The founding of the Office of Sustainability in 2005 is only an inflection point in the rich timeline of Yale’s engagement with sustainability to date. Yale’s intimate engagement with the environment started in 1900 with the founding of the School of Forestry, America’s first such institution, and has since evolved into an institution-wide movement that incorporates building construction; waste management; energy production; research; classroom instruction; local, national, and international collaboration; and much more.

With the establishment of this office came the unification and augmentation of existing sustainable endeavors. Since then Yale has clarified its institutional vision for sustainability and codified its commitment to realizing that vision. Following is a timeline of notable events in the history of sustainability at Yale.


  • The first forestry school in America, the Yale School of Forestry, is established by the first and second chiefs of the US Forest Service, Gifford Pinochet (Yale College, 1889) and Henry S. Graves (Yale College, 1892).


  • Aldo Leopold, a pioneering ecologist, conservationist, and environmental activist, graduates from the School of Forestry.


  • On the inaugural Earth Day, an undergraduate begins recycling paper on campus.


  • Acknowledging the influence of environmental scholarship and teaching, the School of Forestry adds “& Environmental Studies” to its name.
  • Yale economists William Nordhaus and James Tobin are the first to comprehensively incorporate the costs of environmental degradation into an economic model.


  • Yale Recycling becomes an official undergraduate organization.
  • Yale Recycling becomes a full-time operation of the Facilities Department.




  • Undergraduate students produce the Yale Green Plan and submit recommendations to Yale administrators.


  • The Advisory Committee on Environmental Management (ACEM) is established.


Yale makes its first formal commitment to broad-based, institutional sustainability when it approves a set of Environmental Principles proposed by ACEM: 

Yale University will:

  1. Manage its operations and facilities in a manner that protects and enhances the local and global environments, assesses the impact of its operations and facilities on the environment, sets quantitative goals for environmental performance and monitors its environmental progress.
  2. Strive for outstanding environmental performance in the design, renovation and construction of its facilities.
  3. Define and move toward environmental sustainability through wise use of resources, purchasing recycled products, conservation, reuse and recycling of materials and supplies, waste minimization and the management of energy use.
  4. Incorporate environmental education, management and training into its objectives and practices.
  5. Strive for continuous environmental improvement across the entire range of its operations.


  • ​Office of the Provost endorses seven environmental targets proposed by ACEM.
  • The first full-time administrative position dedicated to furthering Yale’s sustainable efforts is created, and Julie Newman is hired as the Sustainability Director.


  • ​The Yale Office of Sustainability is created with Newman as its director.
  • President Levin commits Yale to reduce its greenhouse gas emissions 43% by 2020, despite an estimated 15% growth during that period.
  • Work finishes on the Chemistry Research Building, Yale’s first LEED certified building, and the Sterling Hall of Medicine C3 Laboratory, the first LEED-certified lab.


  • Yale becomes an inaugural member of the International Alliance of Research Universities, a group of 10 institutions that exchange ideas and practices on a range of topics, including sustainability.


  • Yale President Richard C. Levin gives a landmark speech on climate change at the University of Copenhagen.


  • All new campus construction adheres to sustainable building standards.


  • President Richard C. Levin announces Yale’s Sustainability Strategic Plan 2010-2013 in an effort to strengthen the foundation of the University’s sustainability commitment.


  • The Yale Sustainability Strategic Plan 2013-2016 is announced by President Salovey, highlighting a new set of sustainability priorities for the University.



  • Yale launches Carbon Charge Pilot Program to test the effectiveness and feasibility of carbon pricing on campus. 



  • With a goal of improving awareness and empowering action, Yale launches a biennial sustainability survey to understand the sustainability knowledge, behaviors, and preferences of the university’s students, faculty, and staff.


  • Yale achieves its first greenhouse gas reduction target, reducing net emissions by 43% below 2005 levels.
  • Yale launches the Planetary Solutions Project to address and raise awareness around climate mitigation and adaptation through creative solutions and an interdisciplinary approach.
  • Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies changes its name to Yale School of the Environment with The Forest School established as a school within the broader school, reflecting the historic, current, and future importance of forestry in the broader environmental field.


  • With its initial greenhouse gas reduction target achieved, Yale sets new goal to reach net-zero emissions by 2035 and zero actual emissions by 2050.
  • Yale secures a $100 million gift from FedEx to help fund a new center focused on developing natural solutions for reducing atmospheric carbon. The Center for Natural Carbon Capture aims to support and accelerate research across academic disciplines, helping to establish a more sustainable and healthier future for our planet.
  • The Yale Board of Trustees adopts fossil fuel investment principles excluding all coal producers, and certain oil and gas producers, from eligilbility for investment by the endowment.


  • The Climate Impact Innovation Fund, a $15 million fund supporting research into climate solutions, sponsors 21 proposals in its inaugural round of Planetary Solutions Project seed grants.
  • For a second time in three years, Yale is awarded a Gold rating by the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in higher Education (AASHE) in recognition of Yale’s leadership in, and commitment to, sustainability across the university.