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Sustainability Summit: the Greening of Yale Divinity School

By Jason Peno ’10 M.Div.

Most of the conferences and symposia at Yale Divinity School have a broad national or even international scope, but one recent all-Quad discussion was intensely local in its focus, looking specifically at sustainability issues within the boundaries of the school.

SummitThe April 1 event, organized as part of the university-wide 2008 Sustainability Summit, was moderated by Willis Jenkins, the school’s Margaret A. Farley Assistant Professor of Social Ethics. The discussion included a broad spectrum of participants connected to the greening of Yale University and touched on how the YDS community has been involved.

Speakers at the event included Harold Attridge, Dean of Yale Divinity School and Lillian Claus Professor of New Testament; Julie Newman, director of Yale's Office of Sustainability; Brian Vinci, YDS director of facilities; Josh Viertel, director of the Yale Sustainable Food Project; Luke Bassett, a student pursuing a joint degree student at YDS and the School of Forestry; and, Linda Shields, assistant manager, YDS Dining Services.

Attridge started the discussion by noting the YDS partnership with Yale’s School of Forestry and the recent practical steps of installing light sensors and keeping climate control systems better regulated at YDS. Newman provided information on what it means to discuss such issues in a university community, addressing the importance of integrating research and scholarship, operational systems and built environment. Viertel spoke about Yale’s Sustainable Food Project and the importance of  “creating a culture where the connection between land, food, society, and economy is prevalent.” The Sustainable Food Project operates as an extra-curricular activity for students throughout the year and employs 60 summer interns who learn the practicalities of cultivation and an understanding of food systems.

Members of the YDS community who have availed themselves of the school’s toilets in recent months may have noticed new placards on bathroom walls announcing the greening of cleaning supplies. On hand to discuss the switchover were representatives from custodial services, Bea Lytle-Martin and Ben Holder. They detailed how custodians are now sanitizing with hydrogen peroxide and non-ammonia glass cleaners, as well as deploying more recycled paper products in washrooms. On the horizon lies ionized salt-water, that could potentially be used as a disinfectant.

Just as the school’s custodians are moving away from the use of toxic chemicals on the Quad, Dining Services is charting new ground in the realm of institutional food. The refectory’s Shields, herself a vegetarian, said she is continuously looking for ways to widen diners’ choices. She enlightened students on the process of choosing more sustainable options while balancing a budget, encouraging the students to make requests and reminding them that what they purchase factors into what Dining Services offers in the refectory.

One of the most dramatic examples of the YDS commitment to sustainability is the solar panel installation atop Fisher Hall, a residence building on Canner Street. Vinci supplied information on the project and detailed the rate of energy production. The solar panels supply much of the energy for Fisher Hall. Those interested in how much can monitor electriticy generation at www.yale.edu/energyconservation. Vinci also discussed a move toward environmentally friendly welcome packages for upcoming BTFO orientation for new students.

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