Working for Change at Yale, with Lessons Learned at Amazon

Headshot of Yale School of Management student Katya Wendt
December 11, 2023

Graduation gowns often get used once, then stashed in the back of a closet to collect dust. What if, instead, Yale graduates could practice reuse by renting a cap and gown that a previous graduate had donated—with the rental proceeds going to support student internships?

And what if customers at the campus café could get hot drinks in ceramic mugs, rather than just single-use cups, so that “for here” coffee could be consumed sustainably?

At Yale School of Management, you can now do both of these things—and that’s thanks to the advocacy of Katya Wendt ’25 MBA, MEM.

Wendt is enrolled in the joint degree program at Yale SOM and Yale School of the Environment, which offers a three-year, dual master’s degree in business administration and environmental management or forestry. She came to Yale with a goal of taking her career in environmental sustainability to the next level—and helping to make the university a little more sustainable during her time here.

Last year, Wendt’s peers at SOM elected her to serve as the inaugural Sustainability Chair in the Student Government. In that role, she has led numerous sustainability initiatives, including the new graduation gown rental service and reusable mugs at McNay Café at SOM. She organized a sustainability fair in October that brought 15 exhibitors and scores of students to the School of Management to learn and connect. She even donned the Office of Sustainability’s unwieldy “Bag Monster” costume at that event to educate attendees about the harms of single-use plastics.

More significantly, Wendt is part of a group working with SOM administration to approve a new sustainability action plan for the school that aims to, among other things, install the solar power that Evans Hall was designed for.

Working for change within a big, complex organization like Yale is nothing new for Wendt, who spent five years employed at Amazon as a product manager in the company’s intellectual product protection team. While there she became a “sustainability ambassador,” working with volunteers from across different Amazon divisions to educate employees about sustainability and encourage greener practices at work and home.

“The work there was fascinating and challenging. I learned a lot about dealing with ambiguous situations and how to make trade-offs,” Wendt says. “But I wasn’t feeling fulfilled in terms of doing something that I felt would make a positive impact on the world.”

Wendt grew up in Minnesota in a family with a history of farming, and plans to focus her post-Yale career on sustainable food systems or regenerative agriculture. “There is important work to be done to make our food systems more equitable and sustainable,” she says. “Thinking about the long-term future of the planet and the number of people we need to feed, it’s an area that needs work.”

Like many who work for sustainability, Wendt says the barrage of bad climate news can be demoralizing. But her young daughter, who turns two in March, provides her with motivation to push on.

“Just giving up is not going to help her,” says Wendt. “The goal for generations has always been for your children to be better off than you. And for me, the only way I can see to do that is by addressing some of these climate issues.”

Each month, Yale Sustainability features a ‘Sustainability Champion of the Month’—a student, staff, or faculty member who is leading the charge toward a more sustainable campus. If you know a sustainability champion at Yale, email and tell us about them.