|The office recently sponsored a campus-wide summit that featured a Sustainability Fair, where Yale community members could learn about ways to promote more environmentally responsible practices within their departments.|
Office works to make sustainability
Yale’s Office of Sustainability director Julie Newman describes her
job as being like a choreographer: In developing and coordinating University
strategies to become a greener campus, she guides a process by which the success
of the whole depends upon the activity of many parts.
It takes a commitment from a whole array of campus offices, departments and individuals to advance the goal of becoming a more sustainable campus, notes Newman. To encourage those various entities to embrace that cause, she must understand the environmental and human health-related issues in areas as diverse as transportation, purchasing, cleaning, waste management, energy, water management, land use, food services, and building design and construction.
Since arriving at Yale in 2004 as the University’s first sustainability director, Newman has worked toward the development of a comprehensive institutional strategy for becoming a sustainable campus, engaging administrators, faculty, staff and students in conversations about how Yale can promote long-term public and environmental health.
“My goal,” she explains, “is to ‘mainstream’ sustainability — to make it everyone’s business.”
Newman describes sustainability as it relates to Yale as “a framework for decision-making in which we have to balance economic viability with ecosystem health and human health.”
In the past several years, individual offices, departments and units across the campus have investigated cost-effective ways to contribute to the cause of a greener campus. In Yale Procurement, for example, that has meant working toward the creation and adoption of University-wide Environmentally Preferable Purchasing policies and procedures that make environmental considerations a top priority when buying products and choosing vendors. In Custodial Services, staff members have asked the question: “Can we find non-toxic cleaning products that fit into our budget?”
“Before sustainability became a campus priority, we wouldn’t have been as focused on what was on the label of a cleaning product or what happened once that product went down the drain,” Newman says. “We now look closely at what products and materials we buy, what we eat, how we travel, how we build and how we use energy or water.”
To track Yale’s progress in becoming more green, Newman developed the Yale Sustainability Metrics, a comprehensive set of data that measure the University’s use of natural resources such as water, land, minerals and energy, as well as systems and processes such as waste management, transportation, building design and construction, and procurement policies, among other areas.
In addition to working closely with student groups, Julie Newman, director of Yale's Office of Sustainability, teaches an undergraduate course on "Sustainable Development and Institutional Change."
Just one year after Newman came to the campus, the University created an Office of Sustainability to add momentum to Yale’s initiative. In 2007, the office moved into its own newly renovated space — itself a model of sustainable design practices — at 70 Whitney Ave. Once staffed solely by Newman and a small cadre of student research assistants, the office has grown to include Bob Ferretti, an education and outreach manager; project coordinator Keri Enright-Kato, who oversees initiatives with respect to climate, land, water and biodiversity on campus; and administrative assistant Pat Cucinotta.
Newman, a lecturer in the School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES) who also teaches the undergraduate course “Sustainable Development and Institutional Change,” has given guidance and support to various student groups concerned with environmental issues, including the Student Force for Environmental Partnership (STEP), which works with the Office of Sustainability to lead an annual campaign to reduce energy consumption and waste production in the residential colleges. Last year, student energy use was 13% lower than the previous year, a bigger drop than her office expected, Newman says.
Yale, which has one of the most aggressive greenhouse gas reduction strategies in the country (see story), has earned national and international attention for its commitment to developing best practices for a sustainable campus while maintaining a philosophy of continuous improvement. This is due in part to Newman’s conversations and collaborations with peers at other higher education institutions across the globe. Newman’s office has also been instrumental in furthering global dialogue about how colleges and universities can advance sustainability by hosting international symposia and conferences on the subject. Most recently, Newman participated in a panel discussion with sustainability directors from other schools on the ways in which universities can contribute to the creation of a more sustainable planet. This discussion was part of the first Yale Sustainability Summit, which focused on current University initiatives.
“The University is really at the forefront of the movement toward sustainability in higher education,” says Newman. “Barely a day goes by where someone from another college or university doesn’t call our office to ask how we are handling a particular challenge or issue.”
Under Newman’s leadership, the Office of Sustainability has launched several recent initiatives in order to promote education, dialogue and action on issues of sustainability. The following are some of the highlights.
Sustainable events guidelines
Last year, the Office of Sustainability joined forces with Yale Recycling and the Yale Sustainable Food Project in developing sustainable events guidelines. The guidelines provide campus event planners and organizers with a set of practical steps that can be taken to “green” an event, such as minimizing their event’s carbon footprint by providing locally sourced organic food options, recycling waste and purchasing renewable energy certificates to offset the carbon dioxide emissions of those who travel to the event. Events are awarded a gold, silver or bronze rating depending upon the number of prescribed actions that are incorporated into them.
Sustainable Master’s Teas series
This program was established two years ago to invite experts from both the public and private sectors to share their knowledge and experience on sustainability issues with members of the Yale community. Guests have included Robin Chase, the founder of Zipcar; Gus Speth, dean of F&ES; Andrew Shapiro LAW ’95, founder and chief executive officer of GreenOrder Consulting in New York City; and Judy Wicks, founder of Business Alliance for Local Living Economies, the White Dog Café and Urban Outfitters.
Sustainability Leaders Program
Through the Sustainable Leaders Program, faculty and staff members help raise the awareness of their co-workers and colleagues about sustainability, and promote the use of sustainable practices and products in their offices. Participants in the program attend a two-hour training workshop to learn about the University’s sustainability commitments and initiatives, sustainable office practices and effective ways of raising the awareness of co-workers. They then provide overviews and updates on Yale’s sustainability efforts during faculty and staff meetings, and help identify new ways of creating a sustainable office. More than 30 individuals have become Sustainability Leaders since the program was established in the fall of 2007.