|Paul Anastas heads Yale's Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering, which is working to develop non-toxic chemicals and compounds.|
Yale experts tackling wide range
of environmental issues
While working to reduce its own environmental footprint, the University is
also contributing to the responsible stewardship of the planet through an array
of research and educational initiatives that cut across disciplines.
Yale faculty members in fields as diverse as architecture, pharmacology, geology, economics, environmental science and molecular biology are investigating almost every aspect of the natural environment and the ways in which humans interact in it. Their research helps to inform government officials, policy makers and the general public about ways to live harmoniously with the natural world.
In recent years, for example, work by faculty members has drawn national or international attention to such issues as the effects of even low ozone levels (at or below current U.S. or international air quality standards) on premature death in humans; the detrimental impact of Midwestern farming practices on the Mississippi River; how toxic pesticides are harming children’s health; and the economic benefits of having a national policy to reduce carbon emissions.
Yale’s century-old School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) — the first school of its kind in the nation — serves as the hub for much of this environmental research activity. But faculty members and their students increasingly are collaborating with colleagues in Yale’s Schools of Law, Management, Architecture, Medicine and Divinity — as well as with those in numerous other Yale programs of study — as they examine environmental challenges from a variety of perspectives.
“As environmental issues have become more complex, more international and, indeed, more urgent, a broad, multidisciplinary approach to these challenges is necessary,” says J. Gustave Speth, the Carl W. Knobloch Dean of F&ES and the Sara Shallenberger Brown Professor in the Practice of Environmental Policy.
The following are just some highlights of the work being conducted by Yale faculty on the environment. Most of these were reported in Speth’s “Dean’s Message” in the fall 2007 issue of the F&ES journal Environment Yale, and are reprinted here in edited form.
Designing non-toxic materials using green chemistry
A green future starts with the most basic building blocks — green molecules — according to Paul Anastas, professor in the practice of green chemistry.
Anastas spent 16 years at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the White House before coming to New Haven in January 2007 to direct the new Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering at Yale.
“In the same way that we can design a material so that it’s red or it’s blue or it’s rubbery or brittle, we can design it so that it’s toxic or not toxic. This is the design framework for the center,” he says.
The center has launched a large initiative to design safer chemicals and compounds that don’t persist for long periods, for instance, or that avoid disrupting the human endocrine system. Building on his “Twelve Principles of Green Chemistry,” Anastas says, “We’d like to come up with a green framework of design — a toolbox that could be used for whatever you’re trying to make, whether it’s a dye or an adhesive or a flame retardant.”
The center has reached out to industry, showing business leaders how green chemistry can benefit them, and is spreading the word through conferences to partners in South Africa and China, as well as through a Pan-Africa Green Chemistry Network, to promote the field on the African continent. The center also is launching an interactive website, where researchers can exchange ideas about green chemistry.
Creating recyclable, non-polluting products
Creating things that don’t pollute is the specialty of Julie Zimmerman, assistant professor of chemical engineering and of green engineering and product design, who is the assistant director for research at the Center for Green Chemistry and Green Engineering.
For her doctoral dissertation at the University of Michigan, Zimmerman developed vegetable oil-based metalworking fluids that were recyclable, long lasting and decreased occupational health concerns for the workers. While at the Office of Research and Development at the EPA, she developed an analogue to Anastas’ green chemistry commandments — Twelve Principles of Green Engineering — that include proactive steps such as “preventing rather than treating” (avoiding pollution rather than cleaning it up) and “designing for separation” (to ease reuse and recycling).
The U.S. Army has asked a team headed by "green" engineer Julie Zimmerman (right) to make recommendations on how to lessen the environmental impact of such processes as painting, cleaning, transportation and manufacturing munitions.
The U.S. Army has asked Zimmerman’s team to investigate ways to build environmental considerations into the design and engineering of processes like cleaning, painting, transportation and manufacturing munitions. “Our recommendations will be written into the Army’s specs,” Zimmerman explains.
Examining the life span of materials
Going beyond bromides such as “waste less, consume less,” and trying to attach numbers and strategies to those notions is at the heart of the work being done at the Center for Industrial Ecology at F&ES.
The center has taken the lead in an emerging field that examines the environmental impacts of industrial production and consumer economies.
