Rachel Mak: A Champion of Sustainability

By Dylan Walsh

Rachel Mak
Rachel Mak M.E.M./M.B.A. ‘14 missed her own award ceremony. She was to be honored with the Kroon Cup, a tall handsome trophy carved of black cherry and given each year to those who embody a spirit of stewardship. The ceremony was held at the end of year party. “It was unfortunate timing,” she said, referring to the fact that, during that same weekend, perhaps during the ceremony itself, she was volunteering her time with the TEAK Fellowship, laboring to plant trees with middle and high school students in the Bronx. She missed her award for public service because she was performing public service. “Still, it was a blast.”

In addition to the Kroon Cup, Mak was one of three students to receive an award from Yale's Office of Sustainability.

Student Sustainability Achievement Awards
  • Justin Lindenmayer
    SOM ’14 (Joint with FES)
  • Rachel Mak
    FES ’14 (Joint with SOM)
  • Troy Savage 
    YDS ’13 (Joint with FES)
Faculty Sustainability Achievement Awards
  • Mark Ashton and Brad Gentry
 Mak was herself assisted by a TEAK Fellowship, which helps low-income New York students “succeed at top high schools and colleges.” Mak attended Exeter, where she was inspired by an ecology teacher who ran early morning field trips every Friday and loved Aldo Leopold. “He arrived in class one day dressed as Leopold, with the signature metal mug, and asked that we only address him as Mr. Leopold,” said Mak. She moved on to Harvard, entertaining a major in economics. But when she traveled to China during freshman summer, the thickness of the air reset her course. “I got asthma, though I’m not asthmatic,” she said. “I realized that someone needed to take the initiative to make change.”

After an FES admissions visit to Cambridge, Mak set her sights on the master’s program. She still has—and uses—the wooden pen offered during the information session.
“I just love it here,” she said, now that she’s entered the program. “The students, the faculty, the staff are so receptive to being environmental stewards. People are willing to get behind you and contribute.” This she knows from her deep commitment to the school’s Environmental Stewardship Committee, where she has been instrumental in improving recycling rates, reducing paper use (305,000 fewer pages printed this year), and creating a more sustainable lunch environment by designing a loan system of plastic clamshell containers to displace the standard Styrofoam from nearby lunch carts. Because of her extraordinary work—paper waste reduced by 30 percent when the goal was 10 percent—Dean Peter Crane will be answering 20 student-submitted questions, like: which historical figure’s facial hair would you most like as your own? “Such a perfectly zany FES thing to do,” said Mak.
She is a spark plug, according to Director of Finance and Administration Susan Wells, who oversaw Mak’s work on the Environmental Stewardship Committee. “She’s a very warm, friendly, outgoing person. And she’s…” Wells paused. “Brilliant.”
Mak, who is a joint-degree student with the School of Management, is focusing on the private sector, the massive creative challenge that it presents—finding ways to align environmental improvement with competitive advantage.
“She’s really going to go far,” said Wells. “I expect to hear about her.”
Mak is interning this summer at a corporation headquartered outside Boston, analyzing the environmental footprint of the company’s holdings. She’s excited to apply recent coursework—Industrial Ecology, Life Cycle Assessment—to practical problems. She’s excited, also, because the company is Dunkin’ Donuts. “And, hey,” said Mak. “I like donuts.”