New Haven is well known as an incubator of new ideas.  Not everyone knows it is also a global leader on sustainability issues.  What potential does New Haven’s leadership on the environment have for the city and the world?


Walking along the edge of New Haven Harbor, one can see both natural beauty and environmental degradation. At night, lights occasionally reflecting from the docked ships make for a fantastic blended canvas of natural and human art. Such a mix also plays out at a global scale.

Science tells us that we can only burn so much more fossil fuel and stay within a safe degree of increased global average temperatures, after which a series of cascading disasters are expected to unfold including sea level rise and its effects. New Haven Harbor can appear to shelter the city from storms, but for how much longer? Many other effects need to be brought into check, such as air pollution in Asian cities, the health of oceans, adequate biodiversity and so much more.

Fortunately, New Haven is also a bastion for sustainability leadership. Being the home of Yale University, New Haven enjoys the spillover benefits of having on-the-ground expertise that in many ways is unrivaled globally.

Some of this is accessible to the public if you know where to look.  For example, the Center for Business and the Environment, headquartered at the beautiful LEED Platinum Kroon Hall, hosts regular events that are open to the public.

Yale also has one of the world’s great new academic buildings in Evans Hall, home of Yale’s School of Management, and voted one of Architectural Digest’s Nine Best New University Buildings in the World.

One can also see Yale’s work in some of its intellectual product, initiatives, and academic output, such as the Environmental Performance Index (EPI), which measures and ranks countries on their sustainability based on factors such as habitat and species protection, access to sanitation, drinking water, and levels of household pollution.

Also consider following Yale’s various Twitter accounts such as the Yale Center for Business and the Environment (@YaleCBEY) and even Yale’s general account (@Yale), where you will see stories such as these being posted as regards students seeking to help the energy sector transition to cleaner fuels.

As someone who teaches courses at Yale, I can attest to the quality of Evans Hall. It is my favorite academic building, of all those I’ve worked in or visited. Tours of Yale include opportunities to enter much of its distinctive architecture, and are highly recommended.

New Haven is a bastion for sustainability leadership, and enjoys the spillover benefits of having on-the-ground expertise that in many ways is unrivaled globally.

Given the core of expertise at Yale and more in the area, one wonders if New Haven wouldn’t be an ideal location to host a Museum of Sustainability. New Haven is broadly known as the “Elm City,” but a better nickname might be better the “Acorn City,” as it gives birth to so many new ideas and organizations.

Such a museum could tap into Yale’s expertise and also become a magnet for high school class trips from throughout the Northeast, making New Haven a new destination for some for whom it is not yet on their radar.

New Haven has many other sustainability-related aspects, perhaps most specifically the reclaimed Farmington Canal walking trail, which is highly recommended. However, much of New Haven has not yet enjoyed the benefits of this type of thinking. For example, public transit remains stuck with buses that take passengers inefficiently back and forth along its many spokes without giving passengers the ability to traverse circles just outside of downtown, making for much longer multiple ride journeys for the region’s poorest residents.

New Haven constantly upgrades its schools and provides support for undocumented citizens, but surely, as with Connecticut’s other aging cities, New Haven could do more to revitalize its non-Yale economy and create and foster good jobs. The new CT Sustainable Business Council hopes to help with this over time, and Yale too could do more to help launch new businesses and work with local communities.  

Pushing for a combination of sustainability strategies and financial value is something which New Haven could benefit from.

Yale has made progress on its sustainability but it is harder for the city to do this on its own given the size of the tax base and workforce that is unrelated to Yale.

It is believed that Yale is ramping up some of its plans in very interesting new directions, including extending its Carbon Tax Task Force work and becoming the first university to join global Carbon Pricing Leadership Coalition.

Pushing for a combination of sustainability strategies and financial value is something New Haven could benefit from. Let’s hope this work accelerates. Given New Haven’s history of incubating new ideas, our city can be a model for cities of similar size to inspire the world.