Industrial ecologists at the center look at the global picture, and take the long view — perhaps 50 years into the future — rather than the 5- or 10-year planning horizon common in traditional business. To do this, they use such “tools of the trade” as materials flow analysis to examine how resources like copper and oil move through the global economy; life cycle assessment to evaluate the full environmental impact of how products are created and eventually discarded; and industrial symbiosis analysis to determine how one business’ waste might become another’s feedstock.
Leading the effort is Thomas Graedel, the Clifton R. Musser Professor of Industrial Ecology. “I look at a sustainable future from the perspective of materials,” says Graedel, who co-authored the field’s first textbook, “Industrial Ecology.” “We are trying to understand in detail how we, as a planetary society, use metals. How much of them are getting lost? What’s the potential for recycling, the potential for damage to the environment? We’re researching and constructing complete life cycles.”
Graedel’s team has mapped the flow of many metals, including zinc, iron and nickel, and he has developed an environmental assessment matrix, now a standard tool used by companies to gauge the environmental impact of their products. As consultants, he and some of his students recently tracked the complete industrial life cycle of every helicopter made by Sikorsky, the Connecticut manufacturer.
Encouraging corporate greening
Marian Chertow, associate professor of industrial environmental management, is promoting a new approach to encourage corporate greening: Map the symbioses — the beneficial relationships that already exist among businesses, such as waste, water and power exchanges — and then show companies how they can continue to build such industrial ecosystems.
“Business people just want to know the rules of the game so that they can go out and play hard,” says Chertow. “If we have green rules, they can go play the green game hard.”
While researching the Campbell Industrial Park near Honolulu, Chertow’s team found that eight companies were trading seven different kinds of materials among themselves. Yet companies remained oblivious to the big picture: They weren’t aware of what their neighbors were doing or how they might benefit even more from sharing resources. She found similar exchanges taking place in a very different context, a large industrial complex in China, and now leads Yale’s new Program on Industrial Ecology in Developing Countries.
Chertow’s team is researching the social norms and networks that create and facilitate environmentally beneficial trading. “Analyzing industrial ecosystems as social networks reveals why they are difficult to plan but can still be highly effective in creating environmental benefits along with the economic ones.”
Developing guidelines for sustainable land development
Developing a framework that would allow businesses to thrive in a landscape that better integrates human development with nature is at the heart of the work being done by Gaboury Benoit, associate dean for research and co-director of Yale’s Hixon Center for Urban Ecology.
“Land development is exploding. The number of people is growing, and the amount of space each person uses is also growing,” Benoit explains. “A lot of people want to develop land in environmentally friendly ways, but they don’t know exactly what that means. They don’t know what steps to take. We’ve outlined a very straightforward, step-by-step way to do it. We try to get down to brass tacks.”
With Diana Balmori, a landscape architect who teaches at the Yale School of Architecture, Benoit co-authored the book “Land and Natural Development (LAND) Code: Guidelines for Sustainable Land Development.” Benoit says the goal is to provide a method of sustainable development that’s practical and not so radical that it will alienate developers.
The LAND Code rating system awards positive and negative points based on how businesses address various development challenges. The builder of a mall, for instance, would earn points for clustering buildings, minimizing impervious surfaces that prevent rainwater from reaching the soil and installing a rain garden to filter water on-site, but would lose points for developing near a wetland or some other sensitive ecosystem.
“Existing codes cover bits and pieces of what we’re calling for,” Benoit says. “What we’re trying to do is codify comprehensive guidelines for developing land in a sustainable way. We’re moving in that direction. Even 10 years ago, something like a rain garden or a mall with a constructed wetland was considered radical. Now, they’re common.”
Restoring nature in buildings
Stephen Kellert, the Tweedy Ordway Professor of Social Ecology, has long argued for a fundamental re-evaluation of how we design and construct our buildings. This, he says, means more than incorporating high-efficiency water and heating systems and using recycled materials.
“What we need is restorative design, design that mimics the natural cycles of light and air and the views and experience of nature that have been lost in most modern buildings and cities,” Kellert says.
Two years ago, the Yale School of Architecture and F&ES launched a joint master’s degree program in environmental management and architecture that emphasizes restorative design. The two schools are also establishing a joint tenure-track position in sustainable design and development to educate a new generation of interdisciplinary thinkers.
