SOM Students Take a Hard Look at the School's Sustainability
The most extreme thing the group of SOM students surveying sustainability at the school did was go dumpster diving. Sporting HAZMAT suits, they climbed in, searching for an idea of how much waste SOM produces. "We wanted to get a small snapshot of what people throw out here," said Neda Arabshahi í10. "There were lots of pizza boxes, lots of Styrofoam containers from the food carts, and a lot of recyclables. It was pretty illuminating. Thereís a lot of room for improvement."
Arabshahi was part of a five-student group that spent the spring coming up with a long-term plan to reduce SOMís consumption of resources and the waste it produces. A grant from the Rocky Mountain Institute to the Yale Office of Sustainability, which made it available to three graduate schools at Yale ó SOM, the School of Forestry and Environmental Science, and the Divinity School ó provided the spark, but most in the group had already been thinking of ways for the school to become greener. "I think we all feel a certain ownership of SOM," said Anna Palazij '10. "I was looking for a concrete way to have an impact and I know others were, too."
The group, which also included Howard Chang '11, Scott Gosselink '10, and Rasanah Goss '11, didnít see the project as a small task, and approached Dean Sharon Oster about structuring it as a for-credit independent study. The students designed a curriculum, enlisted a faculty advisor, Jonathan Feinstein, and arranged for talks on recycling, energy conservation, even human behavior. "We met with [assistant professor of organizational behavior] Daylian Cain to learn about what motivates people to act," said Chang. "I assumed people donít recycle because they donít care about being green. But he argued that weíll be more effective if we approach the problem assuming that people want to be green. Our job is to figure out how to make it easier for people to do it."
Over the course of the spring semester, the five students worked first to get an accurate baseline for SOM consumption and waste (which included meeting with 10 school departments) and then put together a series of short and long-term recommendations that they presented to Oster. They focused on four areas ó energy, transportation, procurement, and waste ó and their suggestions fit into three broad categories: finding ways to accurately manage and measure intake and waste; align incentives so faculty, students, and staff will devise and adapt new ways to conserve; and urge the creation of educational materials to help stakeholders better understand their role in making SOM more sustainable.
"The incentives situation is a particular concern," said Arabshahi. "Yale charges each school a flat fee for waste removal based on building square footage. So whatís the incentive for SOM to reduce waste if the school wonít be charged any less? This is the type of thing we need to change."
But the group said there were also positive surprises as they met with people around the school. For instance, the admissions office made the schoolís admissions brochure available online as a .pdf, resulting in a huge drop in requests for the paper product. The group said that this, along with the departmentís decision to go paperless for the application review process, saved roughly $14,000 in terms of paper, postage, and staff time. "So in a way, people are already doing it," said Arabshahi. "Little things are happening across the campus. We just need to find ways to get everyone involved."
To this end, the project created an advisory board to oversee implementation of the recommendations, which would take several years if carried out. They even got funding for a student to work part time to help keep things going. While the ultimate point is to make SOM greener, the project also acted as a key educational component for the students. "It really forced us to be creative," said Chang. "Itís exactly the kind of project a lot of us will be doing in our post-MBA jobs."
"We had to master several systems across Yale and SOM in order to make smart recommendations," added Arabshahi. "At the beginning we didnít know what we needed to focus on. We had to understand all the moving parts before we could really get started. Weíre not going to effect change unless we make things simple and easy, so they get wound into the fabric of the school."
For Palazij, the project was another example of how SOM works. At a bigger school, she said, five students couldnít really expect to get buy-in from so many stakeholders. "But because of our size, a small group of motivated people can really make things happen," she said. "We know each other here and we understand that a task like this isnít going to be completed in a semester. The next group will need to pick this up. And I believe they will. This isnít the end of the project. We're just getting started."
Yale SOM Sustainability Project†