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7/12/2010

Work Goes Green: Yale is a Certifiably Green University (Part 1)

By Deborah Warner | Staff Writer | GreenTech TV

As part of Yale's continuing commitment to creating a sustainable campus, the Yale Office of Sustainability has developed a set of Green Certification programs for workplaces, labs, and events. The green certification program is designed to educate faculty and staff about sustainable practices they can implement to reduce Yale's impact on the environment. The program is a unique blend of information and incentive, offering four levels of certification: Y-A-L-E. Workplaces attain the various levels of certification by accumulating points that are awarded for implementing specific action items. A workplace receives full YALE certification once it has accumulated 360 points and is recognized by the Office of Sustainability for its achievement.

We spoke with Melissa Goodall, Assistant Director of Yale’s Office of Sustainability, to learn more about their green certification programs and talk about the environmental leadership role that Yale is playing among universities around the world.

GREEN TECH TV:
What drives Yale’s commitment to sustainability?

MELISSA:
Yale’s commitment to be a national and international model and leader in institutional sustainability. starts at the very top. President Levin is dedicated to sustainability and wants sustainability to be a primary characteristic to the identity of Yale. He believes firmly that we really have to look out for future generations, and it is his vision that guides the sustainability vision of this university.

However, we also have a very dedicated staff and faculty who participate at the grass roots level. We have a group of sixty sustainability leaders. Their jobs have nothing to do with sustainability, but they’re interested in helping make a difference. They meet once a month and they go back to their offices and continue to build momentum among their peers and office green teams. We have about 300 green team members in addition to the sixty leaders.

GREEN TECH TV:
So there is support coming from the top and support coming from the grass roots level, and then you also have a formal Office of Sustainability, where you’re the Assistant Director. You’re certainly poised to make a difference. How does the Office of Sustainability operate? What is your focus?

MELISSA:
Our office began about five years ago as a committee of staff and faculty getting together and making recommendations about the environmental future of the university. The next step was bringing someone on board to be nestled in the heart of facilities. But over time it evolved. Sustainability is important for the students, both in how they live day to day and as part of the curriculum. So over time the role became a dual report to Facilities and to the Office of the Provost. Today we have a core staff of 5 full time staff and approximately 60 paid students. We’re primarily a networking group. We connect people. Our role is to create a culture of sustainability that we weave into the fabric of the university. Throughout the process we’ve integrated other sustainability professionals into the network. For example, our head of Yale dining is a sustainability guru and he’s working hard to implement sustainability best practices. We also have a Director of Sustainable Transportation, and our head of waste management is working on composting and upping our recycling percentage. So we really have a great momentum that extends beyond this office and is a reflection of the vision from the top. You could almost say that environmental sustainability is going viral throughout the university.

GREEN TECH TV:
Amidst all this success, are there any challenges that you face in your outreach efforts?

MELISSA:
Messaging is one of the most important and difficult challenges that we face. We have people who sit in front of a computer all day, and we have people who stand in front of a grill all day, and you have to have very different messages to reach these folks. There’s this assumption in the digital age that everything can be done on Facebook, and we have all these great internet sites. But the reality is that a good portion of our population is out there tending our grounds or the facilities, and they don’t access computers on campus. Our challenge is to find a way to communicate a message that they will value. To talk about computer energy use may not be the most effective approach. So we’ve been working hard on tailoring our messages and working on what resonates with the various personalities. I work closely with the team in finance and business operations and when I talk to them I don’t talk about the number of trees planted, I talk to them about how streamlining systems saves money, not because they don’t care about the environment, because they do. But they’re also thinking budget, budget, budget, because that’s their job. So we work really hard on promoting the three legged stool of sustainability: people, planet, and prosperity.

GREENT TECH TV:
Tell us about your certification program and how that plays into your overall sustainability strategy.

MELISSA:
We’ve had event certification for about five years and we’re in the process of overhauling it. Last summer we added lab certification and now we’re adding workplace or office certification to that. We’re in the pilot phase, and will be rolling them out as programs in the fall.

What we’ve found is that the certification program provides a road map that helps staff and faculty understand how to adopt green practices with a focus on waste management, energy, purchasing, transportation and office kitchens. And it raises the bar for people. I’ll get someone calling me to tell me what they’re doing for an event, and I’ll tell them they’ve reached the silver level and then they say that they’ll get back to me because they really want the gold. So they make changes to the event to reach that level.

GREENTECH TV:
Events are one –time occurrences. How will you manage the ongoing dynamic of certifying offices and labs?

MELISSA:
Workplace certification will not be a one off. It will require ongoing efforts to maintain the certification. The program is designed to make this an interactive, dynamic, ongoing process where they have perhaps monthly activities they need to accomplish. Also the certification itself will be a 360 program so the office will need to reapply every year or two years. They won’t be able to rest on their laurels.

GREEN TECH TV:
I noticed that you also have an open-ended innovation opportunity on the check list. How does that work?

MELISSA:
We want people to step out, to go beyond the certification check list so we also give an award for innovation. We designed this to inspire creativity and raise the bar. We want people to come back to us and say that they managed to create a green roof, and share the story of how they accomplished it. Our goal is to make this a learning community, so there will be a website where people can post their ideas and share stories. The website will also be used to provide a listing of certified offices along with the level that they’ve achieved.

GREEN TECH TV:
Tell us about your lab certification program.

MELISSA:
We started last summer to identify what facets of certification we should consider in the context of labs. Today, Environmental Health and Safety owns this and running with it. One of the things we learned is that lab fume hoods are the biggest energy drain on campus. Part of that has to do with equipment efficiency, but it also has to do with operational behavior. People just open them up and leave them open, so there is a non-stop venting of air. But if you close it when you’re not using it, the volume of energy and air goes down substantially. It’s a simple fix that is solved through awareness. We’re also dealing with chemicals and chemical recycling in the labs. We helped the Peabody Museum get an ethanol alcohol recycler because we found out it’s really easy to recycle and you recover about 95 percent of the used alcohol. As a result we’re cutting procurement costs, reducing the costs related to hazardous waste disposal, and we’re reducing the environmental impact. That’s a win-win-win. Finally, we’re working with Purchasing to purchase chemicals centrally and distribute them as needed. In the past, if you needed a particular chemical, you would buy a large volume of it and just use it as you needed it. But you might not need it for another 5 years, and it would just sit there until it was finally disposed of. We’re doing the same thing with offices, centralizing purchasing to reduce waste by sharing resources.

GREEN TECH TV:
Why are you overhauling your Event Certification?

MELISSA:
Originally the event certification was designed to get people thinking about food sources, the impact of waste, and the implications of travel on the environment. The program has been extremely successful, and in fact we certify events for institutions around the world. With our overhaul we aim to raise the bar even further. As with all of the certification programs, it’s really all about education and awareness. We don’t want to tell people what to do. We want to give them the options and explain the carbon impact of those options. Our goal is to help them see how they can have a more positive impact.

Watch next week for Part 2 as we find out more about Yale’s campus as a Living Lab.

Read more from GreenTech TV's Work Goes Green series here, or copy and paste the following link into your browser: http://greentechtv.com/Home/WorkGoesGreen.aspx

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