recycled, which ought to double the current purchasing level for such paper. By 2008, the goal is to use 100% recycled paper across the University.

The second urges offices and departments to purchase computers, electronic devices and other appliances that are rated as ENERGY STAR [qualified as energy-efficient]. This change will result in a reduction in carbon dioxide emissions and in electricity use.

We have also created a website for the Office of Sustainability, which will help the University communicate new initiatives and goals, as well as offer tips about how members of the campus community can contribute to sustainability objectives.

In addition, we have given presentations on energy efficiency and conservation to business managers throughout the central campus and the medical school. We will continue to reach out to the community via presentations and discussions this year.

The University has taken other important steps. The new home of the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies will be a high-performance and sustainable building. Announcements of other significant new initiatives are expected soon.

How have students been engaged in Yale's move toward sustainability?

My staff is comprised entirely of students -- seven graduate-level and three undergraduates -- and they are working on projects ranging from a comparative analysis of bio-diesel and low-sulfur diesel fuel to researching the legislative background as we develop greenhouse gas recommendations.

We work closely with and lend support to such student groups as the Student Taskforce for Environmental Partnership, which is funded by a Green Fund grant (see related story). All of the members of the Marketing, Communication and Outreach Committee are students, and some students serve on the other committees as well.

Students are an important part of this process toward achieving a sustainable campus, and they contribute a lot of energy to it via outreach work and other activities. This year, I have seen an increased engagement by them, and that is wonderful.

What is the biggest challenge of your job?

Here, and elsewhere in higher education, the biggest challenge is developing affordable, comprehensive, institutional solutions that respond to short- and long-term goals. In many cases we are having to broaden the standard from one that recognizes only the monetary return on investment to one that embraces the positive environmental and human health impacts.

The question of how institutions can integrate and advance the principles of sustainable development -- that is what brought me to this field.

Sometimes people ask me when the work of making Yale sustainable will be done. Well, we're never done, I tell them. We will continuously be challenged to respond to the changing demands of a dynamic and growing institution.

-- By Susan Gonzalez


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