An ever-increasing number of scholars, architects and designers have joined Kellert in concluding that restoring nature to humanity’s home is not only good for the environment but good for people as well. Various studies on what’s formally called “biophilia,” or “love of nature,” have shown that patients heal faster, students learn better and workers are more productive when they have access to natural light, outside air and views of the environment.
Hoping to further build this case, Kellert’s research team is now collecting data about the current health, well-being and productivity of Bank of America employees who will soon move into Manhattan’s One Bryant Park, which aspires to be the first office tower to achieve LEED Platinum, the highest rating awarded by the U.S. Green Building Council. In addition to incorporating sustainable design, the skyscraper will also boast natural light, fresh air circulation and views of roof gardens and parks. Kellert’s team will collect data before and after the employees’ move, as well as monitor a control group of Bank of America employees who work in more conventional settings.
Planning innovative transportation in the world’s cities
Her research on cities’ local transportation systems has kept Ellen Brennan-Galvin, a lecturer and senior research scholar at F&ES, traveling around the world for decades.
Brennan-Galvin spent 25 years at the United Nations Population Division, working on urban transit and environmental issues in more than 20 cities in the developing world. She now teaches a course on urban sustainability and another on transportation and urban land use planning in the developing world to a mixture of students from F&ES and the School of Architecture as part of the school’s joint degree program. Each semester, she takes some 20 students to places like Beijing, Bogota, Curitba, Delhi, Dubai, Johannesburg, Mexico City, São Pãolo and Shanghai to study various local transportation methods.
“There are incredibly interesting innovations and possibilities in urban planning and transportation evident in the developing world,” Brennan-Galvin says. “The challenge is how we scale up and apply these innovations on a much broader basis.”
Understanding the link between spiritual traditions and ecological restoration
The ways in which religious and cultural perspectives can be considered in creating solutions to environmental challenges is the focus of two scholars in the emerging field of religion and ecology, John Grim and Mary Evelyn Tucker. Under Speth’s leadership, F&ES launched a joint project with the Yale Divinity School that incorporates the role of religion and values in the development of environmental ethics.
“Clearly this field of study will continue to expand as the environmental crisis grows in complexity and requires increasingly creative interdisciplinary responses,” Grim and Tucker wrote in the fall 2007 issue of Environment Yale. The two are co-founders and co-directors of the Forum on Religion and Ecology, an effort that fosters dialogue within religious and spiritual communities on ecological issues. They also study how the natural world is perceived by various religious traditions.
“The monotheistic traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam are formulating original eco-theologies and eco-justice practices regarding stewardship and care for creation,” they write. “Hinduism and Jainism in South Asia, and Buddhism in both Asia and the West, have undertaken projects of ecological restoration. Indigenous peoples bring to the discussion alternative ways of knowing and engaging the natural world.”
Religious communities, note Grim and Tucker, are working for a sustainable environment through such projects as tree planting, coral-reef preservation, energy conservation, responsible consumption and river clean-ups.
“This is a new moment for the world’s religions, and they have a vital role to play in the development of a more comprehensive environmental ethics,” say Grim and Tucker in their commentary. “The urgency of the process cannot be underestimated. Indeed, the flourishing of the earth community may depend on it.”
Revolutionizing business practices
The growing impact of environmental concerns on how companies conduct their business is just one of the major areas of interest for Daniel C. Esty, the Hillhouse Professor of Environmental Law and Policy, who directs Yale’s Center for Environmental Law and Policy and its Center for Business and Environment.
Esty is also an expert on environmental policy reform, global environmental governance, environmental performance measurement, corporate environmental strategy, and the relationship between the environment and trade, among other areas. He is also one of the creators of the Environmental Sustainability Index, an annual assessment of countries’ environmental performance.
A former Washington, D.C., lawyer who also held senior positions on the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Esty argues in his recent book “Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy To Innovate, Create Value and Build Competitive Advantage” that pollution control and natural resource-management have become critical elements of marketplace success. Esty also explores how such global businesses as Nike and Toyota have profited by folding environmental thinking into their core business strategies.
“Why are the world’s biggest, toughest, most profit-seeking companies talking about the environment now?” Esty asks in “Green to Gold.” “Simply put, because they have to,” he answers. “The forces coming to bear on companies are real and growing. Almost without exception, industry groups are facing an unavoidable new array of environmentally driven issues. Like any revolution, this new ‘Green Wave’ presents an unprecedented challenge to business as usual.”