9 Ways Yale Confronted Climate Change in 2023

Four people planting a tree on Yale's campus
January 23, 2024

Yale made significant strides toward achieving its long-range sustainability goals in 2023—including the launch of the new Center for Geospatial Solutions, earning Tree Campus recognition from the National Arbor Day Foundation, introducing a real-time locator app for the Yale Shuttle, and more.

The university’s annual Sustainability Progress Report, released in December, details how the university is working to meet the ambitions outlined in the Yale Sustainability Plan 2025—the nine-year roadmap launched in 2016. As the current plan sunsets and Yale lays the groundwork for a new sustainability plan, the urgency of the climate crisis continues to drive the university’s priorities, research, and progress.

Here are 9 examples of progress made in 2023—one for each of the ambitions, or topic areas, in the Yale Sustainability Plan 2025. Read the full 2023 Sustainability Progress Report.

Leadership

In June, Yale announced it would create a new Center for Geospatial Solutions to enhance the university’s research, training, and engagement infrastructure in the rapidly evolving areas of geospatial science, data, and analysis.

Geospatial methods have a wide range of practical applications, including the potential to help address global challenges such as human displacement related to climate change and to more accurately forecast economic activity. Harnessing geospatial data—from cell phones to satellite imagery—will help the university community amplify its mission and its work in a variety of fields, from economics and public health to the environment.

Read more about the new Yale Center for Geospatial Research.

Empowerment

Environmental justice is receiving unprecedented attention from all levels of government, including through new federal programs and the Biden administration’s Justice40 initiative. However, many environmentally burdened communities struggle to navigate the complex environmental policy landscape and access much-needed government resources.

Consequently, in May of 2023, the Goldman-Sonnenfeldt Environmental Protection Clinic at Yale Law School announced it had partnered with Elevate Policy Lab of the Yale School of Public Health and the Yale Child Study Center, Yale School of Medicine to build out a new model of environmental justice practice grounded in civic engagement methods.

The proof of concept for the new partnership is its work with the East End Neighborhood Revitalization Zone and the East End NRZ Market and Café, two groups in east Bridgeport working to address environmental, economic, and health challenges faced by the community.

Read more about the Yale Law School clinic’s new approach to environmental justice.

Health & Well-being

The links between nature and health are well documented and, in the spring, Yale shared a guide to outdoor spaces on campus to promote employee health and well-being and increase the use of Central and West campuses’ ample green spaces.

Recognizing the importance of work-life balance and that community well-being is integral to sustainability, the guide promotes employees’ physical and mental health by providing wayfinding to the tranquil courtyards, gardens, terraces, lawns, and more at Yale.

Read more about these outdoor spaces at Yale.

Climate Action

Yale is in the process of setting goals for its Scope 3 emissions—the indirect emissions that occur because of Yale’s operations, but from sources not owned or controlled by the university. This includes the greenhouse gases generated by the materials purchased by the university; business travel; and employee commuting.

The following scope 3 trends have been observed since 2020, with forthcoming analysis on student travel impacts:

  • employee commuting: 23% increase
  • business travel: 1% increase
  • purchased goods and services: 6% decrease
  • capital goods: 22% decrease
  • waste: 28% decrease

Scope 3 emissions make up 58% of Yale’s total greenhouse gas emissions.

Read more about Yale’s approach to Scope 3 emissions.

Stewardship

Yale celebrated National Arbor Day in May by announcing it had garnered Tree Campus Higher Education recognition from the National Arbor Day Foundation. Together with over 500 volunteer tree-planting hours from students, alumni, faculty, and staff, the honor was a result of a nine-year collaborative effort of a core group of staff members from the Office of Sustainability, Facilities, Office of Public Affairs and Communications, and the Urban Resources Initiative at the School of the Environment. Yale joins 411 university and college campuses across the U.S. in meeting five vigorous standards that include an annual campus-wide celebration to enhance learning about the benefits of trees.

Read more about Yale’s Tree Campus recognition.

Built Environment

The new home to Yale’s Tobin Center for Economic Policy and Department of Economics at 87 Trumbull Street exemplifies one of Yale’s key strategies to meet our emissions reduction goals in 2035 and 2050: building electrification. Opened in September, the building is one of Yale’s first facilities equipped with electric heat pumps for heating and cooling, which reject excess heat to the campus chilled water utility rather than the atmosphere, and employs a central cooling system to reduce the need for inefficient window units. The innovative building design also improves accessibility to adjoining historic buildings compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act and features bird-deterrent windows to prevent bird mortality on campus in alignment with the Yale Bird-Friendly Building Initiative.

Read more about the sustainability features of 87 Trumbull St.

Mobility

Yale Transit has enhanced Yale Shuttle services this year in two key ways: creating two new service routes that provide better connectivity to New Haven’s train stations and non-central parking garages; and launching a new mobile site that displays real-time shuttle locations.

Use the real-time Yale Shuttle tracker.

Materials

Funded by the U.S. National Science Foundation, the Yale Center for Industrial Ecology’s EcoManufacturing project will enable the development of recyclable electronics. Recognizing that the prevalence of electronic waste poses numerous challenges, including overconsuming

scarce elements and usurping enormous amounts of energy for manufacturing, the Center is working with collaborators in engineering and chemistry to develop new classes of electronics from renewable materials. These “soft” electronics can either degrade naturally or be repurposed into high-value products after their lifetime. The project will result in an all-printing-based manufacturing framework to enable the creation of sustainable soft electronics in a scalable way.

Read more about the project to develop recyclable soft electronics.

Technology

In 2023, the Yale Climate Impact Innovation Fund, operating under Yale Planetary Solutions, distributed $3 million to 44 projects in which interdisciplinary research teams are working to better understand and develop solutions to critical climate challenges. Several of the projects are researching and developing technologies to help Connecticut electrify its transportation system; convert methane and carbon dioxide to acids that generate organic matter and improve soil fertility; and monitor emissions in New Haven to examine correlations between particulate matter exposure, demographics, and socioeconomics. These innovations were created to be scalable for cities worldwide and may provide valuable data to help local decisionmakers reduce emissions at the source.

Read more about Yale Planetary Solutions.