Returning to Yale - Green recommendations from the Office of Sustainability

September 9, 2021

The Yale Office of Sustainability put together the following green guidance on establishing and maintaining best practices as people start coming back to campus. In addition, they gathered some facts about what the COVID-19 Pandemic taught us about hybrid work, the environment, and well-being.

What the COVID-19 Pandemic taught us about work:

  • Individuals operate just as effectively without the materials previously used to rely on and save money in the process. The University spent $105,000 less on paper and printing in April 2020 than in April 2019.
  • Paper-based systems tend to be time-intensive due to disorganization, the time it takes to find documents, and time spent going to the printer or copier. Hours (and dollars) per year are saved by switching to electronic systems.
  • As supplies have become more challenging to access, we have learned to extend the lifespan of the products we use and encourage wise use of resources. 
  • Working remotely led to fewer vehicles on the road and, in turn, better air quality.
    • New Haven has ranked in the top 20 of the 100 largest U.S. cities where it is most challenging to live with asthma. 
    • From March 14 - April 26, 2020, Connecticut air monitoring data showed significant reductions in air pollutants compared to the previous three years:
      • Nitrogen dioxide levels were down 13 - 37%,
      • Carbon monoxide levels were down 7 -2 1%,
      • Sulfur dioxide levels were down 0 - 57%, and
      • Black carbon levels were down 23 - 34%.[1]
  • Remote and hybrid work arrangements led to significant energy savings, and in turn, helped the university reach its 2020 greenhouse gas emissions goal.
    • Campus-wide electrical consumption was approximately 20% lower during the last quarter of the fiscal year 2020 due to reduced density on campus during COVID-19. 
  • A survey to measure collective well-being was created by researchers at the Yale School of Medicine and distributed to assess the state of individual and group “thriving” across the university. The results, though somewhat alarming, are aligned with national trends.
    • While people are currently reporting poor well-being, they are generally optimistic about this improvement. People are struggling with isolation and not being able to connect with others. 
    • Reported symptoms include headaches, disrupted sleep, struggles with information retention, and Zoom fatigue. 
  • Based on the five domains of well-being assessed, a committee convened by the Office of Sustainability developed a website of resources to raise awareness of existing programming available for our community members, in hopes that those who are struggling may take advantage of these resources more fully. 

Tangible tips for return to campus

  • Remove printers from workspaces.
    • Remote work revealed that individuals could function effectively with electronic systems. This includes reducing the need for personal printers, printer ink, and paper by sticking exclusively with these electronic workflows. 
    • The reduction of paper-based systems can also create opportunities for the consolidation of office supplies and streamlined storage. 
  • Eliminate unnecessary travel. 
    • Many individuals recently experienced the creative and practical possibilities for remote dialogue and collaboration. Where possible and appropriate, staff should continue to hold virtual meetings and consider offering virtual conferences to reduce the need for excessive travel and unnecessary carbon emissions—and save departments money in the process. 
  • Incentivize eco-friendly commuting options. 
    • As employees return to the office, we can provide resources and offer incentives around the use of public and shared transportation options.
    • Many employees engaged in physical activity (walking, biking, etc.) during the Pandemic. Promoting active transportation options for commuting and intra-campus travel can help sustain the physical and mental health benefits that come from these practices. 
    • Employees have reported increased productivity due to flexible work arrangements. These should be continued as possible and can be leveraged utilizing teleworking technologies. 
  • Purchase green cleaning supplies.
    • It is important to keep the indoor air quality in mind as everyone continues to sanitize personal and shared workspaces. When purchasing cleaning supplies for the office, opt for those that are classified as Green Seal Certified or EPA Design for Environment. Confirm that hand sanitizers are non-carcinogenic. 
    • Wherever possible, avoid single-use cleaning wipes. If instances arise where they are necessary, do not flush them down toilets. 
  • Encourage time in nature. 
    • The past year illuminated the health benefits of spending time in nature and connecting with others outside. Encourage your employees to take a walking break throughout the day or to take their lunch and eat outside. Encourage walking meetings when possible. 
  • Promote work/life balance.
    • The stressors of the Pandemic paired with the remote work model made clear the need for prioritization of employee well-being. As you transition to an in-person or hybrid work model, find opportunities to continue advancing a culture of work/life integration. One easy way to do so is to encourage staff to utilize the many resources Being Well at Yale has to offer. Further, establish an employee culture of staying home or working remotely if you feel sick. 
  • Support Belonging at Yale.
    • The Yale community will be more resilient to shocks and stressors if there is strong social cohesion, inclusion, and support for those particularly vulnerable. Use the Collective Well-Being Survey for self-assessment or as a measure of a unit’s well-being and promote university resources to enhance everyone’s sense of belonging and well-being across our community. 

[1] DEEP Analysis of Air Quality During the First Month of the Pandemic Shows Significant Drop