The Academic Value of Yale’s Carbon Charge Experiment
By James Ball
Note: Yale School of the Environment (YSE) was formerly known as the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES). News articles and events posted prior to July 1, 2020 refer to the School's name at that time.
In a historical first, Yale University is charging the administration of 20 buildings on campus for their carbon emissions. These 20 buildings are part of the pilot version of the Yale Carbon Charge, the first internal carbon charge program on a university campus. Yale’s president, Peter Salovey, when announcing the launch of the program, explained that it originated from an interest “in using our campus as a living laboratory for applied research on global challenges such as climate change.” Nowhere on campus is this research more alive than in Kroon Hall.
Kroon Hall is the most energy efficient building on Yale’s campus, completed in 2009 as a new home for the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies (F&ES). During its design and construction, Kroon Hall was internationally recognized for its energy efficiency. After the first year of using the building, the F&ES administration worked with the Yale Office of Facilities to recalibrate the building’s systems in order to keep energy use at and below the level that the building’s energy model predicted. In 2015, the building’s energy use increased higher than the energy model due to a variety of building system challenges. As these issues were uncovered, the Facilities office worked with F&ES administrators to explore solutions to technical challenges including the functioning of the building’s air handler units and heat pumps.
As these efforts were underway, the Yale Carbon Charge incentivized students and faculty to partner with F&ES Administrators to better understand and improve the building’s energy use, employing Kroon’s complex engineering to create opportunities for learning. These collective efforts have paid off, and since December 2015 Kroon Hall’s energy use has already been reduced by 7 percent relative to 2015. As F&ES students and administration work on their own reduction of carbon, they are also looking beyond Kroon Hall to see how they can help other buildings reduce their emissions.
Susan Wells, Director of Finance and Administration at F&ES, launched the school’s involvement in the Yale Carbon Charge by convening a meeting with other building administrators participating in the pilot program. Her leadership has encouraged sharing best practices across campus and taking a collaborative approach to the Carbon Charge. The student-led Kroon Carbon Team that mobilized around the Carbon Charge is following Susan’s lead by publishing their research and reduction strategy on a public Facebook page: Kroon Carbon Challenge. Their posts include data about Kroon Hall’s energy use, interviews with F&ES faculty about their views on the Carbon Charge, and their comprehensive communications plan. These efforts are all a part of F&ES’s goal to maximize the academic value of reducing their own community’s environmental impact.
Kroon Hall's annual energy use, as compared to the expected energy use.
This research on the reduction of Kroon Hall’s energy use builds on a legacy of similar campus-focused research at F&ES, including a student report on Yale’s Greenhouse Gas Emissions and a Stormwater Management Plan for Yale’s “Science Hill.” The Yale Carbon Charge follows this tradition of applied science on Yale’s campus and reiterates the value of using our campus as a living laboratory. The global attention to these on-campus efforts has increased recently with Yale joining the international Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition. As the first academic institution to join this prestigious group, Yale has the unique ability to conduct applied research on the implementation of carbon pricing schemes.
Yale’s Carbon Charge Pilot experiment represents an opportunity to demonstrate how to implement a Carbon Charge and how to research that implementation as a university campus initiative. Success in both these areas furthers Yale’s reputation and mission of “expanding and sharing knowledge, inspiring innovation, and preserving cultural and scientific information for future generations.
About the Author
James Ball is a second-year student at the Yale School of Forestry & Environmental Studies. A green buildings expert, he has led two years of multi-disciplinary research on the performance of Kroon Hall and is a member of the F&ES Environmental Stewardship Committee.